Living To Music – Michael Jackson ‘Off The Wall’




YEAR: 1979

This Sunday (Dec 4th), at 9pm, you’re invited to share a listening session with some likeminded souls, wherever you might be. This can be experienced either alone or communally, and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your own home to participate. Full lowdown here:

Even though it’s almost two and a half years since his death in June 2009, Michael Jackson remains ever-newsworthy. Only recently, the trial of the physician who administered the drugs that killed him, Dr Conrad Murray, came to a conclusion with Murray convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

There was a time before Jacko was considered wacko, before his life turned into a celebrity soap opera. Sadly, his music increasingly played a supporting role to the stories that surrounded him, some plain silly, others more sinister. This is the side of his legend that gained momentum throughout the ’80s and ’90s, following the phenomenal success of his ‘Thriller’ album in 1983, and the groundbreaking promotional video that accompanied it, but, IMHO, and the opinion of many others, his greatest album came 4 years before this. So for this edition of Living To Music I ask you to try to put aside your preconceptions and listen afresh to an extraordinary artist, incredibly still yet to turn 21 years of age, cementing his place amongst the ’70s greats, and paving the way for his coronation as King Of Pop in the oncoming decade.

‘Off The Wall’ is very much Jackson’s coming of age LP. It was released at the end of a decade that had begun for him, and his brothers, with unprecedented US chart success, when each of the first 4 Jackson 5 singles, ‘I Want You Back’, ‘ABC’, ‘The Love You Save’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ all went to #1 within 1970 (they were also all UK Top 10 hits). Almost overnight the group had become Motown’s biggest money-spinner, and this was a company packed with greats, like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops and Diana Ross, who’d championed the Jackson 5 ahead of their recording debut. The 12 year old lead singer, with the James Brown moves and command of vocal rhythm, was, quite rightly, a revelation, and soon, in addition to ongoing Jackson 5 material (not to mention the TV cartoon series), his solo career was launched.

Initially specializing in ballads, Michael Jackson scored huge US and/or UK hits with songs including ‘Ben’, ‘Got To Be There’ and the Bill Withers classic ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, on which he displayed a maturity that belied his tender years (as he did on the Jackson 5’s, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, a Soul standard composed by Clifton Davis, with other particularly notable, and very different ’70s recordings made by Isaac Hayes and Gloria Gaynor).

Between 1970 and 1973 he was a veritable hit machine, but then the big singles started to dry up, although ‘Dancing Machine’ provided a J5 US swansong, peaking at #2 there in 1974 (it wasn’t a UK hit, but was a significant single for me on a personal level, given that I adapted the title to ‘Dancin’ Machine’ in naming my mobile disco, which I set up the following year). After a few relatively barren years the brothers left Motown, who forced them to drop the 5 from their name, signing to Epic as The Jacksons. They set about recording new tracks at Sigma Sound, the studio responsible for the famous Philly Sound, which had been tearing up the dancefloor as Disco hit its stride with artists like The Trammps, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Three Degrees, The Intruders and studio band MFSB. Bringing in hot producers Gamble & Huff, the brothers returned to the US Top 10 with ‘Enjoy Yourself’, whilst hitting the UK #1 spot with ‘Show You The Way To Go’. Their 1978 album ‘Destiny’ included 2 massive hits, ‘Blame It On The Boogie’ (written and originally recorded by English singer/songwriter Mick Jackson – strange but true) and ‘Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)’.

This renewed success set things up nicely for Michael Jackson’s solo return, and he didn’t fail to deliver. ‘Off The Wall’, with the great producer Quincy Jones at the controls (and Jackson taking a co-production role, in addition to some of the songwriting credits), was packed full of hits, no less than 4 US Top 10 singles – ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, ‘Rock With You’, ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘She’s Out Of My Life’, the first 2 being chart toppers.

Another major contributor to the album, songwriter Rod Temperton, provided 3 of the tracks, ‘Rock With You’, ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘Burn This Disco Out’. Temperton, from the English seaside resort of Cleethorpes, already had a hit pedigree. As a member of the British-based Anglo-American Funk band Heatwave he’d written a quartet of UK Top 20 singles, ‘Boogie Nights’, ’Too Hot To Handle’, ‘The Groove Line’ and ‘Always And Forever’, a trio of which had also reached the Top 20 Stateside (‘Too Hot To Handle’ being the exception, the biggest being ‘Boogie Nights’, which peaked at #2 in both the UK and the US).

Jackson would once again team up with Quincy Jones, as well as Rod Temperton (who composed the all-important title track), for his crowning glory, ‘Thriller’, and a whole new phase of unimaginable fame and fortune would follow. However, it’s the pre-‘Thriller’ Michael Jackson we celebrate via this selection, already a truly remarkable artist who’d achieved so much by that point in time, but who’s legacy is overshadowed, and for some tainted, by what happened subsequently.


Your own thoughts are always welcomed, and, should you join us for Sunday’s session, it’d be great if you could leave a comment here after you’ve listened to the album sharing your impressions – how the music affected you, who you listened to it with, where you were, plus anything else relevant to your own individual / collective experience.

Michael Jackson ‘Off The Wall’ Wikipedia:

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12 Responses to Living To Music – Michael Jackson ‘Off The Wall’

  1. Lou Lou December 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    What an album, one i found impossible to sit still to, but employed my great love of chair dancing! My sister used to have this album and so I have fond memories of dancing around her bedroom with the volume turned up to the max. I hadn’t realised how clean it sounded and was surprised to note the similarities to Stevie Wonder on some tracks, to find out later that he had written some. Surprising the things you don’t pick up on as a youngster – I was only 9 at the time!
    I found that I hardly paid any attention to the drums and bass as I normally pick up on during these sessions and wholly focussed on that wonderful voice.
    A totally uplifting album, amongst a wonderful company of friends – thanks again G & T 🙂

  2. TC December 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Aw evoked a hundred and one memories from my teenage years. Don’t stop til you get enough is my fave MJ track ever, I think. Really enjoyed the night. Good to have friends around to ebjoy the experience with.
    Lou Lou, you’re welcome

  3. minibreakfast December 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    This album was made for the dancefloor! The first song had me up immediately – chronic back pain be damned – whilst the cat looked at me wide-eyed as though I’d lost my mind. I joined her by the fire for the rest of side 1 however, before the pain could kick in. Side 2 began with another invitation to dance, then the tempo slowed for a few.

    I was struck by the Stevie-Wonderness of I Can’t Help It, and reaching for the LP cover I realised that he’d written it, also that Girlfriend was penned by Macca. Every day’s a schoolday!

    Burn This Disco Out by the great Temperton was a fantastic closer. Other than the big hits this album was new to me, so thanks again Greg and let us know soon what’s up next.

  4. Liddle Timmy December 5, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    I was 19 when this album came out, at that age it was all about the music, the dance floor,
    the atmosphere and yr mates.
    The track “Off the Wall” epitomosed that time for me, the club of choice back then was the
    Golden Guinea New Brighton. it had a basement dance floor a bar and caves you could sit in, drink and chat.
    Greg was the resident DJ and it was in this den of inequity that I first heard Off the Wall,

    I listened to the whole album many times that year, and probably several following.
    In LTM last night i was struck again by Michael’s voice on nearly all the tracks but especially
    on She’s out of my Life,

    Great LTM Greg
    Thank you

  5. greg wilson December 7, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    I’m not sure when ‘King Of Pop’ was a term that became associated with MJ, certainly post-‘Thriller’. Listening to ‘Off The Wall’, when he still was some years from wearing that crown, you can hear how influential that album would be with regards to the pop music of subsequent years, which, as the 60’s and 70’s had taken it’s inspiration from Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll, the 80’s and 90’s would increasingly draw from Disco and Funk innovations.

    Whilst ‘Thriller’ is an album by an artist of ultimate confidence, someone who knows they’re sculpting a masterwork, ‘Off The Wall’ is a little less asured, and although brilliantly produced, it’s not to the perfection of ‘Thriller’. This gives in a more human edge, and is what makes it my favourite MJ LP. As I mentioned in the post, this is an artist coming of age, finding the muse that would take him as high as they fly – which would culminate in his ‘King Of Pop’ coronation, putting him right up there alongside Elvis Presley and The Beatles, as an icon of his time, and a source of inspiration for so many others.


  6. Vicky Dutton December 7, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Fantastic album! Hard to sit still for a start! Whatever your opinion is on Michael Jackson as a person, his talent and insight into his music has always been apparent to me. He was ahead of his time, musically, he put the dance into dance music I feel.. He was an Icon, a purveyor of beats and dance moves. This early album proves that. ‘Don’t stop til you get enough’ is my favourite track, if you don’t want to get up and groove or at least jiggle wiggle in your armchair to this track then there’s something wrong with you!

  7. Steve December 8, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    Surely one of the best albums of it’s time , and even now stands tall amongst anything made today.
    I was a huge fan of ‘ Thriller ” as a teenager, and it wasn’t till I started djing that i really discovered the power of this album, and it’s influence on the house and techno generation.
    ” get on the floor ” is probably my favourite tune, as I love the fantastic bridge, which I used to try to extend with 2 copies of the record, it’s also been sampled or at least tributed in jeff Mills -the alarms , on purpose maker records, and also fantastically on Richie Rich – Salsa house, which I discovered more recently.
    Was really good to listen to the whole album again, and hear some of the downtempo tunes as well, ” can’t help it ” is also a standout for me , apart from the obvious floor-fillers , there is a great 12’ of instrumental remixes by darshammer of “rock with you” and “Can’t help it” I had to revisit in this session , well worth looking out for ; ) All in all , had a great time listening to this album again, Thanks Greg for the inspiration !!!
    P.S.(unrelated ) I finally checked out that Janelle Monae – Archandroid album you recommended, and it’s Fantastic !!! going to be in Mum’s Xmas stocking this year, Cheers for the tip !!! Look forward to seeing what you do next, Hope to see you in Oz next year !!
    Mad Love and Respect

  8. Nadia December 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    I play this album often. Whenever I want to remember how it felt to believe that life was just beyond the doors of your local youthie and by paying 50p,getting your hand stamped and walking in you could live it.Hearing It makes me smell hairspray and charlie number 1, taste spearmint gum and see neon. I also remember that when the singles played it was one of the few times that the dedicated soul fans were on the dancefloor at the same time as the rest. Of course we muttered about the Jackson 5 singles being better but nevertheless. I’d always loved Quincy Jones as a jazz arranger and think what he gives here makes this album a whole other thing…more than the sum of its parts I think.

  9. cez December 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    This album was a fantastic lift, I spent most of the time actually danciing away in my mind to it, at one point I even felt quite out of breath!? brilliant to hear after all these years, I was immediately transported back to my disco days as a teenager hanging out in the clubs in Spain, remembering that pure disco vibe!

    Another enjoyment was the new angle this time around, listening to the production from the one and only classy Quincy Jones. I didnt actually take much to the Thriller track, although Billy Jean is my ultimate favourite, that groove always gets to me.

    Really the whole experience for me was superb, not only from the vibe of the album, which massively seemed to ‘clean me up’ energy wise, but really from the coming together with so many of my favourite people on such a cold blustery night to listen together. I simply love LTM.

  10. Amanda Caza December 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Despite suffering from a nasty bout of sinusitus there was no way that I was going to miss taking part in this Living to Music and as Cez says above, I actually felt much better afterwards – as Mr G himself so aptly put it (quoting Mr C) ‘The funk don’t just move it removes. ‘

    Like most people of my generation, my introduction to Micheal Jackson came viaThriller, but Off The Wall was the first album I actually owned, having found it in the 80’s at a 50p vinyl store when I was 10 years old. Bizarre to think that such a feted album ended up in a Merseyside bargain bin but I guess I was lucky.

    Listening to it again after quite a few years, I was impressed by the exhuberant ‘good time’ feeling of the album, and the youthful energy which fizzes through every track, even the sorrowful ballad. The production is so tight that it still doesn’t sound dated, and there is a stunning purity and punch to Jackson’s voice, with his trademark percussive vocalizations and the raw (but very controlled) emotion in his voice on ‘She’s out of My Life.’

    I loved listening to this again, and it was the hardest album so far not to get up and dance to – but there was also an eerie element to the album for me – with echoes of my childhood idealization contrasting strongly with the shadowy world of sex scandals, sham marriages, and strange behaviour which preceeded his tragic demise. For me, Off The Wall emanates the almost cocky optimism and hope of a young man with the whole world ahead of him…And yet there is a paradox in knowing that his young life was far from free, and that there was far worse to come for him in his later years. I felt a sadness for the young man he seemed to be, and for what he later became. And strangely, that whatever he did or didn’t do with those children – I could not believe that he was a true sexual predator – but that, marred by drugs and the craziness that was his life, any wrong doing was just another error of judgement in a long line of many, indicating that he’d lost his grasp on reality.

    We may never know what really happened to the young man whose vitality and joie de vivre sparkles through this album, and whose vulnerability is still evident – and maybe we don’t need to. Micheal, you did us proud.

  11. BrianE December 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Haven’t listened to MJ for a while now, in fact for about a year and some of this album I hadn’t heard. Listening to it was a buzz as the image of him performing pops up in my mind on most of the tracks. He was obviously a great performer with an ‘electricity’ and excitement that is unique to him. What a great artist he was and it’s good to concentrate on the positive rather than the mainly negative associations of his latter years. This was going back to a time when none of the ‘Bad’ stuff surrounded him! Quincy Jones……….. what a dude!

  12. lec January 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    O my word! I listen to this quite regularly as I adore it. Love his voice, the vocal arrangements, musical arrangements, musicians and general “get up and dance” musicality of it.
    I wasn’t a massive fan of the Thriller album, for me, this album was all about dancing, which I did regularly at Leighton Court and later at The Chelsea.
    As for who wrote what, I have always been an avid reader of sleeve notes, which influenced what I would buy next (or steal from my brothers, if they had someone i wanted!).

    Just a fabulous Sunday. Thank you.

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