Introduction to one of the greatest pop/R&B groups
The Jackson Five (The Jackson 5, or the Jacksons) are an American pop/soul/blues group whose greater prominence spanned from the 60s up to the 80s. Hailing from Gary, Indiana, they are comprised of siblings: Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, and Michael; in 1976 another brother Randy replaced Jermaine as the Jackson Five moved to CBS and Jermaine opted to remain at Motown.
Starting their career in the late 60s, the group appealed to black and white audiences alike. They produced hits such as “ABC”, “I’ll Be There”, “I Want You Back” (under Motown); “Enjoy Yourself” and “Show The Way To Go” (under CBS/Epic). The group also provided the starting ground for the solo careers of Jermaine and Michael, with the latter becoming one of the most successful and legendary entertainers of all time; “The King Of Pop” died in 2009.
The Jackson Five have never officially split up and remained dormant until 2012, when all of the surviving brothers (except Randy) embarked on The Unity Tour. This nostalgic world tour started in June 2012 and ended in July 2013.
The early years: a musical family
The Jackson 5 (or The Jackson Five or The Jackson 5ive), was an American R&B and pop group. They eventually became the Jacksons due to personnel changes and record label shift, but the classic lineup of the Jackson Five consisted of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael Jackson. Under the wings of Motown Records, the Jackson Five rose to become one of the biggest and most successful pop acts of the 1970s. It was a rare feat for a youthful all-American group to have that kind of cross-over appeal to many audiences of all ages and races.
The Jackson brothers and their family originated from Gary, Indiana. By all accounts, the Jackson brood’s upbringing was strict, and their father Joe Jackson was a disciplinarian in particular.
However, Joe Jackson discovered that his sons had innate musical abilities, and he wasted no time in honing his sons’ talents. Joe believed that this would get them out of their difficult working-class conditions in their hometown. He began to establish a singing group, beginning with his three eldest sons Jackie, Tito and Jermaine. The trio then performed at local joints around Gary, initially joined by two cousins.
Eventually their younger brothers Marlon and Michael came along and replaced their two cousins in the lineup. The brothers honed further their musical, singing and also dancing abilities and would rehearse very often. Young Michael in particular was gradually seen as a very talented, lively and dynamic performer, and because of this he was chosen as a featured lead singer.
The youthful brothers officially named themselves as The Jackson Five. They began to win several competitions, with their climactic achievement being their victory at New York’s Apollo Theater.
The Motown years
The Jackson 5 first cut their first recordings at a small label in Gary, waxing off a local hit “Big Boy.” With the championing and support from Gladys Knight (the first artist who actually discovered the boys, not Diana Ross as it’s popularly thought), the Vancouvers’ Bobby Taylor and singer Diana Ross,
The Jackson Five finally got the chance to audition at Motown Records. Motown’s boss Berry Gordy was impressed and immediately signed the young brothers to his label. Motown needed fresh and young talent into its stable of artists. Berry Gordy just lost the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team and he recruited another group of songwriters — Freddie Perren, Fonce Mizell and Deke Richards — whom he named The Corporation. They were tasked to create potential hits for the young boys.
The Jackson Five released their debut album Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5was released in December 1969. Despite the title, it wasn’t really Diana Ross who first discovered the boys, but Motown made that as a promotional gimmick. In any case, it worked. The album featured two singles “Who’s Lovin’ You” and “I Want You Back.” While the former single topped the R&B singles chart, the latter on the other hand became The Jackson Five’s first #1 pop hit.
Since then the hits for The Jackson Five seemed to come in bundles: “ABC” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), “The Love You Save” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), “I’ll Be There” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), “Mama’s Pearl” (#2 pop, #2 R&B), “Never Can Say Goodbye” (#2 pop, #1 R&B), and “Sugar Daddy” (#10 pop, #3 R&B) as well as other minor hits on the pop chart. Their last Top 10 pop hit under Motown, “Dancing Machine” (#2 pop, #1 R&B), was their nod to the new genre, disco.
Their light, bouncy and effervescent brand of music led The Jackson Five to be branded as a bubblegum pop band. However, they were far more talented than the label would suggest. The brothers were musically gifted too, as they played instruments and danced with choreographed steps. Such songs as “I’ll Be There” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” displayed the group’s musical maturity, a step away from their usual upbeat hits.
Only a year after their debut, The Jackson Five fast became one of the popular acts. Their talent and youth were the things the audience really needed — and The Jackson Five were like a breath of fresh air. The boys’ fame had spread across the country, and this prompted franchising opportunities for Motown, which made The Jackson Five its main focus. The label licensed many Jackson 5-related products such as logos, stickers, posters, coloring books, and so much more. An animated feature The Jackson 5ive (1971) had been broadcast every Saturday morning. A couple of television specials also starred the boys, Goin’ Back To Indiana and The Jackson 5 Show.
During the peak of the Jackson Five’s popularity, Motown bigwigs began to groom Jermaine and Michael for solo careers, while simultaneously keeping them within The Jackson 5 lineup. Michael was the first to go with his own solo career by releasing his first album Got To Be There (1972) which spawned two top 10 hit singles “Rockin’ Robin” and the title track. He followed this with Ben (1972) which became also successful through its hit title song. Jermaine, meanwhile, emerged with his first solo effort Jermaine which spawned a Top 10 pop hit “Daddy’s Home.” Unlike Michael though, Jermaine struggled with his follow-up releases.
Moving away from Motown: from The Jackson 5 to The Jacksons
Eventually, the Jackson Five’s star was beginning to dim, and their subsequent singles began to place on the lower rungs of the pop charts although they still charted high on the R&B territory. Overexposure was the main culprit of the band’s falldown; another was that Motown’s restrictions strained the boys. The label wouldn’t allow them to write their own songs or play their own instruments on records.
Finally, the Jackson Five left Motown for good and signed with CBS/Epic Records. However, Motown legally retained The Jackson 5 name, forcing the boys to rename themselves as the Jacksons.
Michael Jackson’s meteoric rise to stardom, and end of the Jacksons classic lineup
Although their tenure at Epic was less successful compared to their days at Motown,
The Jacksons did well enough under that label. More importantly, the band was able to assume total artistic control. Their 1978 album Destiny was the group’s first successful effort under Epic, spawning the hit single “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” which peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 in 1979.
The success of Destiny prompted Michael to focus more on his solo career. Also in 1979, he released his fifth solo album and his first under the Epic label, Off The Wall.The LP marked a transition from a child singer to an adult artist. The album was successful and made Michael Jackson a star on his own right, although he remained with the Jacksons for the time being. However, Jackson’s follow-up, Thriller, became a record-breaking global success, critically and commercially.
Thriller‘s staggering success, unfortunately, meant the end of the Jacksons. The group reunited for their Victory album and tour, and this became very successful; it was also to be the last project featuring all six Jackson brothers, including their youngest brother Randy.
The Jackson brothers in recent years: death of Michael and the group’s Unity Tour (2012-2013)
The Jacksons released another album 2300 Jackson Street in 1989. This was their first album recorded without Michael and Marlon, although they did appear on the title track. Predictably, the album suffered poor sales, and their label Epic dropped the group at the end of the year.
After 2300 Jackson Street they have been on a long hiatus. Michael died in June 2009, triggering an outpouring of grief from fans all over the world.
Three years after Michael’s passing, The Jacksons announced in April 2012 that they would be going out on a world tour. In the following June, all of the Jackson brothers (for the exception of Randy) kicked off their Unity Tour, which covered several US cities as well as in Asia, Europe and Africa. They performed the biggest Jackson Five hits as well as few songs from Michael and Jermaine Jackson’s solo recordings. The Unity Tour ended in July 2013
The Jackson Five was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.