Michael After Motown
Michael Jackson’s 1979 masterpiece Off The Wall proved to be a pivotal point in the King of Pop’s remarkable career. Although it was 21-year old MJ’s 19th album and 5th record as a solo artist, the record was hugely significant in that it marked Michael’s departure from Motown records and the beginning of a working relationship with Quincy Jones which would last for over 30 years and result in some of the most iconic pop records ever produced.
What makes Off The Wall an absolutely essential album for bass players is Louis ‘Thunderthumbs’ Johnson commanding, propulsive sense of groove that anchors 9 of the 10 tracks (Bobby Watson of Rufus provided bass for ‘Rock With You’, every other track is LJ). Louis’ funk sensibilities and instinct for crafting grooving, hummable bass lines mean that all of the uptempo tracks on the album are filled to the brim with bass hooks; ‘Get On The Floor’ is no exception.
We’ve already heard from Louis Johnson in the Groove Of The Week series, examining his fingerstyle funk groove on Michael McDonald’s ‘I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)’, but it wouldn’t be fair to let his contributions to the world of slap bass go unrecognised. ‘Get On The Floor’ showcases Louis’ consummate thumb work, opening with a rapid-fire line that requires a high level of right hand control to execute cleanly at tempo:
The key to nailing this groove is getting a consistent slap tone on the D string, which can take some time and effort – the normal convention is to allocate the thumb to the E and A strings and pop everything on the D and G strings, but Louis Johnson and other slap champions including Marcus Miller rely heavily on the thumb to articulate notes on every string and produce lines that would be unplayable with popped notes. Here’s how the intro groove – which also serves as the chorus part – looks in notation:
While writing out the dots for the main groove I got carried away and ended up writing the whole tune out, note for note; the entire tune is a masterclass in how to play plenty of notes without taking anything away from the vocal and the verse line will present a challenge to even the most hardened slap veterans out there.
More of LJ and MJ on the way soon – this album lives in my glovebox and is always the right thing to listen to when driving to or from a gig.