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It’s funny how certain albums can transport you back to the heady days of your childhood – dancing, singing, colours, feelings. I suppose that’s the power of music, but for me Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall is just such an album. Not one of my parents’ musical choices, but very much my Godmother’s and it was always one of the albums I wanted to put on when staying with her (that and the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, but that’s another story). It’s where i get my passion for disco from. Yes, I’ll admit, I’m a complete disco junkie. I understand the disco backlash, but are the songs any more vacuous than modern-day pop? I’ll leave that up to you to debate.
Looking and listening to the album now, it’s hard to reconcile the Michael Jackson smiling on the cover with the wreck of his latter years. Here was a fresh-faced Michael, arguably at the top of his game – certainly musically. Off the Wall was Michael’s first album on the Epic label, and the first that he collaborated with Quincy Jones, something I want to call a match made in heaven. This album is stuffed (yes stuffed) with superb examples of disco music – I don’t think there’s one song on the whole album that we would be able to immediately recognise. They are superb song that manage to encompass the full vocal range of Jackson – his delivery never dips below excellent throughout. This probably reads like I’m a complete Michael Jackson fan; I have to say I’m not. Anything after Bad, for me, is not worth listening to. The messiah complex and weirdness crept in. His songs became anathema to me – Earth Song made my ears bleed, and I applauded Jarvis Cocker at the Brits. Yet this album has managed to stay in my head.
The album starts brilliantly with one of the ultimate disco/pop cross over tunes. Don’t Stop Till You get Enough is an absolute classic song destined to get people all over the world on the dance floor. The whole album ebbs and flows with funk, disco and slow jams, yet manages to be a dance floor filler – Rock With You is a prime example of this. Are there any weak songs on the album? That’s hard to say as all the songs are so entrenched in the psyche – perhaps if I’d heard it on its original release then this thought may be moot. Talking to other people, I know some consider Working Day and Night, and Get on the Floor as weak, yet when this album is playing you can not help but keep dancing.
I have a confession, this album is great to do the housework to. Try it, everything issue much easier when dancing around.
As well as working with Quincy, Jackson also drafted in the big guns – Paul McCartney and Patti Austin. McCartney wrote Girlfriend, another song that many Jackson fans dislike or think weak. It’s a slinky song, a breather in amongst the disco. I enjoy the innocence of the lyrics, and being able to truly hear Jackson’s voice. Something he was a master of was being able to sing so softly and with emotion that you almost think that there is nothing happening – perhaps that’s the beauty of the songs. Like Mad Men, things happen without you noticing (apologies for the Mad Men plug, but hey, it’s the best TV programme you will ever watch), and sometimes that’s the beautiful thing – uplifting. That’s the thing with this album, whilst you’re up dancing, you can forget the lyrics deal with escapism, liberation through hedonism and loneliness. Not bad for disco.
A masterpiece? Quite possibly.
The Knitty Gritty
So this album is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer..
Other albums to listen to:
Bad Girls – Donna Summer
Saturday Night Fever – OST
We are Family – Sister Sledge