enhancing people's ears, one album at a time.
While THRILLER's 30th anniversary will be celebrated in November, OFF THE WALL will always remain my favorite MJ album.Looking back, MJ was always heard on the radio so hearing new music was just that: new music, not a special event. I grew up getting down (in a little kid capacity) with "Dancing Machine" and "Blame It On The Boogie", we all knew who The Jackson 5/The Jacksons were. I was not aware of "Ben" until a bit later, but to be able to hear "Rock With You", "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Working Day And Night" as it grew in popularity, in pre-MTV real time was great. These were songs of celebration just because they felt good. Then "Off The Wall" (the song) came out and it was the weekend song. We knew our parents worked, but hearing about how you gotta leave the 9 to 5 up on your shelf and just enjoy ourselves? For me, that meant a drive around the island or time to go to the beach.It received massive airplay across the U.S and around the world, but in Hawai'i, you couldn't turn on the radio and not hear a song from OFF THE WALL for one good reason. MJ featured the Seawind horns, a jazz group from Hawai'i who were on CTI, then to A&M, which is how the Quincy Jones connection comes in. The Seawind guys did all of the horns and strings, and that was honorable for anyone from Hawai'i to be on a "mainland" record. Every time we heard something from the album, a bit of Hawai'i was shared.Then look at the other people on the album. It's fitting for the time: 1979. Incredible jazz musicians that looks like any record nerd's collection. Phil Upchurch: yeah! Wah Wah Watson: YES! George Duke: POW POW! The Brothers Johnson: HELL YEAH!There was that association too, where if one saw these guys in the credits, they might be open to wanting to hear it. That would lead these musicians to perhaps get more session work, back then that was the primary bread & butter. Jazz might get you recognition and integrity, but dipping into the soul and pop world meant some nice residuals. Michael Jackson was still a soul artist, and the album has a level of integrity and lasting power that remains quite different from THRILLER. When one listens to Justin Timberlake's JUSTIFIED, Bobby Brown's DON'T BE CRUEL, or New Edition's HEARTBREAK, or Janet Jackson's CONTROL, it was moving on from what was known before and becoming an adult, the "grown up" album. In many ways, OFF THE WALL was MJ's TALKING BOOK (Stevie Wonder). That doesn't discount what came before, but OFF THE WALL became the next level, and for three years, that level felt incredible. No one could imagine what would happen when he released "The Girl Is Mine" as the first single from THRILLER, most people thought it was the hokiest thing ever recorded. The album was released, and then it was a silent calm before the wicked storm. Once "Billie Jean" was released, it was a matter of time. When the video hit MTV, everything went crazy and out of control. Now everyone hopes to repeat that formula and level of popularity. I respect what THRILLER did and its effect on people but for me, OFF THE WALL remains the album by that awkward kid who could snap and make the world his, while being able to bring everyone in. When I hear OFF THE WALL, I'm very much a kid wanting to know and understand every section of the multi-tracks, because you wanted to learn and understand every section of that record. Genius.