Off The Wall is cited by many artists and industry professionals alike as the perfect ten-track album. It was Michael Jackson’s first album since officially disbanding from The Jacksons. Right from its infectious up-tempo opener, ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, to the closing boogie beat, ‘Burn This Disco Out’, this album has all the guts to have made it and to keep it one of the most iconic albums of all time.
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
Kabasa, a cowbell and a glass bottle. These ring any bells? Well if you’ve ever asked yourself what those strange, sharp, clanging noises are in MJ’s first single, there’s your answer. In the original demo for the song, Randy and Janet help Michael out to cut the proverbial first draft for Quincy Jones. Quincy, being the music maestro that he is, kept most, if not all, of Michael’s proposals and added horns, bass guitar and bass drums. The up-tempo flirtatious pop killa tempts its receiver by claiming she could never get enough of the fire that makes it happen without asking any questions.
Rock with You
The second track on the tracklist is one of three written for the album by world famous composer Rod Temperton, who rose to fame after penning the global smash hit ‘Thriller’. It’s a mid-tempo ballad that continues the ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ theme over a laid back drumline, guitars, bass guitar, strings and keys. One of Rod’s favourite things to write for Michael in his songs for him is harmonies. ‘Rock with You’ is perhaps the best example of this. Michael’s harmonies are as smooth and soothing on this record as they were on his previous ones with Jackson 5. This song was made to take you to a place where souls meet to fall in love.
Working Day and Night
The last song Michael brought in for the Off The Wall sessions and one of two that he wrote entirely on his own (‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ is the other). The cowbell makes its return in this one as well at the bass and keys. This is the first time we hear Michael experiment with vocal techniques to enhance the vocal soundscape of a song and what better song than this to try it? The song talks about a lazy lover who insists on Michael working all day and night in order to keep her while also revealing Michael’s thoughts on this. The vocal graphics of the song around the actual singing add to the exhaustion of the constant labour that he is forced into to prove his love. The bass solo builds it all to a climax which leads to a cathartic vocal scale release. Genius at its purest.
Get on the Floor
Its first greeting is a bold horn intro followed by an infectious bass riff that makes the foundation for the rest of the song. The song’s boldness is just as well as this next mid-tempo is a call to the dance floor in the most assertive of manners. But then again, who would be brave enough to join MJ on the dance floor? ‘Get on the Floor’ is also where we see the first development phases of Michael’s iconic vocal hiccup a la ‘Billie Jean’. You ready to get on the floor?
Off the Wall
‘Off the Wall’ is the next song written by Temperton and probably the closest pre-Thriller reference you will find on the album. Its eerie heckling as an intro arouses a cautiousness. The bass’ repetitive nature almost lulls you into zombie-mode much like Joe So’s 9 to 5 has done to him. If you have any inhibitions, you’ll need to shake them off for MJ and his party people. This is a call to let go of the things that weigh us down so heavily in this fast-paced life; to let go; to enjoy. Live life off of the wall. The harmonies in the song are some of Michael’s most sincere and purest and almost serve a Michael’s chorus of party people, convincing the hard headed, conditioned and machine-minded to let go and live a little.
Paul McCartney’s first interest in and effort for Michael resulted in arguably the cutest song you’ll ever hear: ‘Girlfriend’. The song talks about being a secret lover who’s had just about enough of hiding and is ready to claim his girl as his own. So he threatens to tell his lover’s first boyfriend that she’ll only be seeing one man now. The shortest song on the album but by no means the least of the record.
She’s Out of My Life
Loss is a difficult thing to accept. It becomes incredibly difficult to accept when it’s the loss of someone you loved. ‘She’s Out of My Life’ is arguably Michael’s strongest performance on this album. No niceties or special effects. Michael’s voice. Piano. Strings. Add these elements into one and your result is perfection. It’s the kind of song that nullifies the naysayers’ claims that Michael was not a good vocalist, only a good performer. It reminds us of the legendary vocalist that is (no typo) Michael Jackson. Quincy speaks of a young 21-year-old Michael and how he wasn’t sure if Michael had experienced anything as intense as the Tom Bahler’s song describes but he cried after every take. About 11 takes of the song were done and Michael teared up each time. Quincy made the call to keep MJ’s sobbing on the record and looking back 34 years later, what a genius decision it was!
I Can’t Help It
Love him or mock him, Stevie Wonder is a name music will never forget. In the first song he co-pens for Michael, Michael delivers a sensuous performance in what comes together to be a coming-clean-about-your-feelings song over psychedelic instrumentals. Michael pursues his lover and lays every last one of his cards on the table admitting that he’s as helpless as a baby when it comes to loving her. What more can a guy say? What more could a girl possibly want or need to hear? This song has Stevie written all over it and he would no doubt do an incredible job at it. But this is what sets Michael apart and is, in my belief, the reason why Stevie approached him with it in the first place: Michael was able to make it entirely his own just like a musical ‘angel in disguise’. I couldn’t help that last one.
It’s the Falling in Love
In case you missed the first four fifths of the album, this song will some it up for you: love is a complex, convoluted game. We all have an innate craving for that high of falling in love but none of us want to ever deal with the crying that more often than not comes with being in love. It comes down to whether you can or can’t live without it and the reality is most of us can’t. The excitable horns might trick you into believing this to be a happy-clappy song and perhaps even the bass guitar’s intro. However, it’s that very same bass guitar that adds the sombre undertone that song speaks of. I guess it comes down to damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Burn this Disco Out
What better way to end the record than by a party courtesy of Mr Rod Temperton himself. Imagine: disco, your favourite DJ, smoke, dim lights and a disco ball. What more can you ask for? Whether you end up with the girl, decide it’s best to be apart or are still as confused as most of us live our lives, hit the club and dance it off is exactly what Michael’s about in his closing boogy record. The chorus of party people are back and they’re accompanied by those excitable horns that simply will not let you stay in your seat. So go on and dance and shout and burn that disco out.
Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall is available now on iTunes or any good music store.