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I Want You Back!

On this day in 1969, Diana Ross hosted a party in her Los Angeles home for some rising stars—The Jackson Five. You have to wonder what the buzz was about the group. Miss Ross and the Supremes, along with ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder had conquered the charts and were part of the impressive PR machinery of Motown, Detroit’s hit producing record label.

Group singing had been on the scene during the 1950s with the Doo-Wop groups and other brother acts. I’m not sure why this was appealing, but I remember the Everly Brothers serenading my sisters and their friends, and my generation enjoying the Righteous Brothers. But these Jackson brothers, especially the youngest one, Michael, were so tight with their vocals, choreography and charm.

They made the rounds of talent shows, under a heavy and disciplined hand from their father, but gained popularity and built a fan base from these live shows. In 1968, with Motown, they were the only group to land four consecutive number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. As a group, they also had sixteen (16!) Top 40 singles.  They…were…hot!

In 1967 they won talent shows at the noteworthy Chicago Regal Theater and at the landmark Apollo. Their father (Joe Jackson) signed them to Steeltown Records, and eventually their records were being distributed by Atlantic Records, a major player in the distribution field. Different entertainers were taking note of the group, and recommendations were made to have an audition at Motown. At first, founder Berry Gordy didn’t want to sign any more “kids” even if he did have success with Stevie Wonder. But, finally he saw the audition tape and signed them to a one-year contract. Later, on March 11, 1969 he signed them to a seven-year contract with Motown.

The Jackson 5 in performance in 1972.

Publicity photo of the Jackson 5 from their 1972 television special. CBS Television, October 20, 1972. (CC)

The recordings the Jacksons produced weren’t convincing Gordy that the group would be a success, and he decided to send them to California. There, at a PR event at the Beverly Hills home of Diana Ross, they were presented as her discovery. It gave them some needed credibility. Berry Gordy contracted a songwriting team to specifically write for The Jackson Five, and “I Want You Back” came out as a hit and received much needed air play.  This led to appearances on television shows the Hollywood Palace and the mecca of pop music at the time on Sunday evenings, the Ed Sullivan Show. Their debut album was titled Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, and released in December 1969. This strategy is now known as ‘networking.’ You may have the talent, but someone else needs to open the door.

Large sheet of Jackson 5 groovy buttons

Plastic stickers bearing The Jackson 5’s likeness and song lyrics into boxes of frosted Rice Krinkles.

Motown ran with The Jackson Five for their youth appeal and licensed many products. I actually remember a Saturday morning cartoon show called Jackson 5ive.  (The premiere episode available on YouTube if you’re interested.)

And I’m happy to report that Miss Diana Ross is still in demand; she performed at Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee recently, not a bad gig.

The NLS Music Section has some titles and songs from the Jacksons and Michael Jackson listed below, as well as some titles from the national talking book collection.

Braille

Songs/Michael Jackson. For unspecified voice and piano. Section by section format.(BRM34935)

Motown: 50th Anniversary Songbook. 6 vol. of music braille. (BRM36141)

Motown by Loren D. Estleman. (BR 08824)

Audio

Michael! by Mark Bego. (DB 21799)

To be Loved: the Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, by Berry Gordy. (DB 64300)

Moonwalk, by Michael Jackson. (DB 26992)

You can access many of our materials any time using Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access. To borrow music-related talking books on digital cartridge or hard copies of braille scores, please contact the Music Section either by phone at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]

Hidden Gems of the NLS Collection: The Music of Khruangbin

For this week’s NLS Music Notes blog post, we uncover another “hidden gem” in our collection. Join us for a deep dive into the music of the Texas-based Thai funk band Khruangbin.