Ask ten people to name a Michael Jackson album and at least nine of them will probably mention Thriller, which propelled his career into the stratosphere in 1982. That gazillion-seller overshadows the fact that, three years earlier, we had already glimpsed his greatness with Off the Wall. Recorded when Jackson was just 20, it gave us such classics as ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’, ‘Rock With You’ and ‘She’s Out Of My Life’. As this re-release shows, the record can still hold its own with anything the late singer recorded. It stands as one of the greatest albums in the pop firmament.
Much of the credit for Off the Wall’s endurance should probably go to the dream team Jackson and CBS assembled in the studio. Chief among them was producer, Quincy Jones, the musical genius the singer had first encountered working on the film, The Wiz. Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney wrote songs for the record, and it also marked the emergence of Rod Temperton, the little-known funkster from Cleethorpes, Lancashire, who wrote ‘Rock With You’ and the magnificent title track. The latter tune offers a blueprint for living we’d all do well to heed: “Leave that nine to five upon the shelf And just enjoy yourself C’mon and groove, and let the madness in the music get to you.”
But none of those collaborations should take away from Jackson’s own input. His years as a childhood star ensured he was already a veteran of the music business and, as well as the sublime vocals, he wrote three of the tracks, and helped produce several more. His talent, work-ethic, and spirit were feeding off the joyous dancefloors of disco culture, and, ultimately, he created an album that transcended the era. Listen and be reminded.
- The re-release’s accompanying documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall, directed by Spike Lee, will be shown on RTÉ2 tonight at 10.45pm.