Whilst Michael Jackson had released four solo album previously it was “Off The Wall” which is seen as his first ‘serious’ album.
Jackson had departed the famous Motown label where he had spent all his career as a solo artist and with his brothers ‘The Jacksons’.
He left Motown for Epic and teamed up with Jazz/Big band producer Quincy Jones. Whilst Jackson could have worked with just about any producer in the world his partnership with Jones (they had become friends after working on the movie ‘The Wiz’) would define the key musical legacy of Michael Jackson.
It was clear that a departure from the Motown sound was something that needed to be achieved if Jackson was to every truly break away from such a successful group. There is no doubt that “Off The Wall” achieves this and is some of the finest work every produced from one of the biggest selling acts is popular music.
Written by Jackson, the first track “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” is a statement that Michael Jackson had truly arrived. This is over 6 minutes of Soul/Disco/Funk all rolled into one. Jacksons voice is utterly mesmerizing. The falsetto is flawless and the song never feels as long as it actually is. To this day if a DJ plays this song it will resonate with the dance-floor, if they are 20 or 50 years old.
The lyrics are quite overly sexual, especially in the second verse:
I’m melting like hot candle wax
Sensation (ah sensation) lovely where we at
So let love take us through the hours
I won’t be complanin’
‘Cause this is love power
The sexual conitation doesn’t end as we go into the second track “Rock With You”. Whilst I am sure the flowery Michael Jackson fan would not care to admit that this song is not just about having sex but about fucking is fine, but well, it is.
The words “Rock” and “Dance” are used as replacements for fuck.
I Wanna Rock With You (All Night)
Dance You Into Day (Sunlight)
I Wanna Rock With You (All Night)
We’re Gonna Rock The Night Away
“Workin’ Day and Night” comes next with Jackson attempting to tell his girl that whilst he is working hard to provide for her , if they cannot find the time to spend together then what is the point? He even accuses her in the final verse of seeing another man as he implies that she wants him to keep working so she has be with someone else.
“Get On The Floor” is one of my favourite Jackson songs. It’s bassline is music to my ears and it’s this bassline that makes the entire song. Jackson uses his vocal well going high and low when needed. The song sees Jackson telling a girl to stop messing about and to simply ‘Get on the floor’ to dance with him.
The title track comes next. The production on the track “Off The Wall” is delightful. Jones creates a masterpiece musically on this one. This is the second song on the album (along with Rock with you) written by British songwriter Rod Temperton who was part of the group Heatwave who had a big hit with “Boogie Nights”.
Paul Mccartney doesn’t feature vocally on the next track “Girlfriend” but he is the song writer and it does sound like an obvious Mccartney composition. This is the most dated track on the album and when listening to the album as a whole it seems out of place with its use of instrumentation and silly childish lyrics.
Track 7 is a complete departure from the rest of the album. It’s musically minimal. It’s bordering on cheesy but I believe there is merit to “She’s Out Of My Life”. The lyrics whilst simple are there to do exactly what they need to. Jackson is heartbroken and feels helpless that his relationship of 2 years has broken down.
So I’ve Learned That Love’s Not Possession
And I’ve Learned That Love Won’t Wait
Now I’ve Learned That Love Needs Expression
But I Learned Too Late
To me that section of lyrics reads like a poem.
Stevie Wonder lends a songwriting hand on the next track “I Can’t Help it”. This a very Wonder-esq song in it’s jazzy backing tune and the soft voice Jackson produces. I love this song. Absolutely love it.
“It’s The Falling In Love” features some backing vocals to Soultress Patti Austin. Like “Girlfriend” the song doesn’t stand the test of time very well. It’s a song that lacks the depth musically and lyrically of many of the other songs on the album.
The album finishes with fun ‘Jacksons’ sounding “Burn This Disco Out”. It’s very similar to “Shake Your Body” from the Jacksons but just not as good.
“Off The Wall” is a brilliant album and there are a number of very creative tracks on this set. Yes there is still a little bit of formulaic songs like “Girlfriend” and “It’s the falling in love” but this album would be the platform for Jackson’s creativity which on the follow up “Thriller” would explode.