Off The Wall
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This edition of Michael Jackson's revolutionary 1979 recording Off The Wall includes the original album bundled with the new documentary Michael Jackson s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, directed by Spike Lee. The deluxe softpak includes a 16-page booklet containing a new essay and photography plus a piece of chalk and inside panels with a chalkboard finish.
The importance of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall cannot be overstated. Recorded when he was just 20-years-old, the album heralded Michael's emancipation as a singular musical force and creative visionary. It's the record that "invented modern pop as we know it" according to Rolling Stone magazine. It smashed the ceiling on record sales for black artists, ushering in an exciting new era of R&B-to-pop crossover airplay, chart, marketing and sales trends not seen before in modern pop music. Written by Michael Jackson, the first single from Off The Wall, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," was Michael's first Grammy and first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S. and internationally as a solo artist. With the singles Rock With You," "Off the Wall" and "She s Out of My Life," Jackson became the first solo artist in history to have four singles from the same album peak inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
For Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, director Spike Lee assembles a wealth of archival footage, including material from Michael's personal archive, interviews with contemporary talents and family members, and Michael s own words and image to create this insightful chronicle from the star's early rise to fame through the release of this seminal album. A look at a chapter of his career that is rarely examined, Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall allows audiences to travel with Michael as he gets his start at Motown, strikes a new path with CBS Records, and forges a relationship with legendary producer Quincy Jones. An illuminated portrait emerges of how an earnest, passionate, hard-working boy would become the "King of Pop."
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The CD/DVD comes in a clear sleeve with Michael's original image from the album printed on it - when you remove the sleeve there is a chalk outline of MJ on the album cover. The best part is that when you open the album and lay it flat, the inside images of the brick wall are coated with a texture so that you can draw on them with a piece of chalk that actually comes with the album. The booklet has great commentary and beautiful pictures from the "Off The Wall" era, and I love that you get a copy of the timeless documentary. If you've seen the "BAD" documentary Spike Lee did previously then you'll definitely love this one as well. Michael Jackson's estate did a wonderful job with this special edition of "Off The Wall", I really love it. I took some pictures so everyone else can see how cool the packaging is.
"Destiny" by The Jacksons was the precursor to "Off the Wall", as "Blame it On the Boogie" and more defiantly "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground" would be the pre-equal to "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough"!
Michael's performance, in the now urban film classic, "The Wiz" held the promise of just what a contemporary revision of "The Wizard of Oz" could be. One little stickler was Charlie Smalls less than memorable songs. However, Quincy Jones extracted vocal performances from Diana Ross that satisfactorily gave Diana a top notch production success that almost eclipsed her more belabored acting. Her vocal performances rank with the best of Quincy's production catalog.
With Michael only given "You Can't Win" as the soundtrack's sole solo, Michael and Quincy sensed more exciting work to do!
Michael's ownership of dance floor repertoire was undeniable. His Jackson 5 era solo success also informed his vast understanding of Top 40/Soul/Adult Contemporary formats would balance out the hot "Off the Wall" maniacal, restless dance/trip the light fantastic as "Rock with You", "It's the Falling in Love" and "I Can't Help It" could have just easily been a Motown copyright.
Not since "Who's Lovin' You" had his truly gorgeous vocal talents been so well spotlighted, as "She's Out of My Life" mysteriously failed to even be nominated as a classic pop vocal performance. It seemed that after all his success, he would still be lazily pigeonholed "R&B/Urban". (As far back as 1964, The Supremes broke simultaneously at all formats, had the first multi-platinum #1 Pop Album by a Female Group, still to this days half century later, reigning Female Group of All Time, counterpart to The Beatles, can still be foolish as an R&B group by the limited vision of few). Michael vowed that this would never happen again.
So nearly 4 decades later, thanks to an inventive documentary directed by Spike Lee, "Off the Wall" demands to be revisited, reassessed and redefined.
First, let's get the album itself out of the way. Off the Wall sounds great, although I didn't notice any difference between the sound of this (2016) edition and the Special Edition version released in 2001. I was only listening on my laptop and headphones, but listened carefully going back and forth between the two versions and could find no difference, even in volume. Although, truthfully, there's nothing wrong with that; the 2001 Special Edition sounded fine and I imagine any further remastering would have probably just been limited to brickwalling (an artificial boost in volume).
Unfortunately for completists, the 2001 Special Edition had several bonus tracks, including interviews with producer Quincy Jones and early demo versions of “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Working Day and Night,” that are not included on this release. The opportunity was also not taken to deliver new bonus tracks, or include Off the Wall bonuses that appeared elsewhere (such as the cut track Sunset Driver that Michael included in his 2004 Ultimate Collection release). Instead, this is simply a release of the 10 tracks that originally appeared on the album, using the same master as the 2001 Special Edition.
So, if you’re going to buy this release, it’s going to be for the new documentary that is included with it, “From Motown to Off the Wall” by Spike Lee. If you saw Bad 25, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. Lee’s documentary is comprehensive, telling a story of Jackson’s drive and determination that began looking over the shoulders of Motown greats Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder, and culminated in the release of what many people still believe to be his finest work.
After the story hits the point of Off the Wall’s release, Lee dives deep into each track on the album, dedicating time to their inspirations and their respective impact on the R&B and dance genres. Much like Bad 25, no stone is left unturned as even deeper cuts like “It’s the Falling in Love” are given their due time. The documentary wraps with a look at the success of Off the Wall, and moments like Jackson receiving his Grammys for the album off air during a commercial break, a painful reminder of the times, and a teaser for what comes next as Michael makes a promise that his next album will be so big, no one will be able to ignore it.
For fans interested in watching the documentary, this edition of Off the Wall is highly recommended. The film is well worth your time (although a reliance on 1970s televised clips makes the Blu ray version recommendable only to those who can take advantage of the uncompressed audio options). The package itself is attractive, with a chalkboard surface for you to draw your own album art (and, yes, the chalk is included).
If you’re new to Off the Wall, I’d like to think this is a great version for you to pick up as well. The bonus tracks on the last edition are probably only of interest to Jackson’s biggest fans and the documentary helps to put it into a greater context. I might have normally given this four stars for removing the bonus features, but at the end of the day, this feels more like a release of the documentary that happens to also come with the album.