This week we will be entertained by the music of The Jackson 5.
The Jackson 5 (later known as the The Jacksons) are an American popular music family group from Gary, Indiana. Formed in 1964 under the name The Jackson Brothers, the founding members were Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael. After participating in talent shows and the chitlin’ circuit, they entered the professional music scene in 1967 signing with Steeltown Records, releasing two singles, before signing with Motown in 1969
Among the first group of black American performers to attain a crossover following, preceded only by The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Temptations, they made history in 1970 as the first recording act to have their first four singles to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, with the songs being “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There”. Scoring 17 top forty singles on the Hot 100, after continuing with further hits such as “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Dancing Machine”, most of the group with the exception of Jermaine, left Motown for Epic Records in 1975, where with brother Randy taking Jermaine’s place, they released five albums between 1976 and 1981, including the hit albums, Destiny (1978) and Triumph (1980) and the hit singles, “Enjoy Yourself”, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “Can You Feel It”. In 1983, Jermaine reunited with the band to perform on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever and subsequently released the Victory album the following year. Following the end of their tour to promote the album, Michael Jackson and Marlon Jackson promptly left the group. The remaining four released the poorly received 2300 Jackson Street album in 1989 before being dropped from their label.
Inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, the Jacksons reunited in 2001 on Michael’s 30th anniversary television special. Following Michael’s death in 2009, the four eldest of the brothers embarked on their Unity Tour in 2012.
The Jacksons’ childhood home in Gary, Indiana surrounded by gifts, flowers, and stuffed animals after Michael Jackson’s death in 2009
The five Jackson brothers’ interest in music took place in Gary, Indiana, bolstered by their father Joe Jackson. In 1964, Joe caught son Tito playing with his guitar after a string broke. Upon fixing the string, threatening punishment, Tito played for his father, who was impressed enough to buy Tito his own guitar. Tito, Jermaine and Jackie showed an interest in singing and formed their own group with their father naming them as The Jackson Brothers, with six-year-old Michael playing congas and childhood buddies Reynaud Jones and Milford Hite playing keyboards and drums. Marlon, then seven, eventually joined playing the tambourine. In August 1965, before a show at Gary’s Tiny Tots Jamboree held on Michael’s seventh birthday, Evelyn LaHaie suggested the group rename themselves to The Jackson Five Singing Group, later shortened to simply The Jackson Five.
In 1966, the group won a talent show at Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt High School, where Jermaine performed several Motown numbers, including The Temptations’ “My Girl” and Michael performed two James Brown numbers, including, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, winning the talent show instantly. Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer eventually replaced Milford Hite and Reynaud Jones. After several more talent show wins, Joe Jackson booked his sons to perform at several respected music venues of the chitlin’ circuit, including Chicago’s Regal Theater and Harlem’s Apollo Theater, winning the talent competitions on both shows in 1967. After they won the Apollo contest on August 13, 1967, singer Gladys Knight sent a tape of the boys’ demo to Motown Records, hoping to get them to sign, only to have their tape rejected and sent back to Gary. In November of 1967, the brothers signed a deal with Gordon Keith’s Steeltown Records, where they recorded and released two singles, “(I’m A) Big Boy” and “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21”. During early 1968, the brothers also performed at strip clubs on Joe’s behest to earn extra income.
While performing a week long run of shows at the Regal Theater as the opening act for Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, an impressed Taylor sent the Jacksons to Detroit to help with their Motown audition, which was set for July 23 at Motown’s headquarters located at Woodward Avenue. Following the taped audition, which was sent to CEO Berry Gordy’s office in Hollywood, Gordy requested the group to be signed, with final negotiations completed by early 1969, leading to the group to be signed on March 11. Following initial recordings at Detroit’s Hitsville USA studio, Berry Gordy sent the Jacksons to Hollywood in July, hiring Suzanne de Passe to become a mentor of the brothers.
Starting in August, they performed as the opening act for The Supremes, whose lead singer Diana Ross was planning to leave for a solo career at the end of the year. After performing at the Daisy in Los Angeles and at the Miss Black America Pageant in New York, the group recorded their first single, “I Want You Back”, written by a newly assembled Motown team called The Corporation, which consisted of three composers and songwriters Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and Alphonzo Mizell with Gordy as a fourth partner. In October, the song was released and the group promoted it while performing at the Hollywood Palace with Ross hosting. In December, the brothers made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Afterwards, their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, was released that same month.
In January 1970, “I Want You Back” topped the Billboard Hot 100. Led by the Corporation, the Jackson 5 released two more number-one singles, “ABC” and “The Love You Save”. A fourth single, “I’ll Be There”, co-written and produced by Willie Hutch, became the band’s fourth number-one single, making them the first recording act to have their first four singles reach the top of the Hot 100. All four singles were almost as popular in other countries as it was in the United States. Releasing a succession of four albums in one year, the Jackson 5 had replaced The Supremes as Motown’s best-selling group. They will continue their success with singles such as “Mama’s Pearl”, “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Sugar Daddy”, giving them a total of seven top ten singles within a two-year period.
Now Motown’s main marketing focus, the label capitalized on the group’s youth appeal licensing dozens of products, including the J5 heart logo located on Johnny Jackson’s drum set, the group’s album covers, stickers, posters and coloring books, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon series produced by Rankin/Bass. Noting their lack of covers on otherwise predominantly white teen-oriented magazines including Tiger Beat and Seventeen, a black publication, Right On!, began in 1971 and initially focused heavily on the Jackson 5, with at least all five members adorning a single cover between January 1972 and April 1974. In addition, the Jackson 5 appeared in several television specials including Diana Ross’ 1971 special, Diana!. Later that September, they starred on their first of two Motown-oriented television specials, Goin’ Back to Indiana, with their second, The Jackson 5 Show, debuting in November the following year. During the Vietnam War period, the group often was joined by Bob Hope on USO-benefited performances to support military troops.
To continue increasing sales, Motown launched Michael Jackson’s solo career, with the single, “Got to Be There”, released in November 1971. Following several top 40 follow-ups, Jackson’s 1972 song, “Ben”, became his first to top the charts. Jermaine Jackson was the second to release a solo project, his most successful hit of the period being a cover of the doo-wop song, “Daddy’s Home”.
Decline and exit
By 1972, despite Michael and Jermaine’s solo successes, the Jackson 5’s own records began plummeting on the charts. Partially credited to the changing musical landscape, The Corporation, which had produced most of their hit singles, split up in 1973. Focusing their attention on the emerging disco scene, the brothers recorded the charted song, “Get It Together”, followed immediately afterwards by their hit, “Dancing Machine”, their first to crack the top ten since “Sugar Daddy” nearly three years before. Despite those successes, most of the Jackson 5’s follow-ups were not as successful and by 1973, Joe Jackson had grown tired of Motown’s uneasiness to continue producing hits for the brothers. Jackson began producing a nightclub act around his sons and daughters, first starting in Las Vegas and spreading throughout the states.
By 1975, most of the Jacksons opted out of recording any more music for Motown desiring creative control and royalties. Learning that they were earning only 2.8% of royalties from Motown, Joe Jackson began negotiating to have his boys sign a lucrative contract with another company, settling for Epic Records, which had offered a royalty rate of 20% per record, signing with the company in June of 1975. Absent from the deal was Jermaine Jackson, who decided to stay in Motown. Randy Jackson formally replaced him. After initially suing them for breach of contract, Motown allowed the group to record for Epic, as long as they change their name, since The Jackson 5 moniker was in ownership of Motown. The brothers settled as simply The Jacksons.
The Jacksons CBS/Epic Records
In November of 1976, following the debut of the family’s weekly variety series, the Jacksons released their self-titled Epic debut under the Philadelphia International subsidiary, produced by Gamble & Huff. Featuring “Enjoy Yourself” and “Show You the Way to Go”, the album went gold but failed to generate the sales the brothers had enjoyed while at Motown. A follow-up, Goin’ Places, fizzled. Renewing their contract with Epic, the Jacksons were allowed full creative control on their next recording, Destiny, released in December 1978. Featuring their best-selling Epic single to date, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, written by Michael and Randy, the album sold over a million copies. Its follow-up, 1980’s Triumph, also sold a million copies, spawning hits such as “Lovely One” and “Can You Feel It”. In 1981, they released their fifth album, a live album that eventually sold half a million copies. The live album was culled from recordings of performances on their Triumph Tour. In the middle of Destiny and Triumph, Michael Jackson released the best-selling solo effort, Off the Wall. Its success led to rumors of Jackson’s alleged split from his brothers. After Triumph, Jackson worked on his second Epic solo release, which was released in November 1982 as Thriller, which later went on to become the best-selling album of all time.
In March of 1983, with Jermaine, the Jacksons performed on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, the same show where Michael debuted the moonwalk during a solo performance of “Billie Jean”. Following the success of the reunion, all six brothers agreed to record a sixth album for Epic, later released as Victory in 1984. Their biggest-selling album to date, it included their final top ten single, “State of Shock”, which was actually a duet between Michael and Mick Jagger and didn’t feature any other Jackson in participation, as did most of the songs on the album, with some exceptions, including the top 20 single, “Torture”, which was performed as a duet between Michael and Jermaine, with Jackie singing several parts. In July of 1984, the Jacksons launched their Victory Tour, but the tour was overshadowed by Jackie’s leg injury, ticket issues, friction between the brothers, and shakeup in the promotion and marketing team, initially headed by Don King, who was later fired. Michael announced he was leaving the group after their final performance at Dodger Stadium that December. The following January, Marlon Jackson also announced he was leaving the group to pursue a solo career. In 1989, five years after their last album, the remaining quartet of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Randy released the ill-fated 2300 Jackson Street, which performed badly on the charts. After a brief promotional tour, the band went into hiatus.