19. "She's Out of My Life"
Off the Wall, 1979
"Maybe that was too personal for a party – it was for me," Jackson said of "She's Out of My Life," the moment of ballad heartbreak amid Off the Wall's disco celebration. The song was written by Los Angeles musician Thomas Bähler, about the end of a two-year relationship (Bähler had been with Karen Carpenter but has said the song isn't about her). Quincy Jones had planned to record the song with Frank Sinatra, but Jackson got a shot instead and dug deep for a stunning version. "She's Out of My Life" was Off the Wall's fourth Top 10 single, and Greg Phillinganes' electric piano set the tone for seemingly every hit ballad of the next decade and a half. Famously, Jackson's mighty voice cracks and wavers on the song's last few words. "Every time we did it, I'd look up at the end and Michael would be crying," Jones said in 1983. "I said, 'We'll come back in two weeks and do it again. . . .' Came back and he started to get teary. So we left it in." It was a staple of Jackson's set lists from 1981 to 1993, always followed by a peppy medley to bring the mood back up.