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Off the Wall is the fifth studio album by American recording artist Michael Jackson. It was released on August 10, 1979 byEpic Records following Jackson's critically well-received film performance in The Wiz. While working on that project, Jackson and Quincy Jones had become friends, and Jones agreed to work with Jackson on his next studio album. Recording sessions took place between December 1978 and June 1979 at Allen Zentz Recording, Westlake Recording Studios, and Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, California. Jackson collaborated with a number of other writers and performers such as Paul McCartneyStevie Wonder and Rod Temperton. Five singles were released from the album. Three of the singles had music videos released. Jackson wrote three of the songs himself, including the Platinum-certified lead single, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". It was his first solo release under Epic Records, the label he would record on until his death in 2009.

The record was a departure from Jackson's previous work for Motown. Several critics observed that Off the Wall was crafted from funkdiscosoft rockjazz and pop ballads. Jackson received positive reviews for his vocal performance on the record. The record gained critical acclaim and recognition and won the singer his first Grammy Award since the early 1970s. With Off the Wall, Jackson became the first solo artist to have four singles from the same album peak inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. The album was an enormous commercial success; as of 2014 it is certified 8× Platinum in the United States and has reportedly sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best selling albums of all time.

On October 16, 2001, a special edition reissue of Off the Wall was released by Sony Records. Recent reviews by AllMusicand Blender have continued to praise Off the Wall for its appeal in the 21st century. In 2003, the album was ranked number 68 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The National Association of Recording Merchandisers listed it at number 80 of the Definitive 200 Albums of All Time. In 2008, Off the Wall was inducted into theGrammy Hall of Fame.

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Background

Background[edit]Edit

Starting in 1972, Michael Jackson released a total of four solo studio albums with Motown, among them Got to Be Thereand Ben. These were released as part of The Jackson 5 franchise, and produced successful singles such as "Got to Be There", "Ben" and a remake of Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin". The Jackson 5's sales, however, began declining in 1973, and the band members chafed under Motown's strict refusal to allow them creative control or input.[1] Although the group scored several top 40 hits, including the top five disco single "Dancing Machine" and the top 20 hit "I Am Love", The Jackson 5 (minus Jermaine Jackson) left Motown in 1975.[1] The Jackson 5 signed a new contract with CBS Records in June 1975, first joining the Philadelphia International Records division and then Epic Records.[1] As a result of legal proceedings, the group was renamed The Jacksons.[2] After the name change, the band continued to tour internationally, releasing six more albums between 1976 and 1984. From 1976 to 1984, Michael Jackson was the lead songwriter of the group, writing or co-writing such hits as "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)", "This Place Hotel" and "Can You Feel It".[3]

In 1978, Jackson starred as Scarecrow in the film musical The Wiz.[4] The musical scores were arranged by Quincy Jones, who formed a partnership with Jackson during the film's production and agreed to produce the singer's solo albumOff the Wall.[5] Jackson was dedicated to the role, and watched videotapes of gazellescheetahs and panthers in order to learn graceful movements for his part.[6]Jones recalled working with Jackson as one of his favorite experiences from The Wiz, and spoke of Jackson's dedication to his role, comparing his acting style toSammy Davis, Jr.[6] Critics panned The Wiz upon its October 1978 release.[7][8] Jackson's performance as the Scarecrow was one of the only positively reviewed elements of the film, with critics noting that Jackson possessed "genuine acting talent" and "provided the only genuinely memorable moments."[9][10] Of the results of the film, Jackson stated: "I don't think it could have been any better, I really don't".[11] In 1980, Jackson stated that his time working on The Wiz was "my greatest experience so far...I'll never forget that".[10]

Production[edit]Edit

[1]Quincy Jones produced "Off The Wall." This was the first of three successful collaborations with Jackson.

When Jackson began the Off the Wall project he was not sure what he wanted as the final result. However he did not want another record that sounded like The Jacksons. He wanted more creative freedom, something he had not been allowed on prior albums.[12]Jones and Jackson jointly produced Off the Wall, whose songwriters included Jackson, Heatwave's Rod TempertonStevie Wonder andPaul McCartney.[13] All sessions took place at Los Angeles County-based recording studios. Rhythm tracks and vocals were recorded at Allen Zentz Recording, the horn section's contributions took place at Westlake Audio, and string instrumentation was recorded atCherokee Studios in West Hollywood. Following the initial sessions, audio mixing was handled by Grammy-winning engineer Bruce Swedien at Westlake Audio, after which the original tapes went to the A&M Recording Studio, also located in L.A., for mastering.[14]Swedien would later mix the recording sessions for Jackson's next album and his most well-known work, 1982's Thriller.[14] Jones recalled that, at first, he found Jackson to be very introverted, shy and non-assertive.[15]

"She's Out of My Life" was written for Jones by Tom Bahler three years prior. Jackson heard and enjoyed it, and Jones allowed him to use it on the record.[13] Jones called in Heatwave's keyboardist Rod Temperton to write three songs. The intention was for Jackson and Jones to select one of his songs, but Jackson, liking them all, included all of them in the final cut.[13] Jackson stayed up all night to learn the lyrics to these songs instead of singing from a sheet. He finished the vocals to these three Temperton songs in two recording sessions.[13] Temperton took a different approach to his song writing after spending some time researching the background to Jackson's music style. Temperton mixed his traditional harmony segments with the idea of adding shorter note melodies to suit Jackson's aggressive style.[13] Jackson wrote "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" after humming a melody in his kitchen.[16] After listening to hundreds of songs, Jackson and Jones decided upon a batch to record.[16] In hindsight, Jones believed they took a lot of risks in the production of Off the Wall and the final choice of album tracks.[13] Attention was also paid to the album cover, which shows Jackson smiling, wearing a tuxedo and trademark socks. His manager stated, "The tuxedo was the overall plan for the Off the Wall project and package. The tuxedo was our idea, the socks were Michael'".[17]

Music and vocals[edit]Edit

Music critics Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Stephen Holden of AllMusic observed that Off the Wall was crafted from funkdisco-popsoulsoft rockjazz and pop ballads.[18][19] Prominent examples include the ballad "She's Out of My Life", and the two disco tunes "Working Day and Night" and "Get on the Floor".[19] "I Can't Help It" is a jazz piece.[17] In Quincy Jones' autobiography, he compares Jackson to other jazz singers noting that Jackson "has some of the same qualities as the great jazz singers I'd worked with: EllaSinatraSassyArethaRay Charles, Dinah. Each of them had that purity, that strong signature sound and that open wound that pushed them to greatness." "She's Out of My Life" is a melodic pop ballad.[16] The end of the former song showed an "emotional" Jackson crying as the track concluded.[17] Of the song R&B writer Nelson George proclaimed, "[It] became a Jackson signature similar to the way "My Way" served Frank Sinatra. The vulnerability, verging on fragility that would become embedded in Michael's persona found, perhaps, its richest expression in this wistful ballad".[5] "Rock with You" is a romantic, mid-tempo song.[16] The album's songs have a tempo ranging from 66 beats per minute on "She's Out of My Life", to 128 on "Working Day and Night".[20]

With the arrival of Off the Wall in the late 1970s, Jackson's abilities as a vocalist were well regarded; AllMusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine described him as a "blindingly gifted vocalist".[19] At the time, Rolling Stone compared his vocals to the "breathless, dreamy stutter" of Stevie Wonder. Their analysis was also that "Jackson's feathery-timbered tenor is extraordinary beautiful. It slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that's used very daringly".[21] John Randall Taraborrelli expressed the opinion that Jackson sings with "sexy falsetto" vocals in "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough".[16]

Release[edit]Edit

Writer, journalist and biographer John Randall Taraborrelli stated, "Fans and industry peers alike were left with their mouths agape when Off the Wall was issued to the public. Fans proclaimed that they hadn't heard him sing with such joy and abandon since the early Jackson 5 days".[17] On July 28, 1979, Off the Wall's first single, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough", was released. It peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number three in the UK.[22][23] On November 3, 1979 the second single from the album, "Rock with You" was released, again it peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100.[24]

In February, the album's title track was released as a single and went to number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became a top 10 hit in four countries.[25] "She's Out of My Life", also reaching number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June.[26] Thus Off the Wall became the first album by a solo artist to generate four US top 10 hits.[22] Today, Off the Wall is certified 8× Multi-Platinum in the US for shipments of eight million units and sold over 20 million copies worldwide.[27][28][29] The album's success lead to the start of a 9-year partnership between Jackson and Jones, their next collaboration would be Thriller, which is the world's best selling album of all time.[30]

Reception[edit]Edit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [19]
Blender [31]
Robert Christgau (A)[32]
Melody Maker (favorable)[33]
Q [34]
Rolling Stone (favorable)[18]
Smash Hits (favorable)[35]
Sounds [36]
Yahoo! Music (favorable)[37]

Off the Wall was hailed as a major breakthrough for Jackson, while receiving critical recognition, along with praises, from major music publications. In a 1979 review of the album, Rolling Stone magazine contributor Stephen Holden praised Jackson's maturity and transition from his early Motown material, while calling the album a "slick, sophisticated R&B-pop showcase with a definite disco slant". Holden went on to compare Jackson to Stevie Wonder, another Motown performer who began recording at a young age and gained critical acclaim for his transition.[18]

Music critic Robert Christgau gave the album a positive (A) grade believing that Off the Wall was "the dance groove of the year" and the album presented Jackson as a grown up.[32] In a review for Melody Maker Phil McNeill expressed the opinion that in Off the Wall Jackson sounded comfortable, confident and in control. He believed "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" had a "classy" introduction and that it was the best song on the album. He also praised "Rock with You", describing it as "masterful". The reviewer concurred with a colleague that Jackson was "probably the best singer in the world right now in terms of style and technique".[33] Giving the album a favorable review in Smash HitsDavid Hepworthsaid that Jackson "sings like an angel".[35] Sounds shared the same point of view, qualifying Jackson's voice as "astoninshingly agile". The first side of Off the Wall is praised for its "clutch of dancers that must have even Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards watching their backs".[36]

In 1980, Jackson won three awards at the American Music Awards for his solo efforts: Favorite Soul/R&B Album, Favorite Male Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Single (for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough").[22] That year, he also won Billboard Music Awards for Top Black Artist and Top Black Album and a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough").[22] Despite its commercial success, Jackson felt Off the Wall should have made a much bigger impact, and was determined to exceed expectations with his next release.[22][38] In particular, Jackson was disappointed that he had won only a single Grammy Award at the 1980 Grammys, a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough".[39] Jackson stated that "It was totally unfair that it didn't get Record of the Year and it can never happen again".[40]

Legacy[edit]Edit

...the album that established him as an artist of astonishing talent and a bright star in his own right. This was a visionary album, a record that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable.

—Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AllMusic, [19]

On October 16, 2001, a special edition reissue of Off the Wall was released by Sony Records.[19] The material found strong praise from critics more than 20 years after the original release. AllMusic gave the record a five star review, praising the record's disco-tinged funk and mainstream pop blend, along with Jackson's songwriting and Jones' crafty production.[19] The publication believed, "[Off the Wall] is an enormously fresh record, one that remains vibrant and giddily exciting years after its release".[19]

In recent years Blender gave the record a full five star review stating that it was, "A blockbuster party LP that looked beyond funk to the future of dance music, and beyond soul ballads to the future of heart-tuggers—in fact, beyond R&B to color-blind pop. Hence, the forgivable Wings cover".[31]

In 2003, the album was ranked number 68 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[41] The National Association of Recording Merchandisers listed it at number 80 of the Definitive 200 Albums of All Time.[42] In 2004, Nelson George wrote of Jackson and his music, "the argument for his greatness in the recording studio begins with his arrangements of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". The layers of percussion and the stacks of backing vocals, both artfully choreographed to create drama and ecstasy on the dance floor, still rock parties in the 21st century".[5] In 2008, Off the Wall was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Grammy Awards
Year Recipient Award Result
1980 "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" Best Disco Recording Nominated[43]
"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Won[43]
Grammy Hall of Fame
Year Recipient Award Result
2008 Off the Wall Album Inducted[44]

Track listing[edit]Edit

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"   Michael Jackson *Quincy Jones*Jackson (co.) 6:04
2. "Rock with You"   Rod Temperton Jones 3:40
3. "Working Day and Night"   Jackson *Jones
  • Jackson (co.)
5:14
4. "Get on the Floor"   *Jackson *Jones
  • Jackson (co.)
4:39
5. "Off the Wall"   Temperton Jones 4:05
6. "Girlfriend"   Paul McCartney Jones 3:05
7. "She's Out of My Life"   Tom Bahler Jones 3:37
8. "I Can't Help It"   *Stevie Wonder*Susaye Greene Jones 4:29
9. "It's the Falling in Love"   *Carole Bayer Sager*David Foster Jones 3:48
10. "Burn This Disco Out"   Temperton Jones 3:41
Notes
  • The original LP, cassette pressings and first CD issue of this album contain the original mixes of "Rock with You" and "Get on the Floor".

Personnel[edit]Edit

Sales[edit]Edit

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[45] 5× Platinum 350,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[46] Triple Platinum 300,000[47]
France (SNEP)[48] Platinum 300,000
Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)[49] Gold 15,000
Italy (FIMI)[50] Gold 30,000
Japan (RIAJ)[51] Double Platinum 500,000[52]
Mexico (AMPROFON)[53] 3× Platinum 500,000[53]
New Zealand (RMNZ)[54] 6× Platinum 90,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[55] 6× Platinum 1,800,000[56]
United States (RIAA)[57] 8× Platinum 8,000,000^
Summaries
World 20,000,000[27]

  • sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone

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