The “Listen Again” series was so popular that your favorite crusty chronicler decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we shall once again examine previously-released albums BUT the discs we’ll discuss in this specific series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This time we look at The Jackson 5’s Anthology.
But first, for those of you so young that you think The Jackson Five was Michael Jackson’s back-up group, a tiny bit of history. The Jackson 5 (also spelled The Jackson 5ive) and later known as The Jacksons, are an American pop music group from Indiana. Originally, the three senior brothers performed as The Jackson Brothers.
The founding members of the Jackson 5 were brothers Jackie (vocals), Tito (lead guitar/vocals), Jermaine (bass/vocals), Marlon(vocals) and Michael(vocals). Partially inspired by The Osmonds (a similar act of white brothers) the act was active from 1964 to 1990. The Jacksons performed numbers from different genres including pop, R&B, soul and later disco.
They were signed on with the Motown label for almost seven years. In fact, during this time this quintet of brothers was one of the most successful pop-music phenomena of the 1970s. The group even later served as the launching pad for the solo careers of their lead singers Jermaine and Michael. (Michael, of course, later transformed his early Motown solo fame into even greater success as an adult performer.)
The Jackson 5 broke industry records. They were, for example, the first band to have their first four major label singles–“I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “I’ll Be There”—hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Some of their later singles such as “Mama’s Pearl”, “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Dancing Machine” were Top 5 pop hits as well as number-one hits on the R&B singles chart. The majority of the early successes were written by Gamble and Huff and produced by a specific songwriting team known as “The Corporation”.
Hal Davis was the man responsible for creating most of the Jackson 5’s later hits. The Jacksons would not begin to write their own material until the late 1970s. (They were also one of the earliest groups—after The Beatles—to get their own animated adventures.) They were also, more importantly, the first black teen stars to equally appeal to white audiences thanks in part to the successful promotional relations skills of the CEO of Motown Records, Berry Gordy.
In 1976, while yours truly was becoming an Eagle Scout, The Jackson 5 was saying goodbye to Motown and moving to CBS. The Jacksons were forced to change the name of the act and younger brother Randy(drums/keyboards/vocals) replaced Jermaine who decided to go solo and stay at Motown. They put in two years on the Philadelphia International Records label and then signed on with Epic Records and took control of their image, production and their songwriting.
The group continued to crank out hits into the next decade. The 1980s witnessed such successful songs as “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, “Lovely One” and “State of Shock”. Their 1989 disc 2300 Jackson Street was recorded without Marlon or Michael although both of them did manage to sing on the titular track.
Unfortunately, this recording was not a commercial success. The act was dropped from their label as the 1990s began. While The Jacksons have yet to officially disband, the group has since largely been on hiatus although all six brothers performed together at two Michael Jackson tribute concerts in 2001.
After the death of Michael in 2009, the surviving brothers reunited in a studio to record background vocals for a previously unreleased song “This Is It”—the theme song for the film which had originally been a demo. It was released as a radio-only single later that same year. The tune failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 but did hit number nineteen on Billboards Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks. “This Is It” put The Jacksons back on the charts for the first time since 1970.
The surviving brothers are working on a future reunion concert tour which will also pay tribute to Michael and (as this goes to press) have returned to the studio to work on their first new studio album in over two decades.
The funny thing is, when little Michael Jackson first hit the stage in 1969 with his older brothers, he was the least likely pop hero to end the decade. Yet Michael Jackson became, in the words of critic Dave Marsh, “an instinctively great soul singer, steeped in gospel and capable, eventually, of drawing on all that had come before from Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson to Sly Stone and Jerry Butler”. The first Jackson Five hit, the above-mentioned “I Want You Back”, contains one of the greatest guitar lines in soul history.
The follow-up was nothing less than a veritable string of hits. Included here were such energetic entries as the previously-mentioned “ABC” and your crusty chronicler’s critic’s choice from Anthology “The Love You Save”. Also included here were “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Little Bitty Pretty One”. These were, of course, interspersed with Michael’s early solo smashes “Ben”, “Got to Be There” and “Rockin’ Robin”.
The Jackson 5 was truly one of the few soul groups that easily made the transition to 1970s dance structures in their music. Their rep as the first black teen idols—while deserved—obscures the true sophistication of the music found on the five-star Anthology. When the all of the brothers save Jermaine left Motown, the label deleted all of The Jackson 5 recordings except Greatest Hits in favor of 1976’s 33 track, triple-platter Anthology which earns special mention because it includes Michael’s now-deleted hit songs.
Anthology includes all the important tracks such as the classic cuts “ABC” and “I Want You Back” which are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” with the latter track also included in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The original release stayed on the charts for over two months. It peaked at number 84 and went platinum within the next ten years.
It was the only three-record retrospective to focus on 1970s music which was actually in decline as an institution. They made their mark even if they did eventually only release only minor hits such as “Skywriter” and “A Little Bit You”. Regardless of the less popular inclusions such as “Teenage Symphony” the songs herein have helped to sell over 250 million albums worldwide.
This collection is meant to be definitive and so includes lesser known tracks, Michael’s hits and even Jermaine’s hit as well. In fact, as the remaining albums out there continue to disappear, Anthology becomes even more essential. Oddly, online sources indicate that the following year, 1977, saw the international release of only a double LP of this material as well as a 1986 40-track, double-disc CD.
Anthology also had alternative covers over the years and the new millennium witnessed a double CD repackaging of Anthology. This re-release, originally issued by Motown in 2000, was again repackaged in 2005 as part of its Gold series. This would be the first time the recording would not contain any hits from Michael or Jermaine.
The music made by this boy band remains dance-worthy and is truly what led to the group being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 made the group BMI icons and inspired such future acts as New Edition, New Kids on the Block, the Jonas Brothers, Menudo, N*SYNC and many more. The Zagat Survey Music Guide: 1,000 Top Albums of All Time also gives it a five-star rating and notes that it is an incredible project from more “innocent times”.
The Zagat critic admits that Anthology makes you wish that Michael could have stayed frozen in time when he was nine” noting that “in the good old days when (The Jacksons) looked like they came from the same family, the five brothers — Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and ‘little’ MJ — were an excellent group”. Indeed. The Jackson 5’s Anthology/Mo.M7-868 surely shows us just why.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.