Michael Jackson’s Thriller is considered his masterpiece, but there is something to be said for his 1979 classic Off the Wall. Some even consider it a better album than Thriller. Off the Wall was the record on which a 21-year-old Jackson (born Aug. 29, 1958) declared his creative independence from his family and set the stage for one of the greatest (and eventually, most tragic) careers in pop music history.
We all know the hits – four Top 10 smashes (“Rock with You,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “She’s Out of My Life” and the title track) – but there were ten tracks on the record, and all contributed to the greatness listeners heard when they dropped the needle on the groove. Let’s take a listen to this material, to hear what these album tracks had to do with Off the Wall’s classic reputation.
“Workin’ Day and Night”: This disco thumper could’ve been a fifth Top 10 hit, had it been released as a single. Imagine hearing this for the first time back in ‘79 – you’d be dancing across the floor in your living room, making the record skip, annoying the neighbors. It’s that good.
“Get on the Floor”: More disco flavor here, with the strings in the background and Louis Johnson’s popping bass up front. With Jackson repeatedly imploring the object of his affection to “dance with me,” it makes you wonder how that person ever could resist the invitation.
“Girlfriend”: If any track on Off the Wall could be said to be expendable, it would be this cover of a cute Paul McCartney track originally recorded on the Wings album London Town. It’s not a bad cut, but one that sounds slightly out of place on the record. Allegedly, McCartney had written the song for Jackson to sing, but then wound up recording it himself anyway.
“I Can’t Help It”: The searching bass and keyboard tandem that runs through the song, as well as the cadence of the chorus, reminded one immediately of some of Stevie Wonder’s ‘70s ballads, and it wasn’t a coincidence – Wonder co-wrote the song. Jackson’s performance is a nice nod to a man who was a contemporary and also an elder, of a sort.
“It’s the Falling in Love”: Another pop cover, this time of a Carole Bayer-Sager cut, with the great Patti Austin sharing lead vocal duty. There’s definitely more depth here than on “Girlfriend,” which makes the song a keeper.
“Burn This Disco Out”: The album – this classic party record – ends with another invitation to dance. “So DJs spin the sounds,” Jackson sings. “There ain’t no way that you’re gonna let us down.” And you realize at that point that it’s been Jackson himself that’s kept the groove going and not let you down.