Monday, January 31, 2011

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall

1979 - the end of a decade and the year I transitioned from Junior High School to High School. It was a time to start being more mature, more serious about my future - the last years of youth before approaching manhood.

It is only fitting, in a way, that Michael Jackson's Off The Wall came out that year. This album - which appears on "the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list and on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All-Time (it came it at #68) - was a coming of age album, if you will, for an artist who grew up in the public spotlight as I was going from a kid to a teenager. While not his first solo record (it was actually his fourth), it still was a big statement. This was his first huge, multi-platinum seller as an artist separate from the Jackson 5.

The record, released on August 10th, was a multi-Platinum seller world-wide. It charted at number 27 in both France and Switzerland, number 25 in Germany, number 11 in Spain, number 8 in the Netherlands, number 4 in Canada, number 3 in the UK and on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 2 in New Zealand, and number 1 in Australia.

I had this one on vinyl, with its dual sided jacket that could be flipped to show the artist in full stature (I am pretty sure there was a fold out poster inside the liner). Being a big fan of disco music, even though disco by this point was in its final days, I know I played this disc to death. And why not? It had such a great mix of music.

It starts off with one of my favorites on the album - the six-minute dance jam "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". Released as the first single, it went to number 15 in France, number 13 in Germany, number 4 in Switzerland, number 3 in Canada and the UK, number 2 in the Netherlands and Spain, and number 1 in Australia and New Zealand. In the US, it spent twelve weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number 1. I defy anyone to not at least be tapping your foot before this one is through. I love all the music layers - the guitar, the drum beats, and Michael's falsetto chorus. It just meshes so well.

Not to be undone, track two is "Rock With You" that bested the first by being on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for nineteen weeks and spending four weeks at number 1. It also charted at number 68 in Switzerland, number 59 in France, number 58 in Germany, number 7 in the UK, number 4 in Australia, number 3 in Canada and New Zealand, and number 1 in Spain. The opening is rich and contrasts the first with Michael sticking to his regular range for the song. The disco influence is strong in this song - you can almost feel the strobe light over head pulsating.

My second favorite song on the album comes next - "Workin' Day And Night". It keeps the dance beats from the first two songs going - but again it mixes things up a bit. The songs hardly sound the same, thanks to another unique funky bass-line and rich melody.

Side one ends with "Get On the Floor", which is kind of an ironic thing. If you weren't already on the floor after the first three songs, you have no business in the club! This one isn't as strong as the earlier three but it still has solid production quality and was perfect for any dance mix or roller-skating set.

"Off The Wall" kicks off the second side of the album. As the third single, it hit number 94 in Australia, number 81 in Switzerland, number 23 in the Netherlands, number 14 in New Zealand, number 11 in Canada, number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 7 in the UK. This along with the first three tracks from side one make a quartet of perfect dance tunes that clock in together at close to 20 minutes, nearly half the albums full run time.

Next up is "Girlfriend", a slower dance song if you will. As the fifth single, it went to number 49 in New Zealand and number 41 in the UK. It is one of those that you can get away with either a nice sway to or one where you can dance a little closer with your honey. Either or works for this less popular track.

The seventh tune, "She's Out of My Life", is a heart-felt ballad - the first for the album. As the fourth single, it went to number 97 in Switzerland, number 19 in the Netherlands, number 17 in Australia, number 15 in Canada, number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 6 in New Zealand, and number 3 in the UK. You can feel the emotion put into this one, a song that very likely ended up on many melancholy mix-tapes back in the day (after the devastating break-up). It is a nice respite from all the early boogie tunes and comes off of track six nicely (really slowing things down by this point). This one also spent three months in 1980 on the charts, peaking at number 10 as well.

Keeping that slower vibe going, "I Can't Help It" is next - another lesser known track. But this one in fact has that subtle increase in tempo. If you plotted this album on a sine-curve, you'd see we're going from a lower point and back on to the rise again. "It's The Falling In Love" continues that motion. I will admit that these two tunes are my least favorites of the album. After coming out of the gate so strong, these two end up falling into the "filler" category. Still, it is pretty good filler.

The album finishes up with "Burn This Disco Out", a more up-tempo tune. While another solid dance song, it does pale a bit in comparison to the earlier tunes that opened the album. In fact, to me, it sounds a bit like "Blame It On the Boogie" or "Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)" from the Destiny album that Michael released with his brothers earlier in 1979.

All in all, this is an album I rather enjoy. It is a nice capping piece to the 70's decade and teases a bit of the greatness to come from Michael a few years later with Thriller.

1 comment:

HERC said...

Off The Wall is hands-down my favorite Michael Jackson album. It followed the Jacksons Destiny and in turn was followed by their Triumph album. Then the brothers released a rather dreadful live album and he did Thriller. Nuff said. I have a mixtape laying around here somewhere that features my favorite songs from those first three albums I mentioned - could almost be my perfect Michael Jackson album. Still think they sound pretty timeless today.