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Off the Wall
|Off the Wall|
|Studio album by|
|Released||August 10, 1979|
|Recorded||December 4, 1978 – June 3, 1979|
|Studio||Allen Zentz, Westlake, and Cherokee, 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 by Epic 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 disco, pop, funk, R&B, soft rock and Broadway ballads. Its lyrical themes include escapism, liberation, loneliness, hedonism and romance.
Between 1972 and 1975, Jackson released a total of four solo studio albums with Motown as part of The Jackson 5 franchise; Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music & Me (1973) and Forever, Michael (1975). Before recording his next album, which came to be Off the Wall, Jackson desired to create a record not sounding like a Jacksons record, but rather showcasing creative freedom and individualism. Regarding his re-branded image for the Off the Wall era, Jackson's 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's".
Off the Wall peaked at number three on the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart and number one on the Top Black Albums chart, staying at number one on the latter for 16 weeks, and was an enormous critical success. Five singles were released from the album. Jackson wrote three songs himself, including the Billboard Hot 100 number one single "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough", which was Jackson's first solo number-one single since "Ben", seven years prior. The second single from the album, "Rock with You" also peaked atop the chart. With the title track and "She's Out of My Life" reaching the top 10 of the chart, Jackson became the first solo artist to have four singles from the same album peak inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Off the Wall was a significant departure from Jackson's previous work for Motown and was hailed as a major breakthrough for him. In retrospect, writers have hailed it a landmark of the disco era and one of the greatest albums of all time. It is also often debated by critics between itself and Thriller as Jackson's best album. It has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time. In August 2009, it was certified 8× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). At the 1980 Grammy Awards, it was nominated for two Grammy Awards, with Jackson winning Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough". 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; their self-titled eleventh album, 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. John Branca, Jackson's 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". Taraborrelli also 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".
Off the Wall peaked at number three on the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart and number one on the Billboard R&B Albums chart, staying at number one on the latter chart for 16 weeks. An enormous commercial success, it was third-best-selling album of 1980. Off the Wall is certified 8× Platinum in the US and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. It's also gained Platinum certifications in eleven other countries. The album's success led to the start of a nine-year partnership between Jackson and Jones; their next collaboration would be Thriller (1982), which is the best-selling album of all time.
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. 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.
"Don’t Stop 'Til You Get Enough" was released on August 10, 1979, under Epic Records which was Jackson's first solo single not released under Motown Records. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 on October 10, making it Jackson's first solo number one single since "Ben", seven years prior.
"Rock with You" also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Jackson's third number-one single of his career and it also reach the top spot on R&B charts. It spent four consecutive weeks at number one starting January 19, 1980 and was the fourth biggest single of 1980.
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. The song was also one of Jackson's slowest songs, with a tempo of 66 beats per minute. Off the Wall became the first album by a solo artist to generate four US top 10 hits.
|Album of the Year||98/100|
|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 widespread 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, stating that the album "represents discofied post-Motown glamour at its classiest." 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, critic Robert Christgau credited Jackson and Quincy Jones with "fashion[ing] the dance groove of the year" and stated that "Michael's vocabulary of grunts, squeals, hiccups, moans, and asides is a vivid reminder that he's 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".
Legacy and influence
Off the Wall is widely considered by critics and publications as one of the greatest albums of all time. Although it was not as commercially successful as Bad, Dangerous and HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, the album is often debated by critics between itself and Thriller as Jackson's best. According to some music journalists, it epitomized the peak of the disco era, being part of a group of landmark disco albums including Donna Summer's Bad Girls (1979) and Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever (1977).
James Wilson-Taylor of PopBuzz believed that the album influenced artists including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber and Beyoncé. The Weeknd cited it as a major influence on his artistry, saying, "I found my falsetto, because of Off The Wall [and] "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"...I always use Michael [Jackson] as, first and foremost, a vocal inspiration, and Off the Wall was definitely the one that made me feel like I could sing." Britni Danielle of Ebony highlighted Chris Brown's “Fine China” for being a "surprisingly lush and infectious tune reminiscent of Jackson's Off the Wall ['vibe']". Regarding the comparison to Jackson's Off the Wall 'vibe', Brown himself stated "I really wanted to kind of bring that essence of music back with that single." Writing for Pitchfork, Ryan Dombal said that the influence of "I Can't Help It" on Pharrell's "off-kilter funk cannot be overstated". During Sean Combs' acceptance speech for the Recording Academy’s Salute to Industry Icon award at the Clive Davis' Pre-Grammy Gala, where he expressed his disappointment towards the Grammy Award's due to the lack of big award wins for Black artists, Combs' spoke on Thriller being Jackson's "revenge" for "not being nominated [enough] for Off the Wall". Combs' also dedicated his award to Off the Wall. A writer of PR Newswire credits the album for "smashing the ceiling on record sales for black artists [and] ushering in an exciting new era of R&B-to-pop crossover airplay, chart, marketing and sales trends not seen before in modern pop music."
According to the same writer,
"Off The Wall transcended music and entertainment altogether [to Black America]. The success of the album marked a level of national and international achievement that conjured pride in a culture that as late as the end of the 1970s was still fighting for the kind of social acceptance that Jackson's album received. Because of Off the Wall's indelible influence, 21st century artists as disparate as Beyonce, Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd all have a blueprint they turned to for creating their superstardom."
Recent reviews have continued to praise Off the Wall for its appeal in the 21st century. 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". 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".
A writer for Rolling Stone wrote "the unstoppable dance tracks on Off the Wall – sculpted by Jackson and producer Quincy Jones – remain more or less perfect examples of why disco didn't suck. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Rock With You" and "Burn This Disco Out" still get the party started today." David O'Donnell, writing for the BBC, described Off the Wall as "one of the finest pop albums ever made" and showcasing Jackson as a "gifted and versatile vocalist, comfortable performing on ballads as well as upbeat disco tracks." Tom Ewing of The Guardian regarded Off the Wall as superior to Thriller: "...we can say with more certainty that Thriller will keep its position as the highest-selling LP ever – but it's Off the Wall that critics routinely hail as Jackson's masterpiece." and also wrote "...with [Off the Wall] Jackson and his mentor Jones made pop's great coming-of-age album." 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. Wilson-Taylor also claimed that Off the Wall is "arguably, the greatest pop album of all time" and credited it for being the pathway of Jackson becoming a "genuine musical phenomenon".
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". A writer for Rolling Stone credited the album for "inventing modern pop as we know it". Ryan Burleson of Consequence of Sound wrote that the album "almost immediately affirmed" Jackson as the "preeminent pop talent of his day" and praised Off the Wall as an "instant classic that married the prevailing sounds of the funk, soul, and disco-inflected 70’s with an innovative zeal" that has rarely been replicated since. Burleson also called it a "masterpiece" and a "groundbreaking pop record for the masses that continues to be transformative even today." Blender wrote "[Off the Wall] was the first suggestion that disco need not be tacky" and that the album's "immaculately produced, pre-Thriller tracks are now too familiar to shock, but in 1979, they were revolutionary." With regards to the album, the magazine also wrote "perfection is timeless."
In 2003, Off the Wall was ranked number 68 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, maintaining the ranking in a 2012 revised list. In Blender's 100 Greatest American Albums of All Time list, it was ranked number 13. The album was included in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In Colin Larkin's third edition of the All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000), it was ranked at number 235. It was also ranked number 7 in the Soul/R&B – All Time Top 50 albums. The National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), in conjunction with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ranked the album at number 80 of the Definitive 200 Albums of All Time. In 2008, Off the Wall was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was ranked number 56 in The Guardian's list of the 100 Best Albums Ever. Additionally, The Guardian's list of the 50 Key Events in the History of Pop Music ranked 'Michael Jackson starts work on Off the Wall' at number 23. The album was ranked at number 85 on Consequence of Sound's list of The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2015, Billboard ranked Off the Wall at number 149 on its list of the Greatest of All Time Billboard 200 Albums. It was also ranked third in their list of the Greatest of All Time Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, out of 100 albums. Uncut ranked Off the Wall at number 46 on its list of the 200 Greatest Albums Of All Time. In 2019, The Independent included it in its list of The 40 Best Albums to Listen to Before You Die.
|Grammy Awards||United States||Grammy Hall of Fame||2008|||
|American Music Awards||United States||Favorite Soul/R&B Album||1980|||
|American Music Awards||United States||Favorite Soul/R&B Album||1981|||
|Billboard Music Awards||United States||Top Black Album||1980|||
|Billboard||United States||Greatest of All Time Billboard 200 Albums (Ranked #149||2015|||
|National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) / Rock and Roll Hall of Fame||United States||Definitive 200 Albums of All Time (Ranked #80)||2007|||
|Quintessence Editions||United Kingdom||1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die||2003|||
|Rolling Stone||United States||500 Greatest Albums of All Time (Ranked #68)||2012|||
- 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 and backing vocals (track 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 and synthesizer programming (tracks 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, trumpet, and flugelhorn (tracks 1-6, 8-10)
- Kim Hutchcroft – baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, and flute (tracks 1-6, 8-10)
- Michael Jackson – lead vocals (all tracks), background vocals (1-6, 9, 10), co-producer (1, 3, 4), percussion (1, 3), vocal arrangements (1, 3, 4, 6), rhythm and 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 – electric piano (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)
- Bruce Swedien – recording engineer and audio mixer (all tracks)
- Rod Temperton – rhythm and vocal arrangements (tracks 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, alto saxophone, and flute (tracks 1-6, 8-10), alto saxophone solo (6)
- Zedrick Williams – background vocals (tracks 1, 4)
- Hawk Wolinski – Fender Rhodes (track 2)
- Stevie Wonder – rhythm arrangement (track 8)
- Ben Wright – strings arrangements (tracks 1, 2, 4)
|US Billboard Top R&B Albums||49|
|US Billboard 200||3|
|US Billboard Top R&B Albums||1|
|Australia (ARIA)||5× Platinum||350,000^|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||Platinum||50,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||3× Platinum||300,000|
|Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)||Gold||10,000*|
|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^|
|Europe (IFPI)||4× Platinum||4,000,000*|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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- History of the album; recording, production, conception, aftermath etc. at AllMichaelJackson.com
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