The Jacksons (1976)
Enjoy Yourself/Think Happy/Good Times/Keep On Dancing/Blues Away/Show You The Way To Go/Living Together/Strength Of One Man/Dreamer/Style Of Life
This was The Jacksons' debut solo album on the Epic label, from 1976. An acrimonious split with Motown had seen Jermaine stay on that label, and younger brother Randy joining the group to keep it as a five-man outfit. The album was produced by legendary Philadelphia label producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, so it has a late-era Philly feel to it, merging slick soul with lively disco rhythms/beats. It sort of provides a bridging point between the maturing of The Jackson 5 and the full-blown, vibrant disco sound that The Jacksons would come to personify in the 1977-1978 period.
Enjoy Yourself is a jerky sort of number that provides a very early prototype for Michael's solo material. Think Happy is a suitably upbeat, guitar and bass-driven groove. Good Times is a polished, slow soul number with Michael's now mature voice doing the business.
Keep On Dancing is probably The Jacksons' first big disco/soul stomper, with a solid, semi-funky backing and the lads' harmonies in fine sync. It is very much how I remember the group from the time. It is a good track, and breaks out half way through into a frenetic piece of funky mid-seventies disco. It was a track that very much said that it was The Jacksons not The Jackson 5.
Blues Away sees a return to smooth, harmonious, immaculately-played soul and then we get the absolute classic of its era and genre, Show You The Way To Go. This is where The Jacksons really nailed their sound down and paved the way for Michael's material on Off The Wall, three years later. This was polished, easy disco at its finest. It is just so 1976. It makes even an old punk like me very nostalgic. Truly good stuff. Michael's lead vocal was his best yet. Living Together is also a typical serving of 1976 soul/funk with that brassy movie soundtrack sound to its beat.
Strength Of One Man is a very Philly/Harold Melvin/O' Jays-sounding number and has a lot of class and quality to it. Once again, the vocals from all of the group are top notch. Dreamer is a smoochy, romantic slow burner while Style Of Life is an effortlessly impressive mid-pace workout. While this was certainly no classic album, it set the group well on the way to establishing a trademark sound that would serve them well for several years.
Goin' Places (1977)
Music's Takin' Over/Goin' Places/Different Kind Of Lady/Even Though You're Gone/Jump For Joy/Heaven Knows I Love You/Man Of War/Do What You Wanna/Find Me A Girl
This was a really impressive album of enjoyable disco soul from The Jacksons. It was not as big as the album that followed it but it was confident, assured and most enjoyable. It is a top quality soul album of its day. Five of the nine songs were written by legendary Philadelphia pair Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, which pretty much guaranteed their class.
Music's Takin' Over is a solid groovy soul pop number, with Michael well into his hiccup vocal thing by now. The sound quality is great as are the vocals and the overall effervescence. There is some great brass and a nice funky bass/drum/vocal part. Goin' Places was the album's hit singles and it is one I have always liked, since back in 1977. The chorus is extremely catchy and sticks in your head. The brothers' energy and enthusiasm doesn't let up for a minute. Nice one.
Different Kind Of Lady, written by The Jacksons themselves, is another upbeat piece of classy disco soul that gets into its groove immediately and stays there. Incidentally, the musicians The Jacksons have performing with them are top notch.
Even Though You're Gone has an increasingly mature-sounding Michael leading convincingly on a smooth piece of laid-back soul. Jump For Joy is pleasingly funky and rhythmic with more impressive vocal harmonies. This is simply uplifting, catchy fare and so typical of 1977. The Jacksons were a class act and they were building strongly on the solid Jackson 5 foundations.
Tito takes lead vocals on the syrupy soul of Heaven Knows I Love You, which contains one of those very seventies spoken parts in the middle that now sound very cheesy but nobody minded at the time. He continues lead vocals on the sumptuous Man Of War. It is an anti-war song that suited the era. Do What You Wanna is another Jacksons-penned disco soul number that is lively enough and Find Me A Girl is a slow, romantic song to end on with some nice saxophone at the end.
The disco soul numbers that largely appear in the first half of the album are my personal favourites.
Blame It On The Boogie/Push Me Away/Things I Do For You/Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)/Destiny/Bless His Soul/All Night Dancin'/That's What You Get (For Being Polite)
This was The Jacksons most successful album thus far and it contains two of their best selling and well known singles. It was the first album that saw The Jacksons in complete control. Between them they wrote all the songs* and produced the album. An impressive job they did too.
*The one exception to this was Blame It On The Boogie, which, was, very confusingly, written by a British singer/songwriter called, would you believe, Mick Jackson! He had a number 15 hit with it too. The Jacksons reached number 8. There is an argument to say that his is the superior version too. It certainly has an appeal to it and Mick Jackson has a warm, deeper voice than any of The Jacksons. It was a good version, sounding at the beginning like Leo Sayer's You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, but I still prefer The Jacksons' one. It is funkier, Stevie Wonder-esque and sounds more effortlessly natural. Mick Jackson's sounds what it is - a white guy doing poppy funk.
Blame It On The Boogie is an iconic song now, driven by a funky clavinet, guitar and drums riff, Michael takes it higher with his pre-Off The Wall disco vocal. This was when the word "boogie" started to mean "disco dancing" as opposed to boogie-woogie piano. The tempo drops earlier the was usual on a Jacksons album with the sweet soul ballad of Push Me Away.
The disco/funk vibe returns with the muscular groove of Things I Do For You. Michael introduces his high-pitched "wee-hoo" yelp here, something that he would continue to use for years after this. A song like this provided the foundations for much of the Off The Wall solo album from the following year. The second big hit was the irresistible Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) which is again one of the group's finest songs and is a fine example of disco soul of the era. The Jacksons were leading the way with quality tracks like this - commercial, poppy yet credible too. The song is included here in its full eight minute form, featuring an excellent funky clavinet-powered ending. Stevie Wonder would have been impressed by that, I'm sure.
Destiny is a nice, mid-pace soulful number with a convincing lead vocal from Michael. It is a reflective song as opposed to a romantic one or a groover. Jackson just wants "a simple life" and to be left "to be me". Small hints of future inner turmoil, probably.
Bless His Soul features Jackie on lead vocals on a subtly brassy smooth soul song. All Night Dancin' is a superb, frantic unsurprisingly dance number, enhanced by some excellent rock style lead guitar. After the singles, it is the album's stand-out track. That's What You Get (For Being Polite) is a lyrically slightly cynical but sumptuously-backed soulful song to end with. Michael's Off The Wall came next and there were moire successful Jacksons albums, but this was possibly their best. Punk was all over the place in 1978, but in many ways, this was just as much the sound of the time, even for me. It was everywhere.
Can You Feel It/Lovely One/Your Ways/Everybody/This Place Hotel (aka Heartbreak Hotel)/Time Waits For No-One/Walk Right Now/Give It Up/Wondering Who
This was The Jacksons' best-selling album and was released in the wake of Michael Jackson's platinum-selling Off The Wall, As usual, he took most of the lead vocals so it was, to an extent, a Michael album with his brothers joining him. Personally I prefer Destiny to this one, being a more hooky album, but this was the one that really caught the public' s ear. I find it far less adventurous, though, and the sound is considerably inferior. It is a series of mainly upbeat, quite lengthy workouts that took the disco sound and merged it with a pop funk style that characterised both Michael and The Jacksons' work at the time.
Can You Feel It was the album's huge hit and is a rousing stomper of a track with an infectious, call-to-arms chorus. Randy joins Michael on lead vocals. Lovely One is a typically (by now) hiccupy Michael groover, very similar to his Off The Wall successes, full of upbeat pop funk and brass breaks. It sounds very much like Don't Stop Til You Get Enough. Your Ways is less obviously Michael, but it still gets into its groove and stays there, funking along solidly. Everybody is a slick piece of disco soul smoothness that doesn't particularly stick in the mind.
This Place Hotel (aka Heartbreak Hotel) is a track that sounds like a Michael Jackson track from a later era. It is sophisticated and features sound effects that sound ahead of their time. There is a futuristic feel to it reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire. The track reappeared on Jackson's posthumous Scream compilation.
Six tracks in finds the album's first syrupy ballad in Time Waits For No-One but disco funk soon returns on the infectious Walk Right Now, which is a typical Jacksons mover. At nearly six and a half minutes, it is quite lengthy. The ending percussion part is intoxicating. Michael is really in control here, soaring above the fast funk with all those now trademark vocal yelps and wails. Give It Up is a harmonious, chunky slow soulful number that has Marlon sharing lead vocals. Wondering Who has Jackie taking the lead on a really good track that features some searing electric guitar and some Earth, Wind & Fire-style vocals. It comes to a strangely abrupt end.
For some reason, I have never been able to take to this album as much as to the previous three. Do not let that detract from it, though, it is a mature and accomplished piece of work.
Torture/Wait/One More Chance/Be Not Always/State Of Shock/We Can Change The World/The Hurt/Body
This was the final Jacksons album, four years after 1980's Triumph and including Thriller-powered global mega-star Michael, talked back in to doing one last album with his five other brothers. It was the only Jacksons album to include all six brothers. It is very much an album of the mid-eighties and suffers accordingly due to all the programmed drums and keyboards. These are not really my thing and I find The Jacksons' seventies albums far more satisfying and authentic-sounding.
Torture is a strong, mid-pace stomper, with Michael sharing lead vocals with Jermaine over a backing dominated by typically mid-eighties synthesisers. Some searing rock guitar features too, however, rescuing it somewhat from the eighties sound. It is probably the album's best track. Wait is a very eighties piece of dance pop, driven by keyboards, but attractively so. It is bassier than some eighties material and once again contains a fine rock guitar enhancement. Jackie, Michael and Jermaine share lead vocals and interact perfectly. It is an enjoyable romp of a number that sounds a bit like The Detroit Spinners' Rubber Band Man.
The slow, brooding soul of One More Chance was written and sung by Randy. It sounds very Phil Collins-esque and is very representative of mid-eighties programmed soft soul. Be Not Always is a classic Michael walking pace slow romantic ballad. Now, I know many people like this sort of thing, but it not what I listen to The Jacksons or Michael Jackson for.
State Of Shock originally began life as a collaboration with Queen's Freddie Mercury, but it never really got going, so it was re-done with Mick Jagger. It is a thumping slice of synthesised eighties rock that would have sounded better in the seventies or nineties but within the context of this album is enjoyable enough. We Can Change The World isn't bad, actually. It is a vaguely Caribbean-sounding chugger with Tito on lead vocals. He wrote the song too. Lyrically, the title tells its story. I'm sure Michael loved it.
The Hurt has a relatively appealing keyboard riff and Randy taking falsetto lead vocals, not very convincingly, I have to say. Michael would have done a better job, let's be honest, but they were probably quarrelling at the time. It still has a bit of appeal, though. The Soul Makossa/Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' groove features Marlon on lead trying his best to be Michael, doing the vocal yelping thing. It is catchy, however.
As I said at the beginning, it is the seventies material that I go for, this final one is actually pretty ordinary. That must not make us forget, though, that The Jackson5/Jacksons gave us fifteen years of phenomenal pop/soul/disco music. They were deservedly legendary.