The Jackson 5 was an American soul-pop act from Gary, Ind., comprising five brothers of the Jackson musical clan: Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael Jackson. They formed in 1964 when the boys were between six and thirteen years old. After winning talent competitions and cutting one local single, they signed to Motown and released 10 albums between 1969 and 1975, scoring hits with “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “I’ll Be There,” “The Love You Save,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and “Dancing Machine.”
After a rift that saw the group, minus Jermaine, leave Motown for Epic, they added youngest brother Randy Jackson. Modifying their name to The Jacksons, they released four albums between 1976 and 1980, scoring hits with “Enjoy Yourself” and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).”
Prior to their 1980 release Triumph, Michael achieved breakout star status with his 1979 solo album Off the Wall. He later broke global sales records with his 1982 release Thriller, which spawned multiple video and radio hits during 1983–84 (“Billy Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” “Human Nature”). Despite all this, he returned to The Jacksons for a final tour and album, Victory, which spawned the ghoulish 1984 hit “Torture.”
Members: Michael Jackson (vocals), Jermaine Jackson (bass, vocals), Marlon Jackson (vocals), Jackie Jackson (vocals), Randy Jackson (vocals), Tito Jackson (guitar, vocals), Johnny Jackson (drums)
The Jackson 5 was assembled in the mid-1960s by Joe Jackson (1928–2018), patriarch of the nine-child Jackson family of Gary, Indiana. The group contained five of his boys: Jackie (b. 1951), Tito (b. 1953), Jermaine (b. 1954), Marlon (b. 1957), and Michael (1958–2009). Their musical interests were nurtured by Joe, who’d played in a blues band called The Falcons during the early 1950s. (Though his band didn’t land a recording deal, fellow Falcon Thornton “Pookie” Hudson later founded doo-wopsters The Spaniels of “Goodnight Sweet Heart” fame.)
In 1964, Joe spotted Tito playing his old guitar, which had a broken string. Impressed, he purchased a new guitar for Tito, who soon formed a group with Jackie and Jermaine. By August 1965, Marlon (8) and Michael (7) had joined on tambourine and congas. The lineup was rounded by their cousin Milford Hite (keyboards) and classmate Reynaud Jones (drums). After they performed at the local Tiny Tots Jamboree, host and talent agent Evelyn LaHaie suggested they call themselves the Jackson Five Singing Group.
In 1966, the boys won their first talent show at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary, where Jermaine sang “My Girl” by The Temptations and Michael sang “Barefootin'” by Robert Parker. Hite and Jones were soon replaced by keyboardist Ronnie Rancifer and drummer Johnny Jackson (no relation). Over the next year, the Jackson 5 played various school functions and talent showcases in and around Gary and Chicago.
In August 1967, the Jackson 5 won talent competitions at Chicago’s Regal Theater and Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where they gained an early believer in Gladys Knight.
That November, Joe got them signed to upstart Gary soul-press Steeltown Records. They immediately recorded two songs: “Big Boy,” written by Chicago musician Ed Silvers, and “You’ve Changed,” written by Jesse Resse. Nine-year-old Michael sang lead on both numbers, establishing his role as the group’s main vocalist. “Big Boy,” with its rippling organ, rattling tambourine, simple snare beat, and Michael’s prepubescent vocals, was issued as the first Jackson 5 a-side in January 1968. A local hit, the single got distributed nationally through Atlantic and sold 10,000 copies, despite not placing on the Billboard charts.
In July 1968, the Jackson 5 played the Regal Theater as the opening act for Canadian soulsters Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, a recent Motown signing. Floored by Michael’s delivery, Taylor taped an audition of the boys at Motown’s headquarters. Label founder Berry Gordy, initially skeptical about signing minors aside from Stevie Wonder, came around when he saw the tape.
Within days, Gordy arranged a contract for Joe and his boys. Contractual ties to Steeltown forestalled the deal until March 1969, when the Jackson 5 signed a seven-year contract with Motown. Gordy and three other label talents — writer/arrangers Alphonso Mizell, Freddie Perren, and Deke Richards — formed The Corporation, which served as the Jackson 5’s writer/producer team.
That summer, the boys performed the Isley‘s “It’s Your Thing” at the Miss Black America Pageant in New York before heading west to record their debut single at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood. The resulting “I Want You Back” was released on October 7, 1969. With its funky guitar figure, tight/angular verses, soaring chorus, and Michael’s exuberant tween vocals, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box charts. It was backed with the string-laden doo-wop ballad “Who’s Lovin’ You.”
(more to come…)
- Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5 (1969)
- ABC (1970)
- Third Album (1970)
- Christmas Album (1970)
- Maybe Tomorrow (1971 • Jackson 5ive)
- Goin’ Back to Indiana (TV, 1971 • Jackson 5ive)
- Lookin’ Through the Windows (1972 • Jackson 5ive)
- Skywriter (1973 • Jackson 5ive)
- Get It Together (1973 • The Jackson 5ive)
- In Japan! (live, 1973)
- Dancing Machine (1974 • Jackson 5ive)
- Moving Violation (1975)
- Joyful Jukebox Music (1976)
- The Jacksons (1976)
- Goin’ Places (1977 • The Jacksons)
- Destiny (1978 • The Jacksons)
- Boogie (1979)
- Triumph (1980 • The Jacksons)
- Live (1981 • Jacksons )
- Victory (1984 • The Jacksons)
- 2300 Jackson Street (1989 • The Jacksons)
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