Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall: The Off-Kilter Disco Masterpiece That Launched A Superstar

Spike Lee's new documentary charts the King of Pop's journey from child stardom to early fame as a solo act

It was 6 November 1979 and a 21-year-old Michael was on the road with his brothers on the Destiny tour, took pen to paper and wrote his future unattainable (for a normal person) aspirations.

MJ will be my new name. No more Michael Jackson. I want a whole new character, a whole new look, I should be a totally different person. People should never think of me as the kid who sang ABC [and] I Want You Back. I should be a new incredible actor, singer, dancer that would shock the world. 

I will do no interviews. I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist, a researcher, a trainer, a master. I will be better than every great actor roped in one. 

I ‘must’ have the most incredible training system .To dig and dig and dig until I find. I will study and look back on the whole world of entertainment and perfect it. Take it steps further from where the greats have left off.”

This note is amongst the many other interesting details and never seen before footages is featured in Spike Lee’s new documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall.

This is a follow up to the first documentary, Bad 25, and in a similar vein to that, Journey plots the story of The Jackson 5 breaking Billboard Top 100 historical charts with their very first 4 singles ever recorded – ‘ABC’, ‘I Want You Back’, ‘The Love You Save’ and ‘I’ll be There’, to Michael standing at the precipice of his first proper solo album.

From his Motown days, watching the greats like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations — to name a few — young Michael knew at the very beginning that his Motown family was his stepping stone to the real world. “I would say Motown is the greatest school for me. It’s the best. I learnt how to lay a track… so many things about writing.”

But The Jackson 5 was itching to leave the tight-run ship of Berry Gordy, in order to have more freedom lyrically and creatively. “We wanted to write and produce our own songs,” said Marlon Jackson.

In the film, Questlove, The Weeknd, Kobe Bryant, Mark Ronson, L.A Reid, Pharrell Williams, Valerie Simpson, Gamble and Huff (aka the disco gurus) along with many other famous artists and music industry players were interviewed by Lee, who were either directly and indirectly involved, or simply inspired by Michael Jackson.

This incredible documentary was cleverly pieced together with seamless transition and storytelling, with the sole purpose of unearthing hidden gems of a musical genius, and reaching the widely-known conclusion, but one that bears repeating, that Michael Jackson was an artist who was driven by the music. Period.

“I told them from the get-go,” Lee says, “we were going to focus on the music: his genius, the dance, the songwriting. All that other stuff, we’re not dealing with. That’s for somebody else to do. Not me. I’m not doing it.”

Recently aired on Showtime, Lee’s musical homage to an ambitious Michael Jackson is a must-see, if only to investigate if his path to worldwide success could even be achievable or replicated ever again.

This is one of the rare documentaries of the singer that steers clear of any distracting story angle involving his tumultuous personal life, focusing instead on who the Man In The Music actually is.

Here are some of the golden finds off the documentary.

‘Blame it on the Boogie’, a single from The Jackson 5’s Destiny album was originally written by English singer-songwriter, Mick Jackson

Both versions were released in the UK, just days apart and the media was struck by the friendly rivalry.

However, the Jacksons’ version has always been incorrectly lauded as their self-penned song. “We wrote, produced by The Jacksons…all songs, written by The Jacksons. Well, Mike Jackson, a white kid that lived in England wrote ‘Blame It On The Boogie’. We didn’t lie. His name is Jackson!” said Bobby Colomby who was producing the Destiny album.

Gene Kelly may have conceived the rolled up jeans, loafers and white socks first

After coming out of World War II and the Navy, Kelly wanted to dance like the “common man.”

He wanted to ditch his white tie and tuxedo, roll up his sleeves, wear jeans and a t-shirt. “Nearest thing I could get to dancing shoes were loafers and the white socks and the rolled up jeans.”

Off the Wall wouldn’t have existed, if not for the ground-breaking musical, The Wiz

“The real night Off the Wall was born, we were doing the pre-recording for the movie. Quincy [Jones] had tunnel vision on Diana Ross,” recalls Rob Cohen, the producer of The Whiz. “Finally about 2 a.m., Q had what he wanted from Diana. And he says, ‘OK, Michael, you come in on bar six.’ And Michael comes and just starts at 1,000 watts. He’s doing everything that became the signature Michael.”

This sparked the beginning of Michael and Quincy’s artistic and brilliant collaboration for the next three albums – Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad.

“She’s Out Of My Life”, cause Michael to cry each time he sang it

Even Quincy Jones had no clue why whilst recording, “It’s amazing because every time he sang it, he cried! I was trying to figure out what relationship he had that he could identify with that. So we did it 2 – 3 times…and that’s the way it was going to be.”

Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall is now available with this year’s reissue of Off The Wall, now available through Sony Music Singapore.


Source: Bandwagon | All Things Michael

Steve Barron: How I Made The Billie Jean Video With Michael Jackson

Sources: Irish Examiner | All Things Michael

Steve Barron directed the music video for ‘Billie Jean’, the chart-topping second single from 1982’s Thriller.

The video sees Jackson portray an enigmatic figure with seemingly magical powers, trailed by a shadowy “private eye” type character, and is very in keeping with Barron’s other work from this time, where fantasy, familiar iconography and technical innovations fused with pop culture. His brief time working with the King of Pop left an indelible impression.


“The idea was that he was a magical character and everything lit up around him, an idea that I had had for a Joan Armatrading video based on the idea of the Midas Touch,” Barron says.

“Michael had seen my Human League video and he wanted a cinematic fantasy of some sort. He really liked my idea.”

Also improvised was Jackson’s dancing: “His manager said that he had some dancing in mind but that he was practising in front of the mirror and would show us on the day. I left a couple of frames free where he could just dance; I didn’t see it until the day, which made it an even more amazing moment indelibly burnt on my brain.”

Michael jackson billle jean

“Michael had a brilliant idea for another scene where tailor’s dummies would come alive and dance with him. This was the first single they shot a video for so the record company wouldn’t give us any more money to do it anyway, but then Michael rang me up the night before the shoot, in the middle of the night, and said, ‘I’ve been thinking, let’s go back to your idea on that.’ It wasn’t until I saw ‘Beat It’ and ‘Thriller’, which were all about choreographed dancing, that I realised he wanted to save that idea.

“There is nothing like that moment when he actually danced. He’s up on his toes spinning around and I’m looking at this superhuman creature through the camera and it was steaming up with the intensity of what I was seeing.

“I just put the camera down at the end of that take and it was just… wow. Wow!”

Read the full article here



Ex-Boy Band Stars: Who’s Been The Most Successful?


Zayn Malik hit Number One the first week his debut solo single, “Pillowtalk,” was released, and his debut album, Mind of Mine, is gearing up for the same kind of chart domination. His success is not only huge for R&B, but the fact that Malik excelled where his former boy band, One Direction, showed another kind of leap.

For boy band performers who go their own way, it’s difficult to not only sustain a career but capture people’s attentions in the first place. Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson set a high bar for what could be attained by solo success in that they not only scored numerous Number One hits but they also crafted the mold for what it meant to be a male pop star.


From Timberlake to Nick Carter, take a look at how post-boy band careers have stacked up on the U.S. charts for those who have dared to go rogue and find their own paths outside of their pop groups. The infographic above illustrates a selection of positions for each star’s highest charting single.

Sources: Rolling Stone | Independence News | All Things Michael

Top 5 African American Moments In Dance

Sources: Lansing State Journal – By Alex Woody | All Things Michael


This winter, Complexions Dance will come to Wharton Center. Known as the first American multicultural company, founded by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Dance boasts a new exciting genre of dance that combines the best of athleticism, lyricism, technical training, and experience. Tickets to see Complexions Contemporary Dance can be purchased on http://www.whartoncenter.com/ or by calling 1-800-WHARTON.

Throughout history, African-Americans have pioneered many movements throughout dance history and culture. From crafting iconic choreography, innovating popularized dance, and integrating dance companies, check out these 5 iconic African-American moments in dance!

1. Thriller – Michael Jackson

Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of dance choreography of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video took the world by storm with its dance choreography. The choreography is still paid homage to today, remembered yearly as Halloween rolls around.

2. Misty Copeland is promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theater

This last June, Misty Copeland made ballet history when she became the first African American dancer to be named the principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre.

3. Josephine Baker’s Banana Dance

Josephine Baker was a famous American-born French dancer, singer, and actress who popularized many well-known dances in the 1920s. Her most famous routine, titled ‘The Banana Dance’, featured her doing the original Charleston in a skirt made of artificial bananas.

4. George Faison becomes the first African-American to win for Best Choreography at the Tony Awards for The Wiz

In 1975, The Wiz took Broadway by storm. Taking home seven Tony Awards, the musical became the first African-American choreographed musical to win the Best Choreography award. This December, NBC will be producing a live television broadcast of The Wiz, be sure to check it out!

5. Complexions Dance

Founded in 1994, this avant-garde dance company became America’s first multicultural ballet company. Today, they tour across the world with their ballets described as ‘innovative’ and ‘awe-inspiring’. Be sure not to miss Complexions dance when it comes to Wharton Center January 19th, 2016!


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Barack Obama Singing ‘Thriller’ By Michael Jackson (Bonus Halloween Video Of Thriller)

Sources: Laughing Squid – By Scott Beale | All Things Michael


Fadi Saleh of Baracksdubs created a special Halloween edit that makes it look like President Barack Obama is singing the song ‘Thriller by Michael Jackson using various video clips of Obama speaking.




Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Discuss Working On Scream With Janet And Michael

Sources: Rolling Stone – By Steve Appleford | All Things Michael


Jam: Michael had asked Janet to do a song with him. Janet came to Minneapolis just to give us some inspiration for some tracks. The song that ended up becoming “Scream.” We went to his apartment in Trump Tower, put the track on and basically wrote the song lyrically in an hour. He definitely had things to get off his chest and that’s what it was about. Recording the song was probably one of the most mind-blowing experiences ever. He walked into the studio, very nice and very kind: “OK, I’m going to try my part now. . . .” So Michael goes in and the moment the music starts, he turns into the Tasmanian Devil. He’s a whole different person, stomping, clapping, he’s got jewelry jingling — all the stuff you’re not supposed to do in the studio. Me and Terry are sitting there going “Oh my God!”

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Lewis: Screaming like fans.

Jam: He totally nails the song start to finish. Janet leans in and goes, “I’ll do my vocal in Minneapolis.” She wanted no part of following that. I don’t blame her. So we do Janet’s vocal, we send it to him. “Oh, Janet sounds really good. Where did you record her?” Minneapolis. “Oh, I want to come to Minneapolis and do my vocal.” What you got was this sibling rivalry between brother and sister who are also competitive. Yeah, we love each other, but I’m going to sing my a** off.

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OPENCV: How The Video Trail For Blame It On The Boogie Was Created


The video trail effect is nothing new: it was first used in music videos like “Blame it on the boogie” from the Jackson 5 in 1978. Now,  Antonio Ospite has put together a nice article that shows the basics of using OpenCV to create this effect in live video. He used the open source video processing package OpenCV for this, creating the effect with a short script. It can run in multiple ways, creating video trail effects, or “catch-up”trails (where the trail reverses into a final frame).

Mr. Ospite states that a few conditions are required to create a decent effect:

  1. the camera should not move;
  2. the lighting in the scene should be quite stable (when doing background subtraction it is recommended to disable auto-gain in the camera, and avoid any artifact introduced by the power line frequency);
  3. the subject should enter the scene only after the background learning phase has finished, i.e. after opencv_trail_effect has shown the preview window.

The effect in “Blame It On The Boogie” could be described as a short faded trail and can be achieved with this command line:

$ ./opencv_trail_effect -l 12 -s background -d fadeaccumulate

Screen Captures21

This provides an interesting example of how these video effects have become so much easier to create. The Jackson’s video was created using a Scanimate and Quantel Paintbox system that was as big as a closet and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Now, you can create these effects with free software and a cheap PC. Now you just need to figure out what in our modern world looks awesome with this throwback effect.

Sources: Hackaday | Antonio Ospite | All Things Michael

St. Luke’s Steel Band Salutes Michael Jackson

Sources: New Haven Independent  – By Brian Slattery| All Things Michael


“Sit back and relax,” said Kenneth Joseph, the musical director of St. Luke’s Steel Band. “Or dance, clap, and sing. Make them smile. They love to smile.”

Joseph was talking about his students from the St. Luke’s Steel Band and Music Haven summer camp students, just before the group launched into “Black or White.”

It was midway through “This Is It,” a concert of all Michael Jackson songs performed by a collaboration between St. Luke’s and Music Haven students to celebrate what has turned out to be the indelible legacy of the King of Pop, but deeper still, the rich, joy-filled sound that drums and strings can make together this past Friday afternoon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Whalley Avenue.

The concert was a testament to the dedication of the students to the music, and of Joseph and fellow instructions Debbie Teason (also steel pan), Colin Benn (strings), and Kareem Victory (percussion) to ensuring that their students succeeded, whether they were playing solo, in small groups, or all together.


Victory led his students in a drum demonstration.

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Students conducted students.


When a cello needed to get to its player in the back of the string section, everyone lent a hand.


The concert picked up steam as St. Luke’s and Music Haven gave M.J.‘s greatest hits — “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” — a good workout. During “Thriller,” Benn took the mike to fill in for Vincent Price’s rap. The mike was quiet at first, but since half the audience knew it by heart anyway, it didn’t matter.

“I’ll do it for you,” said a woman in the audience, and joined in. By the time Benn got to the part about the funk of 40,000 years, at least a dozen voices were chanting along with him.

“I just want to say how exciting it is,” said Teason during a quick break before the finale, “that St. Luke’s Steel Band and Music Haven are taking their collaboration one step further.” She mentioned that many of the students in the steel pan group and many of the string players had started playing each other’s instruments, many for the first time.


Not that you would have noticed, as all the students played with drive, concentration, and real heart.

At the end of the program — a rendition of “We Are The World” — Joseph told the assembled audience that they would be cued to sing. “You won’t be able to help yourselves,” said Teason. And as soon as she turned to the audience, everyone in the church proved her right.

Also see St. Luke’s Motown Forever Tribute to The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and more below.


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