August 8, 2007

Memorable Moment: Jackson 5 audition for Motown Records, shimmy their way into our hearts

Okay, so I never really, truly got deep into Michael Jackson. I mean sure I adore singing along to “Man In The Mirror” in my car (shmoa) as much as the next girl, have roller-skated to “Rock With You,” and I do know the whole rap part from “Black or White” (I’m not gonna spend my life bein’ a color). However, I think I may be the only one of my generation that doesn’t know the Thriller dance (as was sadly evidenced at a recent wedding reception I attended), I was never tempted to wear a single white glove at any stage in my adolescence, and I can’t moonwalk. Truthfully, I can’t even really look at Michael anymore without thinking of that scene in South Park where his nose crumbles off.

But I do love me some Jackson 5. I have a weak spot for prepubescents singing sugarplum layers of pop-soul (that kinda sounded wrong but whatever). My fourth memorable music moment for the WXPN series is a cool snippet I unearthed showing a very young supergroup in the making, auditioning for Motown Records by covering some James Brown — and boy can Michael move even at that young age.

July 23, 1968: Jackson 5 Audition for Motown Records

The Jackson Five were signed to Motown after this audition was videotaped and sent to label founder Berry Gordy who couldn’t attend. After watching the above clip, he decided to sign them and in early 1969, the boys got to work recording in Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio in Detroit.

The results of these sessions were mostly covers of other hits by artists in the doo-wop/R&B/soul catalog, such as Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand!” and Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You.” They also recorded a new version of “You’ve Changed,” a song by Gordon Keith which they had recorded for his small Steeltown label before signing with Motown. Their songwriters (known as “The Corporation“) were working on penning their original soon-to-be megahit, “I Want You Back.”

As the Jacksons rehearsed and performed in clubs around L.A., the PR machines kicked into high gear and truth-telling was not at the forefront of the agenda in promoting this new discovery. The marketing team at Motown started changing facts about the band in press kits to increase their appeal. Michael’s age was lowered from 11 to 8 to make him “appear cuter”, two band members who were not related (Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer) became cousins of the Jacksons with the stroke of a publicist’s pen.

Diana Ross was also credited with discovering the group — a fanciful bit of wishful thinking, as she wasn’t even present for any of the performances or meetings leading up to their signing. In fact, the real credit goes to fellow Motown artists Bobby Taylor (who would go on to produce most of their first album) and Gladys Knight. Ross did, however, attach her name with their very first record to help vet this new group: Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969). And they were off and running.

Stand! (Sly and The Family Stone cover) – The Jackson 5
You’ve Changed – Jackson 5
I Want You Back – Jackson 5

LISTEN AGAIN: This track stands up as one of my all-time favorite remixes ever. I love the way Z-Trip strips off everything from the beginning and just brings in each instrument one layer at a time so you can fully appreciate it. It actually reminds me of a funkdafied soul version of Pachelbel’s “Canon” (no, listen) the way each sound, each instrument gets its own spotlighted solo entrance into the game. Absolutely wonderful:

I Want You Back (Z-Trip remix) – Jackson 5

In news of related tastes, Chris at Gorilla vs. Bear recently pointed out the newest album in the undeniably awesome “library of the lost” collection from the Numero Group, which I’ve lavished love on in the past. It’s called Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul, and is the story in song of countless groups in the same vein as Jackson 5 who have been forgotten in the halls of history but are so worth a listen. Here’s a sampling:

Can’t Let You Break My Heart – The Quantrells


  • good post. heather, that South Park episode has scarred me for life too, but you have to get Michael’s Off the Wall LP. it’s unreal.

    Chris — August 10, 2007 @ 2:49 pm

  • Hello,
    My Name is Johnnie Gee, an original member of “Step By Step Band”, an original artist on the new release “Home Schooled: The ABC’s Of Kid Soul”.

    Here’s more about my history, current music career, and links to web sites.

    Johnnie Gee story is the stuff of which legends are made.

    It is a saga that began in America’s heartland at age 13 in Milwaukee Wisconsin, where Johnnie Gee was born on September 29th, 1959 to Elgie and D.W Gee, into a family of seven brothers and sisters.

    James Kirchstein produced LP’s and singles from 1959 until the early 1970s. While the company’s bread and butter came from its vast catalog of polka and ethnic LP’s, Cuca also recorded pop, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, folk, and traditional jazz, with an output of over 1000 45-rpm singles. Because most of the artists were from Wisconsin or adjacent states, the Cuca recordings present a concentrated view of the area’s ethnic and popular music.

    Johnnie Gee has promoted his career for over 30 years and still has a strong presence among his fans. At age nine, Johnnie recorded his first single with Step By Step; by age 13 he was already earning his own living as an entertainer. After 37 years, Platinum Records, Brunswick Records, Cuca Records and Sidetraxx Records have brought back the classic early sounds of Step By Step and Johnnie Gee

    When Mama Gee, herself a blues lover, noticed her sons’ growing interest in music and performing, she devoted herself to the careful development of their nascent talents. Through hard work and dedication, Johnnie, Dewitt, Jerome, these three brothers and other friends became the hottest band in the Midwest, “The Exclusive ‘Step By Step’ Band”.

    The group began performing professionally in and around Milwaukee and Chicago in 1969; later that year, the siblings took their polished song-and-dance act to New York’s famed Brunswick Records, the home of Jackie Wilsom, The Chilites, Bohannon, Tyrone Davis, Shalamar, Eugene Records, Decca Records, Chess Records and many more that started record labels worldwide.

    Any way ‘The Step By Step Band’, turned the place out, winning over Nat Tarnopol and a label contract with Brunswick Records. The staff reaction was welcoming , the founder of the New York-based Brunswick Records, Nat Tarnopol, then the most successful rhythm and blues label around. Captivated by what they saw and heard, Nat signed the group immediately. Thus began one of the most successful runs by a recording group in soul, pop, rhythm and blues music history out of the Midwest.

    Check Out The “Time After Time”, Video published by: Johnnie Gee
    at Youtube.

    Find out more history by visiting these links:

    Thank you, and God Bless,

    Johnnie Gee

    Johnnie Gee - Step By Step Band — November 24, 2007 @ 5:29 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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