Here’s a clip of former Jackson 5 frontboy Michael Jackson with his 1979 disco-pop radio smash “Rock With You” as taken from the superlative pre-Thriller , pre-superfame, pre-Whacko Jacko album, Off the Wall.
It’s one of those songs which contains an entire world inside it – a world of innocence, fun, and freedom, characterized by an ethereal beauty beneath its infectious dance grooves. This is the fantasy world of late night disco parties, yet free of the jaded self-indulgence. This is the purity of youth, of young love, and the power of movement and music that brings it all together.
There are songs which are of their time, and this is certainly one of them. Yet, in this case, its being of its time is not a detriment to how well it’s aged. It’s more like something which is preserved in amber; a time, a feeling, a state of being that can not be repeated, yet can certainly be celebrated every time it’s heard. When Michael says ‘rock with you’ he really is talking about dancing. In this, we get the good side of Jackson’s gravitation towards childhood; a time when all intentions are pure, and everything said is as honest as it will ever be.
This is Michael Jackson in a transitional period in his career, barely into his twenties and already a veteran recording star. In this, he carries himself as the relaxed pro, hitting each tone as it should be hit, and certainly getting inside the material and making us believe it. Some how on this record, you just know this guy has the moves. You don’t have to see him dance, you just know that he’s as good as his word. If Thriller put him into the stratosphere and into the realm of insanity at the same time, this was the sound of Jackson as the singer, the entertainer, and not as the self-styled pop Messiah of later years.
For me, this is the Michael Jackson we all want him to be; the consummate performer, transporting us to a world of dance floors and young love as easily as a spirit moving over the waters. It’s a cruel irony that the very thing that made him great would also be his undoing. Yet, when I hear ‘Rock With You’, the pale tragic figure that became a self-parody couldn’t be further away.