Monday, April 30, 2018

Musical Monday - Rock With You by Michael Jackson


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: January 19, 1980 through February 9, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: January 12, 1980 through January 26, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

I remember when I first heard Rock With You. My family had returned from living in Tanzania for two years and my parents were visiting some friends they had met years before when my father was in graduate school. Their friends had a daughter who was the same age as me, and in an effort to reintroduce me to American music, she put on Jackson's record. I don't know if there is a more whitebread setting for listening to Michael Jackson than the basement of a house in suburban Illinois, but if there is, I've never been in it.

Rock With You was Michael Jackson's first number one hit of the 1980s. The song appeared on his 1979 album Off the Wall, which was Jackson's first solo album in four years and represented something of a breakthrough for the singer. Four singles from the album reached the top ten, including this one. This album was also the first Jackson recorded for Epic Records, which seems to have freed him somewhat from the style that he had established over the years at Motown Records and may have allowed him to be slightly more experimental with his music.

And yet, despite all of that, Rock With You is just about as bland and generic a pop song as one could imagine. There is almost nothing truly memorable about it other than the fact that it was, in part, what launched Jackson to the pinnacle of pop stardom during the 1980s. One tidbit of information that helps describe just how generic this piece of extruded pop product is is the fact that it was offered to Karen Carpenter for her solo album project, and it only got recorded by Jackson because she turned it down.

I have to admit that I was not, and never have been, a big fan of Jackson's music. I don't deny his skills, but on the Prince-Jackson axis, for example, I have always been decidedly on the "Prince" end of the spectrum. In comparison with so many of the other artists of the 1980s, Jackson's music was pretty much inoffensive and vanilla, which I suspect is one of the reasons why he became so popular. It is also probably why a preteen girl in Illinois playing his records was acceptable in a way that playing Sexy Dancer or Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? might not have been. I don't suppose it is an accident that Jackson's two best songs were different from his usual pop pablum and included guitar riffs provided by Eddie van Halen and Steve Stevens.

I guess this is just a long way of saying that I never really understood the hype that surrounded Michael Jackson but most of his songs (including this one) are generally innocuous poppy tunes that lack any kind of edge that would cut through their blandly pleasant nature.

Previous Musical Monday: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
Subsequent Musical Monday: Brass in Pocket by the Pretenders

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Do That to Me One More Time by Captain and Tennille

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Do That to Me One More Time by Captain and Tennille

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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