While the “Diana Ross Presents” title was really just Motown marketing, and who actually discovered this band of brothers from Gary Indiana is still debated, it’s hard to argue that it was the first domino in a series of events that would change music as we know it. Today’s album, the debut of the Jackson family’s band, is hardly groundbreaking, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t super fun and interesting to revisit in retrospect given what little Michael would end up doing down the line. Plus, this album’s lead (and only) single “I Want You Back” just might be my favorite song of all time. So thanks to personal bias and historical intrigue, we’re going to talk about it today.
This album is not great, but boy howdy is it a lot of fun. Given the youth of the band’s members, the state of singing-songwriting in 1969, and the very nature of Motown, none of the boys had any hand in the writing or production of any of the album’s 12 tracks. That’s fine though, I mean, I’m not here to celebrate the artistic accomplishment of this album, it truly was a boyband, but the performing talents and entertainment value that we receive thanks to the brothers Jackson is, I think, praiseworthy. The production of Bobby Taylor and The Corporation is pitch perfect late 60’s Motown: upbeat, major key, pleasant, infectious, and all around designed to put a smile on your face, tap in your toes, and swing in your hips. Many of the album’s tracks are not original, as was the standard of soul music at the time, as the group performs covers of many Motown standards, including Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”, Marvin Gaye’s “Chained”, Smoky Robinson and Miracle’s “Who’s Lovin’ You”, and a musical number from the now infamous 1946 Disney film, Song of the South, in “Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah”. The most notable original song written for this album comes as the third track, “Want You Back”, likely one of the band’s most famous and beloved songs. This song is the perfect encapsulation of what makes The Jackson 5 so good, and it just might be one of the most fun songs ever recorded. “Want You Back” features a positively infectious backing track which makes use of an bright piano part, sharp counter melodies on a string section, and of course, an iconic and excellent bass-line which drives the song forward beat by beat. The real power of this song, and the Jackson 5 at large, comes from the vocal performance of an 11 year old Little Michael, who belts out wonderfully melodic verses and soars on that chorus that we all know and love. The songwriting certainly helps, but pre-teen Mike Jackson could be singing anything here and I’d still love it.
Song in and song out the young front man leads the songs, providing a musical lynchpin for the group and foreshadowing his future as one of the greatest entertainers ever to walk the Earth. The chemistry between the boys is almost palpable, and why shouldn’t it be? They’re 5 brothers from Gary, Indiana who’ve spent their lives playing music together, musical chemistry might as well be all that they know! Even on the 2 songs which Jermaine sings lead vocals instead of Michael the band feels totally unified, but there’s something about the energy and feel for performing in Mike’s voice that just energizes his brothers and, by extension, the listener. The difficult transition from child star to serious adult entertainer, beyond music, is well known and contains a plethora of bad examples and horror stories, but listening to the Jackson 5, it’s no surprise that Michael became the King of Pop. Sometimes that talent just shines through and, as is the case here, makes everyone around it better.
This 36 minute long album probably won’t change your life and definitely didn’t change music forever, but it set up for big things to happen and is still a genuinely fun time to listen to. I hope you enjoy Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5.