From a Boy to a Man: the Success of Michael Jackson’s, Off The Wall

As the month of August comes to an end, many events have taken place. Some things did not change...

As the month of August comes to an end, many events have taken place. Some things did not change (such as more people leaving the Trump administration). Other things were surprising. For me, it was Missy Elliott’s excellent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in which she won the Vanguard award. Keep in mind it was the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award. The award was named for Michael Jackson’s breakthrough in video on MTV (which I wrote in another article).

The month of August was also Michael Jackson’s birthday (Aug. 29), which is still celebrated and remembered. However, one milestone in August was overlooked. It wasn’t until I was watching an old video, “Rock With You,” on YouTube. I scrolled down to the comments and read many were spotlighting the album, Off The Wall, which came out in August 10, 1979, 40 years ago. It was Michael’s breakthrough album that not only separated him as a solo artist, but also his start as being seen as a man.

Michael created an album to show the audience a new man for those who knew him as child. Michael had solo albums before this one and with success, but it was during his childhood years. He had top hits with “ Got to Be There” and “Ben.” Successful as they were, the songs were about puppy love and a rat as a friend, respectively. Off the Wall, however, did not talk anything cute about love or relationships. The songs on the album showed Jackson a different light by him singing about sex, heartbreak, hedonism and betrayal. Things that only a grown man would experience. He sang celebration of lovemaking (Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough). He showed heartbreak and cried in the end (She’s Out of My Life). He told listeners to “Rock With You”, “Get On the Floor”, and to “…live your life off the wall,”  This grown Michael wasn’t just singing, he was making demands to the listener…and they followed.

The Music of Off The Wall wouldn’t have been possible without Michael’s collaboration with well-known artists. One was the famous producer, Quincy Jones. Their collaboration began in the movie, The Wiz which Michael Jackson portrayed the Scarecrow and Quincy Jones produced the music. Michael Jackson pursued Quincy to help him produce his very first solo album that would bring up Michael to a much more mature individual in music. Quincy and Michael produced a whole bunch of songs but chose ten to the showcase Michael’s range. Quincy Jones’ musical influences of all genres brought out the best in Michael and the music of the album. You can hear it from the funky base line beginning in the first song, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” to the classical intro that was instrumental to the ballad, “She’s Out of My Life”. Other well-known artists contributed to the album. Rod Temperton who is famous for the R and B group Heatwave, contributed writing music to his to Michael’s best success, Rock With You. Motown artist Stevie Wonder wrote an underrated song called, “I Can’t Help it”. Even legendary ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, penned a song for Michael called “Girlfriend.”

The album showed new light of Michael Jackson which reflected on its success. It was the first album that produced five singles to reach the top 10 and a Grammy for Michael for best R&B performance. This would be the beginning of Michael’s growth as he and Quincy continued on with two well-known albums: Thriller and Bad. Some critics would say that Thriller was the album that made him a success. The truth is that Off the Wall gave him the springboard to that success. By proving that he could sing different songs, ballads and grooves with his own distinctive voice style and energy, he cemented his place (and manhood) in music history.

Written by Thaddeus Armstead
T.J. Armstead has worked as a teacher and college professor. He has a large collection of Black media and has spoken at different colleges on African American images in the media. He enjoys traveling to different cities to experience different cultures such as New Orleans, Chicago and strangely enough, Cleveland. He currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio where he works on his next project or reading his large collection of African-American books. Profile

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