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Rock Hall Anniversary: Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall

Before the phenomenon that was Thriller, there was Michael Jackson’s first masterpiece album Off the Wall.

Released in August 1979, the album was his first solo album for Epic Records (and fifth overall). Produced by Quincy Jones, Off the Wall was blended with funk, R&B, pop and disco, gaining huge acclaim from critics. Commercially, it was huge hit. Off the Wall peaked at number three on the charts, and went on to sell over eight million copies in the U.S. alone and twenty million worldwide. It would also be the first album to yield four singles in the top ten; “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” “Rock With You” (both number ones), the title track and “She’s Out of My Life” (both number ten).

Jackson and Jones first met following work on the film The Wiz, and began recording “Off the Wall” in December 1978. Jackson wrote and co-produced two songs (“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Working Day and Night”), and co-writes “Get on the Floor” (which he also co-produced) with bassist Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson. The other seven tracks came from other songwriters, most notably Heatwave keyboardist Rod Temperton, who wrote three tracks on the album (“Rock With You”, “Burn This Disco Out” and the title track”). Other songwriters included Paul McCartney (“Girlfriend”), Tom Bahler (“She’s Out of My Life”) and Stevie Wonder (co-writer of “I Can’t Help It”).

One of the things that made Off the Wall successful, was the use of the music video (a rarity at the time prior to the founding of MTV). Jackson made videos for the album for songs “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, “Rock With You” and “She’s Out of My Life”. All of these videos are now regarded as classics even to this day. The album’s success continued with three wins at the American Music Awards and a Grammy award.

However as the story goes, the success of Off the Wall was bittersweet for Jackson, especially when the album was only recognized for one Grammy (Best Male R&B Vocal Performance), and not for the big three catergories (Album, Record and Song of the Year). Of course, he would top that success with Thriller a few years later. Still, Off the Wall is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, as well as the one to kick-start the phenomenon of Michael Jackson.