The ‘80s are right around the corner, and perhaps the biggest and most successful performer of that decade gave notice of his arrival as a solo smash superstar with the release of “Off The Wall”. His first major release as an adult singer, free from the confines of the Jackson 5, this was also the first album of his remarkable run with producer Quincy Jones. A mix of self-authored tracks along with contributions from legends like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, many people, including my son, rate this as his best album of all time. I’m not quite on board with that, but it is a good one, and it is rated #36 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The record opens with one of two legendary tracks on this album, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. As much as I do appreciate Michael Jackson and his talent as a performer, one of my personal pet peeves is that on many of his songs, this one included, they tend to run a little long and wear me down with the extended outro. This is a great three-minute song that lasts six minutes, and by that three-minute mark, I’m pretty sure I’ve “got enough”.
Next comes “Rock With You”, the other iconic track on this record. Music videos were beginning to emerge more and more, and who can forget this classic performance of Michael that looks like it was shot in somebody’s basement with a couple of light machines borrowed from the local disco? Musically it’s a smooth and vintage Michael Jackson performance, before the crushing force of celebrity isolation took its toll on him.
Side one ends with two more easy to jam disco tracks, “Workin’ Day and Night” and “Get on the Floor”, and side two opens with the third, the title track. Next comes a classically cheesy love song “Girlfriend”, which not surprisingly, is Paul McCartney’s contribution to the album.
“She’s Out of My Life”, another of the top 10 singles from this album, is a slow heartbreak ballad that doesn’t jump out until you hit the two-minute mark. If you have ever seen Eddie Murphy’s classic stand-up routine “Delirious”, you will instantly recognize the bridge of this song where Eddie becomes Michael, breaking down in tears while asking Tito for a tissue and insisting that Jermaine should stop teasing. If you know, you know…
“I Can’t Help It” has a slightly funkier tone, so again, not surprising this is the Stevie Wonder offering. A very cool and smooth chorus, definitely one of my favorites on this record. The last two songs are pretty standard Michael, with “Burn This Disco Out” leaving one last imprint on the disco era from the “King of Pop”.
Plenty more to come from Michael in the 1980s, and we will look further at some of the odd and dark events that accompanied that time. However, in 1979, Michael was just a new and liberated adult solo superstar, finding his place on the top of the charts and definitely still on the ascent.