Context is key here. Michael Jackson had already been incredibly established working for years with the Jackson 5. He was known for hits like ABC, Rocking Robin, and Ben but this album is not that Michael Jackson. In fact, this is the first time we see the emergence of the King of Pop.
Off the wall represents the foundation of everything that’s to come and it’s interesting; on the one hand, the album isn’t yet showing MJ at his pinnacle but it really does show immense raw performing talent and the ability to write. Also remember that MJ has put this album together in 1979 so it’s almost certain to expect a much more disco slant than you will see in later albums, it’s not a bad thing, just a perspective of style.
The album opens with Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough; those up tempo strings, fanfare from the brass and the really groovy beat with a strong funky bass. It’s all tied together with Jackson’s high pitched signature vocals. It’s a disco sound and to be honest I am surprised if this is one you haven’t heard. It’s a great start and the track has gone down in popular music history.
There is something so recognisable, passionate and honest about MJ’s vocals, they are basically just attractive to listen to, just listen to that nice bass line and the rich layered vocals on Rock With You. The next two tracks Workin’ Day and Night and Get on the Floor really show Jackson’s signature puntuated singing style; the odd gasp and percussive or spoken scat-singing. There’s the occasional laugh or woop here and there – MJ is getting so into it, and this sort of vocal style has existed to modern times. You see it now and you know that it’s probably thanks to Michael.
On I Can’t Help It I immediately would like to turn to the class and ask sharply, “so Michael sings this, but who wrote this song?” Of course it’s a Stevie Wonder penned track, with those slow groovy basslines and syncopated rhythms, take a listen and you’ll hear it. For another guest writer, take a listen to Paul McCartney’s Girlfriend. Now that track is so center pop style that easily in the hands of another artist it would fall into the realms of bland but of course MJ makes it work.
You also have to listen to the slow ballad She’s Out of My Life. It’s simple emotional and with no percussion section. It’s a real triumph, and shows MJ at his most vulnerable; you can actually feel the honesty at the end of the track when his voice cracks and he sounds like he’s tearing up.
Oh, the whole album is great, I really must impress that and it’s the one that let MJ go on to everything he did. It’s so solid it really is… But this is cement that hasn’t quite set. This is the first but there is so much more to come and he hasn’t quite found everything that will make him great. Saying that, he’s found a hell of a lot of it.
Is this album for you?
Michael Jackson is another one of those who really can appeal to everyone and that’s because very few can deny the talent that was there. He’s a fantastic performer and writer. I actually think it’s worth a little listen just to hear how that foundation formed. This is a really important album in the MJ timeline; it’s basically the one that started it all and the scores are only so tempered because there is so much more to come!
- Writing: 8.5/10
- Performance: 9.5/10
- Style: 8.5/10