Off The Wall

Michael Jackson

Epic Records, 1979

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Leave it to the Jackson family to insist on claiming the number one position at the beginning and end of every decade. 

In 1980, Michael Jackson opened with “Rock With You” and his little sister Janet, in turn, closed out 1989 with “Miss You Much.” Back in the 1970s, the Jackson Five started their career in 1970 at the peak position with “I Want You Back” and in 1979 Michael launched his adult solo career with the chart-topping “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”  Coincidence?  Maybe, though the Jacksons are hardly lacking in the humility department.

It is fairly significant to note that Michael’s 1979 breakthrough album, Off The Wall, only reached as high as No. 3. You would never know it from the attention it received, however. This was the album that helped disco to last one more year. and put producer Quincy Jones on the map as Michael’s partner-in-crime. 

The top-notch production values set the standard - and the bar - in the music industry from that point forward. Quincy actually deserves more credit than Michael for how my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Off The Wall turned out. His genius is what holds this wildly disparate set of tracks together.

The one song that is most deserving of its number one status is “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” It is a head-spinning track, to say the least. In fact, it is as good or better than most of the singles off of Michael’s follow-up blockbuster Thriller. The indecipherable words only add to its illusive quality. Also, the primitive use of cans and bottles as percussion instruments provides an unexpected counterbalance to the complex string and synth arrangements.      

Though Michael had yet to discover the glove and moonwalk that would become his trademarks, Off The Wall is one of those albums that doesn’t need such gimmicks.  Despite containing several similar sounding tracks, it effectively captures the young man at his funkiest. Songwriter Rod Temperton contributed the other well-known Michael Jackson staples, “Rock With You,” “Burn This Disco Out” and the title track, which is somewhat marred by its “spooky” intro.  Save the haunted house effects for Thriller, boys, they’ll be more at home there.

Throughout his turbulent career, rarely much was ever said about Michael Jackson’s singing ability. His vocal performances on “Rock With You” and the sappy ballad “She’s Out Of My Life” are among his very best. Something tells me that “She’s Out Of My Life” would have been even more dramatic if he had sung the song a cappella -- a testament to his overlooked singing.

Nothing, however, can salvage Stevie Wonder’s contribution “I Can’t Help It,” which finds Michael being forced to ad lib to fill up time.  With its meandering and poorly written lyrics (sorry, Mr. Wonder) and its awkward jazzy accompaniment, “I Can’t Help It” is absolutely terrible. All it manages to do is bring the rest of the album down a notch.

On the bright side, “Workin’ Day And Night” gets the listener’s mojo workin’ at a frenetic pace and “Get On The Floor” is an ode to disco that finds Michael brimming over with enthusiasm. You can bet that when disco died, a big piece of Michael’s soul died right along with it. And then, after insane and toxic success of Thriller, things would really never be quite the same for the talented Michael Jackson again. But this is where the magic began.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.