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Classic Album Sundays Album of the Month: Michael Jackson ‘Off the Wall’

By the time Michael Jackson had started work on what would be our Album of the Month, Off The Wall, rumours about the demise of his band of brothers had been circulating. This was off the back of big success as The Jacksons’ LP Destiny had produced the R&B hit “Blame it on the Boogie” and the Top Ten mega-hit “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)”, written by Michael and Randy. The album itself peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Pop Albums Chart and number 3 on the R&B chart and was the first platinum seller by the group. Despite this unprecedented success, Destiny would be the last time that the brothers would enjoy Michael’s undivided attention.

Michael had released four solo albums with his first label Motown: 1972’s Got to Be There and Ben, 1973’s Music & Me, and the last solo effort under the imprint 1975’s Forever, Michael. But with The Jackson’s new label Epic, Michael seized the opportunity to turn the page. Following the path the record company had projected for him, Michael set off on his own to start afresh and create an album that reflected who he’d become, both personally and musically as he entered his twenties.


Music journalist Steven Ivory recalled, Even the Jacksons had ideas about who should produce Michael’s solo album. They felt they should do it, and told Michael as much in front of me one afternoon in September 1977.

“We been waiting to produce our own stuff for a long time, man,” Jackie proudly said, when the cassette ended. “After this album, Michael’s doing a solo record. He’s talking to different people, but he’s thinking about keeping it in the family and letting us produce HIS album, too. Right Mike?” Michael looked away, as if he didn’t really hear it, his silence speaking volumes.

It was during 1977 while filming The Wiz alongside Diana Ross, that Michael met Quincy Jones who was musical supervisor and producer for the film. In the film, Michael played the Scarecrow and received critical acclaim for his performance.

The album was recorded between December 1978 and June 1979 in 3 different studios in Los Angeles with Quincy Jones as producer. Amongst the writers and performers in the album were Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Rod Temperton, Patti Austin, and more.

Off The Wall wasn’t Michael’s first solo album, but it was the opportunity to start from scratch–to put the Motown years and childhood star behind and become arguably the greatest performer in history. Lyrics in the album touched upon a number of themes including escapism, liberation, loneliness, hedonism, and romance.

This was Michael pushing the past aside, his father’s abrasive strictness, and the insecurities of growing up in the spotlight as an incredibly shy and sheltered artist. The infectious melodic quality and rhythms were celebratory, joyous, and infused with the R&B and disco-era sounds that made dancers flock to nightclubs. But according to producer Quincy Jones, “Our underlying plan was to take disco out. That was the bottom line. I admired disco, don’t get me wrong. I just thought it had gone far enough.”

Unlike later Jackson releases, Off The Wall featured no gimmicks—no rock songs meticulously designed to appeal to a demographic that wouldn’t normally listen to Jackson’s music; no star musician cameos recruited purely for show. Michael’s emotional intelligence, immaculate sense of rhythm, and introverted nature show his drive and dedication to introducing fans to a mature star who was just beginning to show what he would soon become.

by Classic Album Sundays New York City Host Barbie Bertisch

For the full story and to hear the album and Quincy Jones’ exquisite production  uninterrupted and on vinyl on our audiophile hi-fi, check out our worldwide Off the Wall album sessions here.

And for your online listening pleasure, check out our Michael Jackson Off the Wall Musical Lead-Up Playlist and Legacy Playlist.

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Classic Album Sundays Modern Classic: The Knife – ‘Shaking the Habitual’


For ardent fans of Deep Cuts, the squeaky-clean, 2003 breakthrough album by Swedish synth-pop outfit The Knife, Shaking the Habitual might seem like the band’s final, ugly descent into lunacy. In a little over a decade the brother and sister duo of Karin and Olof Dreijer had undergone a slow yet radical transformation, shedding the seemingly benign digital innocence of minor chart hits like “Heartbeats” and “Pass this On”, and growing into a distinctly avant-garde force of considerable abrasiveness. On the contrary, as both their magnum opus and apparent swan song, 2013’s Shaking the Habitual is the fascinating outcome of a career-length artistic development; an ambitious concoction encapsulating the musical and social ideals the band could only partially articulate in their formative years.

Consisting of singer Karin and producer Olof, The Knife’s early output exudes a playful, yet disquieting naïvety. In retrospect, the latter’s production capabilities seem amateurishly limited – a clumsy grasp of synthesis portraying little subtlety, with a penchant for sickly-sweet plastic textures, layered crudely in their raw unfiltered form. Likewise, Karin’s deceptively chaste lyrics and brash vocal mannerisms ostensibly fetishise melodramatic euro-pop stereotypes, perhaps goading the anglicised snobbery of early 2000s music journalism – playfully conforming to the notion of rock’s superior authenticity.

Yet in the years following the duo began to depart from this initially banal style, burrowing their way toward an increasingly austere, mature, and crepuscular sound which belied their euphoric origins and hinted at desires to utilise their platform to greater ends. Their acclaimed third album, Silent Shout (2006), confirmed an explicit cynicism toward both form and content, announcing the arrival of an often indecipherable political commentary which would come to define their confrontational relationship with future audiences.

Operating as thoroughly liberal artists, the siblings’ shift towards the socio-political spectrum of music on Shaking the Habitual is perhaps understandable considering the broader context and rapidly changing political climate of supposedly progressive Sweden in the early 2000s. The Swedish Democrats, a right-wing nationalist party with roots in the white supremacy movements of the 1980s, had by 2010 gained parliamentary representation for the first time, claiming 5.9% of the national vote and 20 MPs (a share which would rise to 12% in 2014, making it the the third largest party in the Riksdag), and suggesting a long simmering shift in national attitudes towards immigration, gender equality, indigenous rights, and refugee crises. This was, of course, part of a broader global lunge towards conservatism, which anticipated the looming humanitarian issues emerging from the middle east, as a reactionary force against it’s impact on Western life. But as residents of a country renowned for it’s socialist past, the ominous future threat of this political swing, coupled with the deeper-rooted ascension of global inequality would understandably rile the temperaments of the Dreijers, encouraging the symphonic statement of Shaking the Habitual.

Adopting an expansive sound palette with a heightened textural and polyrhythmic complexity – developed in solo side projects Fever Ray and Oni Ayhun – the duo’s fourth and final album exhibits the artists at their ambitious and uninhibited peak. Sonically, the band’s once sterile, synthesised rigidity is replaced by an almost untameable organicity, volatile and volcanic in its eruptions of viscous tactility, yet amorphous and ultimately undefinable. It’s often unclear if Olof’s production is utilising tangible acoustic objects or meticulously spliced synth textures, as he crafts unsettlingly alien soundscapes with his now fulfilled and unique aural signature. The chillingly operatic “A Cherry on Top” evokes the absurdity of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo in its parody of western baroque opulence, with what appears to be a grand stringed instrument, plucked violently as atmospheric drones swell around Karin’s strained and guttural voice. In relation to their now distant back catalogue, there is almost no sense of orientation, no musical foothold on which the listener can rest.

This is underlined by the geographical displacement of sounds and rhythms contained within the album’s hour and thirty-six minutes. Echoing Jon Hassell’s psychedelic Fourth World excursions, the duo explore alternate non-western tunings, dense polyrhythmic percussion and organically moulded textures, retaining a sense of pan-global futurism which attempts to realise the fusion of west and east mooted in the early 80’s via albums such as Eno and Byrne’s globe-trotting funk odyssey, My Life In The Bush Of The Ghosts.

Album opener “A Tooth For an Eye” channels both Balinese gamelan and west African drumming, distilled via the krautrock jams of CAN’s Jaki Liebeziet and Amon Düül, all layered beneath Karin’s cutting nordic howls. Likewise, “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” thrives in a cultural hinterland between eastern hyper-rhythm, germanic folk tradition, and nordic folklore, as dissonant flutes dart across the jagged landscape of frenetic hand-drums, Karin’s voice redolent of Hassell’s mutated trumpet, multiplying and stretching like a choir of fairytale creatures. Coupled with the continuing, if subversive, influence of electro and pop, it’s tempting to perceive Shaking’s globalised outlook as a riposte to the insular attitudes flourishing in Europe throughout the decade – an idealised blueprint of borderless creativity extolling the benefits of cross-cultural pollination.

Beneath the thorny sonic mass lies a daunting and almost incomprehensible network of cultural and political references. As avid readers of feminist literature, references to texts such as Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake and Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion appear in both lyric and title, while the notion of gender roles emerges consistently in songs such as “Full of Fire”, with the acidic mantra “let’s talk about gender, baby/let’s talk about you and me” repeating ad nauseam. Consistently, Karin’s lyrics rely on absurdity and humour as means of expression (“A bucket of tiger pee / Come up with me / Bottoms up / Reaching a dream”), with rare moments of furious lucidity occurring on songs like “Raging Lung” (“Hear my love sigh / I’ve got a story that money just can’t buy / Western standards / Poverty’s profitable”).

Overall, Shaking the Habitual seems to have provided a vessel through which the group could conclusively put their ideals into practice – expanding their ensemble to include non-musicians and dancers, and encouraging a wholly democratic approach to performance, expanding on the collectivism of post-punk bands such as Scritti Politti. In the series of divisive performances following the album’s release – which featured little obvious instrument playing, but plenty of impressionistic dancing – the group would exclusively hire female technicians, in turn articulating a potent critique of a stiflingly male occupation. As Karin Dreijer notes in an interview with Alex Macpherson: “We have a very, very privileged position. We can put our ideas in practice, so we have to take responsibility and do that.”   

As such, Shaking the Habitual resonates as the Dreijers’ final and finest act of joint provocation. With its twenty minute centrepiece of abstract ambience, and the nine minute metallic hellscape of “Fluid Fracking Injection”, the album feels inevitably and knowingly confrontational, challenging the expectations of their fans and brushing aside the confines of music market obligation.

In this sense, the group are far more interested in asking the difficult questions than they are in providing the easy answers. “If you always get what you expect, nothing would ever change” notes collaborator Halla Ólafsdóttir – a statement which speaks volumes to both the way we act as human beings and how we perceive art’s role in social change. As Karin aptly summarises, “…the goal is not necessarily to change things, but to plant a seed in people, to maybe make them question themselves a bit, to shake the habitual. It can only be a good thing.”

Owen Jones 

Read Next: Modern Classic – Actress ‘RIP’

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Classic Album Sundays Rocky Mountain Audio Fest Album Blogs: John Coltrane ‘A Love Supreme’

John Coltrane reached jazz nirvana with A Love Supreme. The musical genius and saxophone pioneer used his instrument to sing and breathe new life into the genre with his spiritual masterpiece. Coltrane is a storyteller that commands your attention as he sonically illustrates his journey of discovering faith. When listening to the album on an amazing hi-fi, it’s easy to imagine him and his horn in the room with you — the purity of tone and his dominance is compelling.


One of the most passionate expressions on the album is A Love Supreme’s closing movement, “Psalm”, where Coltrane ‘plays’ a poem written for the album on his horn and for which he printed the words on the album’s sleeve. Click here to read the poem along with the recording and take in his sermon.


Jazz icons like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk helped guide him in realizing his great talent and releasing his explosive musical vision. Coltrane collaborated with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis on some of his greatest works, like Milestones and Kind of Blue, and played with Thelonious Monk during his legendary run at the Five Spot. Coltrane said, “I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would sit at the piano and show me the answers just by playing them. I could watch him play and find out the things I wanted to know. Also, I could see a lot of things that I didn’t know about at all.” This dialogue helped spur his musical quest and ultimately inspired the personal narrative behind A Love Supreme. 

A Love Supreme has inspired modern saxophone maestros to practice as obsessively as Coltrane to master the language of their instrument. Kamasi Washington does so on his debut album, The Epic, which spans over three hours. Washington sings in many different voices through his saxophone and proves to be a leading voice in modern jazz. You can tell he has a similar sense of obsession as Coltrane, and similarly conveys emotion with his reed.

B29-117, 10-07-2003, 17:13, 8C, 2676x3304 (462+3242), 100%, RMAfotozwbasis, 1/100 s, R52.0, G33.8, B41.4

Colin Stetson has the same finesse but transforms the saxophone into a completely different monster. Stetson communicates darker and more complicated emotions with his saxophone and tests its limits, much like Coltrane. Some of his songs utilize the clanking of his instrument keys as percussion, and he conveys an almost haunted sound when he hums through his mouthpiece. Most of his pieces are long and repetitive, requiring him to practice breathing routine where his instrument is a part of his body.


Coltrane’s enthusiasm for faith and life contained in A Love Supreme inspired a power movement in the jazz world and altered language of the saxophone. The sermon Coltrane reads in “Psalm” proved the instrument could be human and poetic. Sonically, Coltrane’s playing feels intense and fired up, as if he were in church asking for his audience to praise with him. Its lack of dependence of scale or concrete melody proves Coltrane knew his instrument inside out, so much that he discovered a new means to express any emotion with it. Saxophone players and enthusiasts admire him for that freedom, and it’s refreshing to know Washington and Stetson are contributing to the conversation today.

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Classic Album Sundays Classic Album Sundays at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017

We are delighted to have been asked to return to this years ‘Rocky Mountain Audio Fest’ which takes place October 6th – October 8th in Denver Colorado.

The weekends celebrations will be hosted by Classic Album Sundays Chicago host Sam Willett whose writing has appeared in Consequence of Sound, Vinyl Factory and Music Festival Central.


Over the weekend we will be featuring full album playbacks of  John Coltane ‘A Love Supreme’, The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper…’,  Carole King ‘Tapestry’, Jeff Buckley ‘Grace’, Radiohead ‘Kid A’, Marvin Gaye ‘Whats Going On’, Massive Attack ‘Mezzanine’ andPink Floyd ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’.

Leading up to the event we will be running giveaways offering ticket giveaways and more so keep your eyes posted on our social media channels. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

The listening sessions for the weekend is as follows:


John Coltane ‘A Love Supreme’

Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’ (new Giles Martin stereo mix as people may want to hear that)


Carole King ‘Tapestry’

Jeff Buckley ‘Grace’

Radiohead ‘Kid A’


Marvin Gaye ‘Whats Going On’

Massive Attack ‘Mezzanine’

Pink Floyd ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’

Ticket packages are available here.

Date: October 6th – October 8th 2017

Venue: Denver Marriott Tech Center, 4900 S Syracuse St, Denver, CO 80237

Full information can be found on the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival website here.

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Classic Album Sundays CAS Movie Night with Jensens Gin featuring ‘Amy’ with Throwing Shade

We are delighted to be joined by one of the risings stars of the London music scene Throwing Shade for our second movie night at the Institute Of Light in London fields featuring the brilliant Amy Winehouse documentary ‘Amy’.

Throwing Shade, aka Nabihah Iqbal, a rising producer, DJ and NTS Radio host whose latest House of Silk EP was released via Ninja Tune in 2016. Having debuted on Kassem Mosse’s Ominira imprint and followed suit with releases for No Pain In Pop (Patten, Grimes, Forest Swords) and Happy Skull, Throwing Shade continues her patchwork of peripheral pop.


In November 2014, Throwing Shade was commissioned by the Tate to compose a piece of music for the Turner Prize, and has since performed live in both the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain, as well as the Institute of Contemporary Art. More recently, she collaborated with the artist Wolfgang Tillmans, performing in his Tate Tanks installation in March 2017. She has also just completed scoring her first film soundtrack for the Belgian director, Robbrecht Desmet.


Our feature for the evening will be ‘Amy’. A documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, the immensely talented yet doomed songstress. We see her from her teen years, where she already showed her singing abilities, to her finding success and then her downward spiral into alcoholism and drugs.

There are various pieces of extensive, unseen archive footage of Winehouse, such as when she is video-recorded in a cab with friend Tyler James in January 2001 and driving to tours and on her long-term friend, Lauren Gilbert’s holiday tape in Majorca, Spain in August 2005. The film also shows various interviews, such as with Jonathan Ross, Tim Kash, and a funny video of when Winehouse is talking about singer Dido in 2004, when she promoted her debut album. The documentary also includes when Winehouse was at the Grammy Awards in 2008, when she is seen winning the award for “Record of the Year”.

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian gave the film five out of five, describing it as “a tragic masterpiece”, and saying, “This documentary about the late British soul singer is an overwhelmingly sad, intimate—and dismaying—study of a woman whose talent and charisma helped turn her into a target”.

Join us as we discuss the life and influence of Amy Winehouse with Nabihah followed by a screening of a the movie.

We will be partnering with Jensen’s Gin who will create a bespoke cocktail for the event! All attendees will receive one free cocktail on entry to the cinema.


Date and Time: Monday 18th September

Doors and food: 6pm

Interview: 7:10pm

Movie: 7:30pm

Finish: 9:40pm

Venue: The Institute of Light, 376 Helmsley Pl, London E8 3SB

Tickets: £12 (includes movie entry and free Jensen’s Gin cocktail) in advance soon

Presenter: Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy with special guest Throwing Shade

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Classic Album Sundays Michael Jackson “Off The Wall” Legacy Playlist

Michael Jackson will wear the nameplate of “King of Pop” for the rest of time, it seems— his attitude and confidence has inspired many to sing and dance just like him today. Jackson solidified that identity on Off the Wall, where he, Quincy Jones, and a load of collaborators, including Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, capitalized on the popular genre of the time and created high-detailed pop songs that no one could top. Off the Wall is one of the most memorable moments of 70s disco, and the genre quickly declined in popularity as soon as the new decade began.

The modern artists on this month’s legacy playlist pump their music with just as much swagger to make produce more incredible stroke of pop. All of these artists scream something that will make you think of Michael, whether they’re challenging their vocal range to sing a note like no one else or rotating Off the Wall’s funky sounds into their own output.

Take a listen via Tidal or Spotify!

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Classic Album Sundays Michael Jackson ‘Off The Wall’ Musical lead-up playlist

In 1979, Michael made an ode to transform his identity from a childish Michael Jackson into a sophisticated MJ. This new identity would completely erase his past as the face of The Jackson 5 and into someone who would “study and look back on the whole world of entertainment and perfect it, take it steps further from where the greats left off.”

Many of the artists featured on this month’s musical lead-up playlist helped Jackson realise this before reaching solo stardom with Off the Wall. Sammy Davis Jr., Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Isley Brothers, The Bee Gees and Jackie Wilson inspired him craft his sugary combination of R&B and disco music, while Carole Bayer Sager, The Gap Band and George Duke took similar steps in funky disco around the same time.

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Classic Album Sundays Vinyl Magazine





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Classic Album Sundays Long Live Vinyl Magazine






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