Off the Wall
|Off the Wall|
|Studio album by|
|Released||August 10, 1979|
|Recorded||December 1978 – June 3, 1979|
|Studio||Allen Zentz Recording
(Los Angeles, California)
|Michael Jackson chronology|
|Michael Jackson studio album chronology|
The slipcover for the 2001 Special Edition of the album. Current pressings of the special edition do not include the slipcover.
|Singles from Off the Wall|
Off the Wall is the fifth solo studio album by American singer Michael Jackson, released on August 10, 1979 in the United States by Epic Records and internationally by CBS Records. It was Jackson's first album released through Epic Records, the label he recorded under until his death in 2009, and the first produced by Quincy Jones, whom he met while working on the 1978 film The Wiz. Several critics observed that Off the Wall was crafted from funk, disco, soft rock, Broadway and pop ballads. It's lyrical themes include escapism, liberation, loneliness, hedonism and romance.
Off the Wall peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and was an enormous commercial success. Five singles were released from the album, three with music videos. Jackson wrote three songs himself, including the number-one single "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". The second single from the album, "Rock with You" also peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100. 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 record was a departure from Jackson's previous work for Motown Records, and was hailed as a major breakthrough for Jackson, while receiving critical recognition, along with praises, from major music publications.
Off the Wall was nominated for two Grammy Awards, with Jackson winning Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" which was his first Grammy Award. As of 2018, Off the Wall is certified eight times 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. Often considered one of the best disco albums of all time, the album was placed at number 68 on Rolling Stone list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003. The National Association of Recording Merchandisers listed it at number 80 on its list of the "Definitive 200 Albums of All Time". In 2008, Off the Wall was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Between 1972 and 1975, Michael Jackson released a total of four solo studio albums with Motown; Got to Be There, Ben, Music & Me, and Forever, Michael. 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. 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. The Jackson 5 signed a new contract with CBS Records in June 1975, first joining the Philadelphia International Records division and then Epic Records. As a result of legal proceedings, the group was renamed The Jacksons. After the name change, the band continued to tour internationally, releasing five more studio albums between 1976 and 1984; The Jacksons, Goin' Places, Destiny, Triumph, and Victory, as well as a live concert album in 1981. During that period, Michael was not only the lead singer, but also the chief songwriter for the group, writing or co-writing such hits as "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)", "This Place Hotel" and "Can You Feel It".
In 1978, Jackson starred as Scarecrow in the film musical The Wiz. 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 album Off the Wall. Jackson was dedicated to the role, and watched videotapes of gazelles, cheetahs and panthers in order to learn graceful movements for his part. 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 to Sammy Davis, Jr. Critics panned The Wiz upon its October 1978 release, but 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." Of the results of the film, Jackson stated: "I don't think it could have been any better, I really don't". In 1980, Jackson stated that his time working on The Wiz was "my greatest experience so far...I'll never forget that".
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, but rather he wanted more creative freedom, something he had not been allowed on prior albums. Jackson's father Joseph also approved of the project and allowed him to record it on the condition that it didn't interfere with group business. Despite his brothers' desire to work with him, Jackson wanted to make the album independently of his family. Nevertheless, his brother Randy still contributed percussion to "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough".
Jones produced "Off the Wall", with co-production credit given to Jackson on the songs he wrote for the album. Songwriters included Jackson, Heatwave's Rod Temperton, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. 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 at Cherokee 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. Swedien would later mix the recording sessions for Jackson's next album and his most well-known work, 1982's Thriller. Jones recalled that, at first, he found Jackson to be very introverted, shy and non-assertive.
"She's Out of My Life" had been written for Jones by Tom Bahler three years earlier. Jackson heard and enjoyed it, and Jones allowed him to use it on the record. 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. 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. 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. Jackson wrote "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" after humming a melody in his kitchen. After listening to hundreds of songs, Jackson and Jones decided upon a batch to record. In hindsight, Jones believed they took a lot of risks in the production of Off the Wall and the final choice of album tracks. 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'".
Music and vocals
Music critics Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Stephen Holden of AllMusic observed that Off the Wall was crafted from funk, disco-pop, soul, soft rock, and pop ballads. Prominent examples include the ballad "She's Out of My Life", the funk tune "Workin' Day and Night", and the disco song "Get on the Floor". "I Can't Help It" is a jazz piece. 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: Ella, Sinatra, Sassy, Aretha, Ray 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. The end of the former song showed an "emotional" Jackson crying as the track concluded. Of the song, rhythm and blues 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". "Rock with You" is a romantic, mid-tempo song. The album's songs have a tempo ranging from 66 beats per minute on "She's Out of My Life", to 128 on "Workin' Day and Night".
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". 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". Writer, journalist and biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli expressed the opinion that Jackson sings with "sexy falsetto" vocals in "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough".
Off the Wall peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and was an enormous commercial success. 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". 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. On November 3, 1979 the second single from the album, "Rock with You" was released, again it peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100.
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. "She's Out of My Life" was released after that, also reaching number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June. Thus Off the Wall became the first album by a solo artist to generate four US top 10 hits. 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. The album's success led to the start of a nine-year partnership between Jackson and Jones; their next collaboration would be Thriller, which is the world's best selling album of all time.
|Christgau's Record Guide||A|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
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.
In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau hailed Off the Wall as "the dance groove of the year" and that Jackson's vocal stylings were a reminder that he had grown up. 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". Giving the album a favorable review in Smash Hits, David Hepworth said that Jackson "sings like an angel". Sounds shared the same point of view, qualifying Jackson's voice as "astoninshingly agile".
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. That year, he also won Billboard Music Awards for Top Black Artist and Top Black Album and the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. 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. In particular, Jackson was disappointed that he had only won a single Grammy Award at the 1980 Grammy Awards, the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Jackson stated that "It was totally unfair that it didn't get Record of the Year and it can never happen again".
On October 16, 2001, a special edition reissue of Off the Wall was released by Sony Records. It was re-released again on February 26, 2016. 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. The publication believed, "[Off the Wall] is an enormously fresh record, one that remains vibrant and giddily exciting years after its release".
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".
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 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". In 2008, Off the Wall was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
On January 7, 2016, Sony Music and The Estate of Michael Jackson announced that Off the Wall would be reissued and packaged with a new documentary directed by Spike Lee entitled Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall. The reissue and documentary were both released on February 26, 2016. Recent reviews by AllMusic and Blender have continued to praise Off the Wall for its appeal in the 21st century.
In August 2018, on the occasion of what would have been Jackson's 60th birthday, Entertainment Weekly reevaluated the album, giving it a score of A−, saying that the album was Jackson's first musical statement as an adult, that it was "a featherweight rapture of disco-flecked R&B" containing dance-floor favorites and some lesser songs.
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1980||"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"||Best Disco Recording||Nominated|
|"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"||Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male||Won|
- The original LP, cassette pressings and first CD issue of Off the Wall contain the original mixes of "Rock with You" and "Get on the Floor".
- Every song on the album is available either as A or B sides of single releases both in 7 or 12 inch format. Seven of the songs out of ten saw US release either as A or B sides and the UK had the remaining three songs available also as A or B sides of singles. As of 2000 the singles are available in both 7 and 12 inch formats and few different mixes, even though some releases have been more targeted to a UK/Europe audience. The original album mix of the title track is not available as a single and the original mix was kept for future reissues of the album, unlike the two songs mentioned in the upper note, the single mix did not replace the title track on all future reissues.
- Patti Austin – lead vocals (track 9), background vocals (9)
- Tom Bahler – rhythm arrangement (track 6), vocal arrangement (9)
- Michael Boddicker – synthesizer (track 2), programming (5, 8)
- Larry Carlton – guitar (track 7)
- Paulinho Da Costa – percussion (tracks 1, 3-5, 8, 10)
- George Duke – synthesizer (tracks 5-6), programming (5-6)
- David Foster – synthesizer (tracks 6, 9), rhythm arrangement (9)
- Jim Gilstrap – background vocals (tracks 1, 4)
- Gary Grant – trumpet (tracks 1-6, 8-10)
- Richard Heath – percussion (track 1)
- Marlo Henderson – guitar (tracks 1-2, 5-6, 9-10)
- Jerry Hey – horn arrangements (tracks 1-6, 8-10), trumpet (1-6, 8-10), flugelhorn (1-6, 8-10)
- Kim Hutchcroft – baritone saxophone (tracks 1-6, 8-10), tenor saxophone (1-6, 8-10), flute (1-6, 8-10)
- Michael Jackson – lead vocals (all tracks), background vocals (1-6, 9-10), co-producer (1, 3-4), percussion (1, 3), rhythm arrangements (1, 3), vocal arrangements (1, 3-4, 6), percussion arrangements (1, 3)
- Randy Jackson – percussion (track 1)
- Mortonette Jenkins – background vocals (tracks 1, 4)
- Augie Johnson – background vocals (tracks 1, 4)
- Louis Johnson – bass guitar (tracks 1, 3-10), rhythm arrangement (4)
- Quincy Jones – producer (all tracks), rhythm arrangements (4, 6, 9), vocal arrangements (6, 9)
- Johnny Mandel – strings arrangement (tracks 7-8)
- Paulette McWilliams – background vocals (tracks 1, 4)
- Greg Phillinganes – piano, Fender Rhodes (tracks 1, 3, 5-10), synthesizer (1-2, 5, 8), clavinet (4), rhythm arrangements (1, 3, 6, 8)
- Steve Porcaro – synthesizer, programming (tracks 6, 9)
- Bill Reichenbach Jr. – trombone (tracks 1-6, 8-10)
- John Robinson – drums (tracks 1-6, 8-10), percussion (3)
- The Seawind Horns – horns (tracks 1-6, 8-10)
- Bruce Swedien – recording engineer (all tracks), audio mixer (all tracks)
- Rod Temperton – rhythm arrangements (tracks 2, 5, 10), vocal arrangements (2, 5, 10)
- Phil Upchurch – guitar (track 3)
- Gerald Vinci – concertmaster (tracks 1-2, 4, 7-8)
- Bobby Watson – bass guitar (track 2)
- Wah Wah Watson – guitar (tracks 4, 6, 9)
- David Williams – guitar (tracks 1-3, 5, 10)
- Larry Williams – tenor saxophone (tracks 1-6, 8-10), alto saxophone (1-6, 8-10), flute (1-6, 8-10), alto saxophone solo (6)
- Zedrick Williams – background vocals (tracks 1, 4)
- Hawk Wolinski – piano, Fender Rhodes (track 2)
- Stevie Wonder – rhythm arrangement (track 8)
- Ben Wright – strings arrangements (tracks 1-2, 4)
|Australia (ARIA)||5× Platinum||350,000^|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||Platinum||50,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||3× Platinum||300,000|
|Europe (IFPI)||4× Platinum||4,000,000*|
|Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)||Gold||15,000*|
|Italy (FIMI)||7× Platinum||350,000*|
|Japan (RIAJ)||2× Platinum||500,000|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||6× Platinum||90,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||Platinum||50,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||6× Platinum||1,971,000|
|United States (RIAA)||8× Platinum||8,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
|Billboard 200 Albums (1980)||Position|
|Billboard 200 Albums||
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