Michael Jackson – Rock With You

First Hit #1: January 19, 1980

As legend has it, disco died in 1979. Legends, of course, collect messy reality into neatly compiled stories, and in all honesty disco – or, at least, what people loved about disco – never really went away. Michael Jackson, for instance, made songs that could easily be confused with disco on Off the Wall, but weren’t quite the same thing. Both disco artists and Jackson took funk from the early ’70s and mutated it into something a bit different, a bit poppy, and extremely danceable. Jackson’s version, however, leans much further on that old funk sound, taking something that’s a bit of a throwback, putting on some distinctive vocals, and forming something that sounds fresh and exciting. Rock with You finds a way to discard disco’s excesses and make a song that’s thoroughly enjoyable and relatively stripped down. He’s making music that moves him, he just has an ear that makes music that can move millions of others as well.

Also, a word about Jackson’s early videos, which are terrible. It’s a joy to see someone who would later be a master of the form start out by making clips that look like they’re meant to be played at 2 a.m. on a community access channel. He’s a magnetic performer, but these clips are so cheap and goofy.

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One Response to Michael Jackson – Rock With You

  1. RBerman says:

    The sequined bodysuit presages the sequined glove and white socks he’d adopt a few years later. It’s certainly a primitive performance music video by modern standards, but trying at all was boundary-stretching at the time (how many of the previous songs in this list have had a real music video, as opposed to a lip-synched TV appearance?), so I’ll give it a passing grade. The video-opening effect is actually kind of cool, with the light behind him and his hands stretching out to infinity. Mandy Moore ripped it off (or more kindly, offered an homage) in one of her early videos more recently.

    Definitely still a diet disco song, with the gently pulsing beat and the big string section. As for the song itself, its lyrical vagueness follows in the grand tradition of “Rock Around the Clock” and other songs that are plausibly just about dancing all night, but almost certainly are not, really.

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