Jackson 5 - ABC (2009)

Jackson 5
Jackson_5_ABC_Album.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase
Each album has a story. The Jacksons' story has been filmed and retold a dozen times over, but the story of the Jackson 5's ABC album may prove to have been the group's and their label's most pivotal, saving the Jackson 5 from becoming one-hit wonders, Motown from cultural irrelevancy, and marking The Corporation as the producers to beat.

Though the Jackson 5 had only just released their debut album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, four months prior, man-on-a-mission Gordy immediately commissioned in-house producers The Corporation & Hal David to record about thirty more sides for the group to capitalize on the Jacksons' first single being a #1 hit, "I Want You Back." The result was two albums of even more impressive full-length recordings, helping to usher in the new "album chapter" of Motown's legacy.

Each album has a story. The Jacksons' story has been filmed and retold a dozen times over, but the story of the Jackson 5's ABC album may prove to have been the group's and their label's most pivotal, saving the Jackson 5 from becoming one-hit wonders, Motown from cultural irrelevancy, and marking The Corporation as the producers to beat.

Though the Jackson 5 had only just released their debut album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, four months prior, man-on-a-mission Gordy immediately commissioned in-house producers The Corporation & Hal David to record about thirty more sides for the group to capitalize on the Jacksons' first single being a #1 hit, "I Want You Back." The result was two albums of even more impressive full-length recordings, helping to usher in the new "album chapter" of Motown's legacy.

In this new era of the long play (LP) format and concept albums, Motown would now have to offer up more than faceless 45s to avoid being eclipsed by Atlantic Records, The Beatles, Wes Montgomery, Isaac Hayes and other revolutionaries of the long play format. Motown had only just begun to recognize that their supper-club covers projects and singles-focused album process was starting to wear thin with the buying public. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye had yet to record the classics that would further their legacies and cement Motown's fortunes.

Two albums, one from their latest darlings and one from their proven vets, helped Motown turn that corner, keeping them at the fore of the soul game. It was 1970 and The Jackson 5, along with the Temptations, were among the first Motown groups to create albums of more than one or two radio singles and six or more filler cuts. Both thematically consistent long-play projects were major Motown releases that year, The Jacksons' ABC and The Tempts' Psychedelic Shack were both #1 Billboard R&B and Top Ten Billboard Pop albums. Each would be million sellers.   

If not lyrically, vocally ABC was also different than most child act projects of the day in that it offered more than cotton candy kiddie faire. With the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs and The Temptations' David Ruffin in his company and offering MJ the blueprints for how to undoubtedly be one of the most definitive soul singers of the time, one can hear the astute young lead imitating and emanating these soul men throughout ABC. MJ's ability to riff and moan like Stubbs and Ruffin was unparalleled, one that married nicely with his love for Jackie Wilson's athletic grace and James Brown's grit. More than spotlighting one hell of an act, ABC offered evidence of a wild flower in visible bloom.

"The Love You Save" and "ABC" showcased a brilliant duo in Jermaine and Michael atop a nursery rhyming, funk pocket. The trifecta of #1 singles off ABC, each exclusively handled by The Corporation, also marked the producers as proven geniuses of songwriting craftsmanship.

Continuing in the cover tradition of Bobby Taylor's earlier work, Gordy, Richards and Hal David used J5 to reinterpret a few more Motown tunes as well as some unexpected genre picks like "I'll Bet You." A Funkadelic cut in previous incarnation, the Jackson boys handled the tune as soulsters and funksters just as easily as their predecessors.

Taking Motown's previous child prodigy's tunes and branding them with a stronger vocal from MJ, his nearly adult delivery of Stevie Wonder's "Don't Know Why I Love You" and "Never Had A Dream Come True" were further evidence that the eleven year-old might have been here before.

Number one pop and r&b hit, "I Found That Girl" closes ABC with the group's original lead singer, Jermaine. Notwithstanding the pint-sized powerhouse Michael was, Jermaine shows why his soul crooning was his baby brother's original source of inspiration.

ABC told the story of a boy genius in the making, a label on the cultural comeback, and of a little heard production and songwriting team who would become legends in the annals of soul music history. And they made it all look as simple as A-B-C.

By Reg Jones

 
Featured Album - Will Downing - "Romantique, Part 1"
Featured Album - The Soul Rebels - "Poetry In Motion"
Album of the Month - Plunky & Oneness - "Afroclectic"
See our Christmas Playlist! - A SoulTracks "Merry Christmas" - Now on Spotify

Leave a comment!