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.
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