WRITING ON THE 'WALL'
Jackson made a name for himself in the early '70s as the young frontman of Motown's Jackson 5 and a solo artist. The Jacksons had left Motown in 1975 and released three albums on Epic, the most recent of which, "Destiny," peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 in 1978. But Jackson became a bona fide superstar with his first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall."
As Jackson recorded that album, which came out in 1979, his team decided to bring it to the broadest audience possible. "Our whole mind-set was that we were making music for the masses and part of the big picture was to get the record company to turn around and market and promote to a mass market," says Ron Weisner, who was co-managing Jackson with Freddy DeMann at the time. "If you were a black artist, you were put in a black music division, and that meant the marketing campaign was an ad in Jet and Ebony. Our attitude was, 'Let the public decide-don't just present it to a black market only.' "
From the moment Epic's pop and R&B promotion teams heard "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," the album's opening track and lead single, they knew they had a major hit on their hands, recalls former West Coast regional urban promotion manager Maurice Warfield. So they took the unprecedented step of promoting singles to R&B and pop radio at the same time.
"It wasn't the usual 'Build up the artist at urban radio first and then go to pop,'" Warfield says. "We knew right off: We're all going to work the records at the same time."
"Don't Stop" debuted July 28, 1979, and became Jackson's first No. 1 R&B and pop single as a solo artist since his 1972 hit "Ben." That was followed in November by a second No. 1 R&B and pop single, "Rock With You," then the album's title track and "She's Out of My Life."
"'Off the Wall' opened up something at radio that was never closed again," Weisner says. "The wall was down by the time we got to 'Thriller.'"