Thursday, June 25, 2009


Off the Wall, by Michael Jackson

For my money, this is the disco album. It might be the only disco album.

The first track "Don't Stop Until You Get Enough" was the biggest hit. It also sets the template for the whole album: love songs, catchy hooks, and relentless rhythms.

Other key tracks that follow the mold include the title, "Working Day and Night", "Rock with You" and "Burn This Disco Out". It stands as the most joyful album he ever made. On "Get on the Floor" he starts cracking up towards the end.

In the middle of the album there is a pause, though, for reflection. "Girlfriend" is a seemingly tender song that slows the pace and readies the listener for what may be the best song offered: "She's Out of my Life". Famously, on this slow song about lost love, Michael actually breaks down and starts quietly sobbing at the end, overcome with emotion. In all the oeuvre of 'i wish she were back' rock ballads no one had ever felt the message so personally that the reminder of the loss causes tears in the studio.

This album got Jackson his first Grammy and three AMA awards. It showed a breadth, from laughter to tears, that was a defining mark of a mature performer. Unlike most of disco, which has the hooks and the rhythm but not the soul, Jackson's first outstanding solo effort is still listenable and enjoyable.

Thriller, by Michael Jackson

I'm almost positive this will be the title of a posthumous biography.

Possibly the greatest selling album of all time, what is left to be said? This album contains a trifecta of three of the greatest pop songs of all time: "Thriller", "Beat It", and "Billie Jean". Each one could get a paragraph of analysis.

Next on the list of fame would probably be "The Girl is Mine", the school-boy argument with Paul McCartney. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", the first track, almost sounds like it was an afterthought to 'Off the Wall'.

The last three tracks are arguably weakest, but saying so is like saying that parts of 'Pet Sounds' or 'Revolver' aren't as strong as others. Sure. But the album, as a cohesive whole, is one of the best ever made.

Perhaps it's only understandable if you've listened to 'Off the Wall'. The sound on 'Thriller' is so different from anything that had come before, both for Michael, and in pop generally, that nowadays its revolutionary sound is often forgotten or lost. Unlike 'Pet Sounds' or 'Sgt. Peppers', Where a casual listening will perk up the ears to a unique sound, 'Thriller' can almost play unnoticed. Almost.

Thing is, Jackson created a template with 'Thriller'. The reason why it may not sound as revolutionary is because we are still listening to the echoes of what must be recognized as the peak of his career, and one of the peaks of pop, ever.

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