Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The Jackson 5

"I don't wanna sign any more 'kid acts'" - Berry Gordy 

Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969)
This was the album that introduced the world to The Jackson 5, from Gary, Indiana, and notably their lead vocalist, pre-teen Michael Jackson. It is a surprisingly mature offering, full of high quality soul-pop and immaculately played by Motown’s house musicians, The Corporation (Bobby Taylor, Deke Richards, Freddie Perren, Wilton Fender, Gene Pello  & Fonce Mizell)

The album would, by the influence of Motown’s marketing department, give the impression that Diana Ross discovered the group. She most certainly did not, the discovery is credited to another Motown artist, Bobby Taylor, with the help of Gladys Knight, something the boys’ father later acknowledged to be the case.

The album begins with a slow-pace, gospelly version of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah enhanced by some funky wah-wah guitar and a fine fuzzy electric solo. Vocally, it follows the framework of the Phil Spector-produced Bob.B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans version. Nobody is a nice piece of funky pop with young Michael on excellent soulful form.

I Want You Back, (also included on the next album) needs no introduction, does it? It is a wonderful piece of pop perfection. I have known the record now for over fifty years and I never, and I mean never, get tired of it. From that rolling piano intro through its funky guitar, infectious bongos and frantic vocals it is just a pure delight. "A boo-boo-boo-boo-boooh...". Indeed. Love it. Can You Remember is a slow, melodic ballad of the sort that would come to typify Michael Jackson’s early solo career. 
Standing In The Shadows Of Love is a slowed-down, brassy and soulful cover of The Four Tops’ song. These lads could handle whatever was thrown their way, it seemed.

You've Changed is an impressive, punchy, brassy soul number that, although it is sung by kids, is not bubblegum pop - it is solid, Stax-y Memphis-influenced soul. It is a great, underrated, little-mentioned Jackson 5 gem. Southside Johnny no doubt loved this. Otis Redding would have done too, had he lived to hear it. It really is surprisingly good and credible too. Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour is covered efficiently enough with Jermaine on lead vocals and a nice percussion-driven backing. 
Smokey Robinson’s Who’s Lovin’ You sees Michael back on lead vocals that impressively match Robinson’s. The track has a slow, bluesy feel to it too, that is decidedly uncommercial. Chained was a Marvin Gaye song that featured Michael on lead once again. It is a solid slice of heavy soul. The Temptations(I Know) I'm Losing You is covered remarkably competently by Jermaine. Sly & The Family Stone’s anthemic Stand also proves no problem for Michael and his brothers. They are helped, undoubtedly, by the high quality of the musicianship behind them, but their performances are still incredibly good. Born To Love You, another Temptations number, gets the same admirable treatment. 

Although three-quarters of this album was made up of cover versions, it was still a mightily impressive first outing and one that showcased a potential that would, as we all know, be fully realised very soon.

ABC (1970)

This, of course, is basically a fun, enjoyable teenage (almost sub-teenage) album. It is excellent, invigorating, effervescent quality Motown pop, however and should be assessed positively as such. It is simply an enjoyable half hour's listen that will put you in a better mood for the day.
The hit singles The Love You Save and ABC follow that bubblegum-ish formula, but they are classic infectious, singalong pop, as to is the similar One More Chance2-4-6-8 is another playground-inspired song to win over a young audience. There is also some good soul material on here too - (Come Round Here) I'm The One You NeedNever Had A Dream Come True and True Love Can Be Beautiful. Michael could carry a soul song, even at such a young age. 

The cover of The DelfonicsLa La Means I Love You is convincing and I'll Bet You is a surprisingly funky, horn-driven Temptations-esque number that is delivered in a mature style beyond their energetic years. The equally impressive Found That Girl has Jermaine on lead vocals and also has a solid soulfulness. The sound quality is excellent too. Quality Motown stereo.

Third Album (1970)

This third album for the brothers starts perfectly, with I'll Be There, possibly The Jackson 5's finest ever song. It is just the definitive Motown soul ballad. Michael's vocal is sumptuous. This album was a transitional one between the bubblegum, pre-teen pop of the first two to a group wanting to be taken seriously as a credible soul group. The Delfonics' non-Motown Ready Or Not (Here I Come) is covered superbly, packed full of soul.

Oh How Happy has Jermaine's deep voice on lead vocals on an appealing poppy number with some gospel undertones. This has been a great start to the album, but unfortunately, it is now time for the by now seemingly obligatory cover of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water. All Motown artists did one. Actually, they do it well, with Jermaine on lead again and some super harmonies, but there is no need for it, really.

Can I See You In The Morning has some excellent fuzz guitar and funky wah-wah too. It sounds very Temptations, psychedelic soul-esque. Michael produces one of his first great, soulful vocals. Good stuff. This is a seriously underrated track. 
Goin' Back To Indiana is a lively, poppy piece of rocking soul. It has a killer guitar solo in the middle too. How Funky Is Your Chicken gets in on the whole Stax-Rufus Thomas Funky Chicken craze. The catchy Mama's Pearl was a big hit single, and is in the ABC-I Want You Back-The Love You Save upbeat, totally irresistible vein. Listening to it even now is just such a pleasure. It is full of youthful vigour and energy.

Reach In is a credible piece of adult-oriented Motown soul. The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage is instantly recognisable as a Smokey Robinson song. Michael does it justice. Darling Dear, also a Smokey Robinson composition, is another acceptable soul number to end what is a most pleasurable half hour's listen. It is manages to be more than just a young teenagers' album, there is a nice balance between pop and more mature soul. Nice Motown stereo sound too - as always.

Maybe Tomorrow (1971)
The incredibly prolific Jackson 5 and their production-muscian team, The Corporation, produced their fourth album in only two years with this more-of-the-same offering in 1971. This one is a bit more ballad-dominated than previous works, although there are still some typically lively numbers on here as well.

Maybe Tomorrow is a sweet, Delfonics-style ballad sung by the voice-cracking Michael while the already deeper-voiced Jermaine headed up the ballad She's GoodNever Can Say Goodbye (covered by various other artists) is almost made his own by a precocious Michael. He totally nails the vocals, in a higher pitch to Maybe Tomorrow, so it was probably recorded earlier. Maybe Tomorrow and Never Can Say Goodbye, both soulful ballads, were both come as singles, no doubt due to the previous success of I'll Be ThereThe tempo ups a bit on the catchy, handclappy rhythm of The Wall. Check out that wonderful bass on here too. The whole song is classic early seventies Motown. 

Petals continues the archetypal Jackson 5 upbeat sound, it is instantly recognisable as them. Sixteen Candles, sung by Jermaine, sounds a bit dated, both as a song and in its production. It is a sort of late fifties rock'n'roll ballad with a touch of country about it. It was an old hit from 1957, apparently, and it definitely sounds like it. (We've Got) Blue Skies is tailor-made for Michael, being very similar to the material on his solo albums. My Little Baby, although a bit lightweight, is a pleasant funky-ish strings and bass number, with some groovy clavinet breaks and the brothers sharing vocals. 

It's Great To Be Here is a fetching enough slow-ish number but it suffers from a bit of a muffled sound. In fact, the whole album does, for some reason, especially in comparison with the excellent sound on their first album, for example. Honey Chile is a fine song and was originally done by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. I have to say that theirs was the superior version. The funky-ish I Will Find A Way, sung largely by Jermaine, was more typical Jackson 5 fare but I feel that this album was a bridging point for the group. Indeed, their next one would find them adopting a more soulful, mature sound.

Lookin' Through The Windows (1972)
This was the album that saw child prodigy Michael Jackson's voice deepen and broaden in its range. It is a (comparatively) mature album, in that it is not completely aimed at the younger end of the teenage market. It is a pretty standard early seventies Motown album - a selection of original singles, some original album cuts, three covers and a cover of a song made famous by other Motown artists. The album has been re-released in superb seventies-style Motown stereo, which I love. The cover art shows the boys looking suitably "adult" and serious.
Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's 1968 hit) is covered excellently, making you not wish you were listening to the more familiar one, but able to appreciate this version. Lookin' Through The Windows was a superb, harmonious, catchy and soulful single, deservedly a big hit. Don't Let Your Baby Catch You, while being a bit of an ABC remake, also has some funky bass and wah-wah guitar on it beside that trademark bubblegum sound, hinting at the moves into more funky material that were to come over the next few years. Subtly, this was a bit of a transitional album. To Know is a delicious, slow tempo soul groove, with Michael's voice showing those slightly deepening tones. The bass and brass sounds are wonderful on here.

The boys' cover of Jackson Browne's Doctor My Eyes is a poppy but funkily rocking success. It also was a big hit single. Little Bitty Pretty One, a fifties cover, features all the boys on shared lead vocals and is vibrant, catchy and singalong. 
The appallingly titled Ee-Ne-Me-Nee-Mi-Nee-Moe (The Choice Is Yours) is actually an enjoyable enough piece of Jackson 5 fun, but it already sounds considerably more "retro" than the rest of the album's material, harking back to 1969-1970. If I Have To Move A Mountain finds Michael still in high voice mode on a syrupy ballad. I would put money that it was a track that dated from earlier sessions. Don't Want To See Tomorrow has a Spanish introductory vocal and some Latin rhythms before it settles into a pulsating Motown groove. It has a great funky break in the middle too. 

Children Of The Light is such an early seventies, fun track. It is funny that I listen to this every now and again, dating back to when I was thirteeen-fourteen and Michael Jackson was the same age. Now he is long gone, and I am an ageing man. I do find it beautifully nostalgic, though. I Can Only Give You Love is a typical Jackson 5 number, all the brothers joining in and a really hooky refrain and rhythm. Good stuff.

Overall, as Motown albums go, this is certainly not a bad one, it is possibly superior overall to similar ones put out by artists such as The Supremes or The Four Tops from the same period.

Skywriter (1973)
By 1973, the Various Jackson brothers were getting pretty fed up. They saw themselves as no longer a vehicle for pre-teen pop, understandable, as they were all growing up themselves. They wanted to do more mature, sexy, dance-oriented or funky music, but were fed a succession of poppy numbers or slushy ballads by Motown. Unfortunately, this album signified the beginning of the end for them at Motown. I am not sure if this was a coincidence,  but take a look at the lads on the sepia-tinged cover - dressed up as aviators, they look miserable as hell. They were all writing their own songs by now, but, for some reason, Motown didn’t let them record their own stuff. As it happened, though, personally, I think this album is more diverse than one may have expected it to be. There is some great funky pop on here. I like the album a lot and feel it was their best thus far. Despite the boys’ complaints and apparent dissatisfaction, this was their least blatantly poppy and most mature album to date.

First off, the opening two tracks , both singles, were really good ones. I remember liking them both at the time as did many people, so they still has a hit in them. At that time I was around fourteen and obsessed with the charts, so these two songs have good memories for me. Skywriter was actually a funky-ish number that I am sure would have appealed to the boys (they sing it with a real vibrancy) and Hallelujah Day was a catchy pop song with a singalong chorus. The former track had an absolutely killer clavinet riff and to be honest the track really cooks, one of their forgotten corkers, for me. The latter had a great piano-bass intro and some great vocals. It was probably the group's last great pop-soul single, the last one with that unbridled, typically Jackson 5 youthful vitality.

The surprisingly good, diverse quality continues on the broodingly soulful pop funk of The Boogie Man. Touch had been covered by The Supremes in the previous year. It is given a suitably harmonious treatment here. Corner Of The Sky also has a vaguely funky, rhythmic backing and some uplifting vocals. I Can’t Quit Your Love is a punchy, brassy Diana Ross & The Supremes-style number. 
Uppermost also has some funky, groovy percussion and a deeper, more soulful vocal from Michael. 

World Of Sunshine is also infectiously funky, while having a breezy, sixties poppiness to it at the same time. Ooh, I’d Love To Be With You is a superb, laid-back, harmonious sweet ballad. You Made Me What I Am ends this lively album on an upbeat note. All most enjoyable. The group might have been cheesed off, but you can’t detect it in the performances.

G.I.T. (Get It Together) (1973)
Released only six months after Skywriter, this album showed a real diversification in The Jackson 5's music. Disco was not yet here as a definite genre, but the basic sounds and the rhythms were arriving in the chart music of The O'Jays, KC & The Sunshine Band and Hot Chocolate to name just a few. The Jackson 5 also started going down that road on this short, eight track album. The tracks all flow into reach other and there is a definite Norman Whitfield-Temptations-Undisputed Truth feel to the whole thing.

Get It Together is a short, but catchy, brassy, clavinet-driven piece of proto-disco funk. while Don't Say Goodbye Again is an orchestrated ballad that has a subtle rhythm running underneath it. Michael's voice is now much deeper, although he can still reach some high nites. It is a young man's voice now, not a boy's. Reflections is a cover of the Diana Ross & The Supremes classic, given a bit of a spacey, funky mid-seventies makeover. Hum Along And Dance was a big, extended (nearly nine minutes), Undisputed Truth style cover of a Temptations song. It was The Jacksons' most mature, innovative and experimental track to date. The assorted vocals, led by Jackie and Tito for once, all mesh convincingly and the track is packed with an earthy, funky ambience.

Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don't Say No) was also a lengthy number and was originally recorded by The Undisputed Truth. The Jacksons do it in  similarly soulful, gospelly fashion. Although this wasn't an original song for the group, it was certainly a different style of material they were doing now. No bubblegum pop any more, although that had been the case for a few years. It's Too Late To Change The Time is an infectious piece of soul with vague reggae influences in its beat. If you listen carefully, Michael uses the vocal hiccup thing here for the first time on the chorus. 
You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You) was previously recorded by Gladys Knight & The Pips and The Temptations. The Jacksons don't particularly offer anything new to the song. It is what it is - a good one. Dancing Machine is where they start to get really "early disco" on a highly danceable groove, one which would appear on, and be the title of, their next album. Things were changing.

Dancing Machine (1974)
By 1974, The Jackson 5, had, to a certain extent, managed to diversify their sound away from bubblegum pop through soul ballads to a more dance-oriented sound with a funky edge. The group had spent the last few years getting frustrated with Motown’s somewhat intransigent treatment of them and the bell was tolling for the relationship. However, they had managed to get things changed a bit and their last few albums for the label were more mature offerings. This was another little-mentioned but quite impressive album, one which began to lay the foundations for their forthcoming career as The Jacksons on the Epic label. Dreadful cover, though.

I Am Love, Pts 1 & 2 is a surprisingly low-key number to open the album with, although it has a mature, dignified ambience to it, enhanced by some Isley Brothers-style fuzzy guitar interjections. That said, four minutes in, Pt. 2 explodes with some searing funk-rock guitar soloing, powerful drums and strident vocals. It ends as a completely different song. The whole Pt. 1-Pt. 2 concept of two slightly different pieces of music is also very Isley Brothers. From around this period, they were doing it on many tracks. I cannot find out who played guitar on this album, but it is in the Ernie Isley style. It may have been him, probably not, as he was contracted to a different label.

Whatever You Got, I Want is a solid piece of funky pop with Michael showcasing a deeper, soulful voice. It is a punchy, brassy chugger of a number that once again shows the group's more mature direction. 
She's A Rhythm Child has Michael and Jermaine taking most of the vocals on another poppy but definitely funky outing. Dancing Machine had been included on the previous album, G.I.T. (Get It Together) and did well as a single, with its early disco groove. It is a typical serving of mid-seventies dance-soul. The Life Of The Party also mines that Philly Soul-early disco seam, laying foundations for the sound of the next few years. Soul was moving away from Motown-Stax-Atlantic sounds towards a more dance-ish vibe. 

What You Don't Know is a song in that fuzzy guitar meets movie soundtrack style with a strident brass section to the fore. Michael is proving himself to be a balladeer-pop singer no more, but a funkster, a dancefloor groover. Check out that rumbling bass line too along with the rhythmic percussion breaks. There had to be at least one Michael ballad in there, though, and we get it in the syrupy slick soul of If I Don’t Love You This Way. The slow, melodious It All Begins And Ends With Love features all the brothers taking lead vocal parts. The Mirrors Of My Mind ends on an upbeat, funky note with some jazzy flute and funky clavinet driving it along. This was not a bad album, but I can't help but pick up on an "end of an era" feel to it. There would, indeed, be only one more Jackson 5 album after this.

Moving Violation (1975)
This was The Jackson 5’s final album in that incarnation and it is actually an attractive piece of mid-seventies disco-ish soul to end a wonderful career on. It paved the way for the sort of music they would soon be releasing as The Jacksons.

Forever Came Today, the group’s last nod to their Motown heritage, is an six minute plus cover of the Diana Ross & The Supremes hit which is given a groovy, disco makeover. Admittedly this take some of the original pop-soul appeal away from it, but it sort of stands up as a reasonable track, almost like a different song.  It is a bit sprawling and messy, however, lacking cohesion. The ebullient Moving Violation puts that right, though, on a more cohesive, catchy Philly-style work out. The song has a mid seventies poppy appeal to it with some nice percussion and guitar. The same can be said for the rhythmic, Harold Melvin-esque (You Were Made) Especially For Me, another track that is very representative of its era. Classic seventies melodic disco soul. Honey Love is an upbeat slice of disco pop. Remember it was still the formative period for disco. The genre was still very linked to soulful pop. Once more, it is a good track, full of vitality and verve. Great percussion again too. The boys’ (men’s) vocal were superbly harmonious, merging really well. 

Body Language (Do The Love Dance) is an even better example, overflowing with rhythm, funky wah-wah guitar, rumbling bass and even a brief sample of Edwin Starr’s War. At the risk of repeating myself, it is a fine, infectious number. The Jacksons were on their way. This song exemplifies that more than any. All I Do Is Think Of You is the album’s first smooth, slick ballad with Michael on a solid lead vocal.  It strangely harks back to the group's teen pop period with lyrics about love in the schoolyard that now sounded slightly incongruous. Breezy is a laid-back serving of tuneful, vaguely funky soul. Call Of The Wild is a short, funky guitar-driven rocker that I really like. This was the mid-seventies Jacksons at their very best. Time Explosion also falls into that category, featuring some spacey funk and seriously good vocals.

It was the vocals that lifted this album higher, making it a seriously underrated good one that was actually a high point, although nobody will ever consider it so. Thanks for six wonderful years, lads, is probably what needs to be said at this juncture. Time moves on, but I am sure many still miss their sheer joie de vivre. I know I do.

** The bonus disco mix of Forever Came Today bubbles along nicely from beginning to end. Disco was about to take over the world and The Jacksons were trail blazers of the genre.

Related posts :-
The Jacksons
Michael Jackson
Jermaine Jackson

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