Friday, September 3, 2010

Song of the Week: To Know

by Corey Sheppard

"To Know" is another one of the Jackson 5’s rare, mostly unheard of slow jam cuts. I first heard the song in the late 90’s on the internet (but it was a pitched-up bootleg version of it). I didn’t hear the song or see it on any J5 compilations until I purchased the 2-fer compilation of Goin’ Back to Indiana/Lookin’ Through the Windows and heard the official version.

Written by the Corporation (which surprises me because it seems so mature for a Corporation number, when they were all about giving the J5 songs that would appeal to kids and teenagers), this record continued the "ballad" trend that the Jackson 5 picked up on as early as August 1970 with "I’ll be There" but this song was a complete departure from their earlier ballads. "To Know" took a lot of inspiration from the smooth styles of soul that were just becoming popular.

The Jackson 5 did a lot of evolving with the changing musical styles and themes from the very beginning of their six-year recording career. With funk, disco and even standards, the Jackson 5 had a high level of versatility from their debut album onwards. These practices were not uncommon for Motown acts. Berry Gordy wanted his artists to be able to appeal to and perform for any type of crowd, venue, or location. While, up-tempo "bubblegum soul" tracks would remain the norm for the Jackson 5, there was one style that the boys truly had a knack for.

The Jackson brothers (especially Michael and Jermaine) all had a passion for ballads. These young kids became crooners at a very, very young age. All of the brothers' voices fit into a perfect harmony throughout their years at Motown and beyond. If you need proof, just listen to the end of "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" on the new release Live at the Forum. When the brothers sang their tribute to Diana Ross, their voices together created a beautiful barbershop quintet harmony, if you will.

When the Lookin’ Through the Windows album was released in June 1972, the boys were growing by the day (especially Marlon and Michael) and this song "To Know" gave them the perfect vehicle to show off their new skills. What always makes me put this song in a different category of songs like "Got to Be There" and "Never Can Say Goodbye" is that Michael sings this song so softly (especially in the beginning). MJ usually tended to sing at the top of his vocal ability, and to the highest notes he could possibly handle. But starting with "Maybe Tomorrow" and continuing with this track, he sang in a very soft tone, something that could equally make the girls swoon.

If I were listening to "To Know" for the first time, I would have guessed it was any other artist besides the Jackson 5. Without a doubt, this track was majorly influenced by the horn-driven soul that was becoming increasingly popular around the early 70s. By the time this record was recorded (in late-71/early-72, I imagine) singers like Al Green and Marvin Gaye, were using creating their own brand of soul ballads that many people drew inspiration from. The Jackson 5, were no exception.

The production on this track is much different from most of the Jackson 5 cuts around the time. No strings or orchestra were included in the song, nor was the tambourine. It was also one of the only times that Michael shares the lead with Jackie only (even Tito receives some spoken lines!), and no help from Jermaine (although Jermaine is very audible in the background vocals). There is some distortion in the beginning of the record if you listen closely, but nothing too drastic (also, the hi-hats are also a little off in the beginning as well). But, what an interesting drum pattern, I might add.

What always surprises me about the record is how Michael sounds so young in the beginning, then towards the end he sounds like his regular 13-year-old self. You don’t really hear a lot of maturity in his voice until about 2:17. I believe these were some of the first signs of MJ’s man-child voice. Mike really gets into it at the big finale of the song. He had a lot of control over his voice at this time and it really shines on the last minute of this record. Also the harmonies are excellent towards the end.

I was rather sad to see that this song was not performed live by the brothers on the second 1972 Forum concert. It would have been very interesting to hear the arrangement that the brothers would’ve chosen for this particular cut. I loved the way they performed the ballads on the ‘72 show (some of the live performances I prefer over the studio versions), so what a shame that it wasn’t included in the set.

Overall, I love "To Know" and it is currently my favorite cut on Lookin’ Through the Windows. It had a very different, somewhat unique sound for the Jackson Brothers, and they do a outstanding job with the vocal arrangement. This song probably led the way for other ballads in the same vein such as "Touch" and "It All Begins and Ends with Love" but this will always be a stand- out for me!

Next Week’s Song Hint: Oh, hear my plea for sympathy, I just want you here with me

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Corey Sheppard, 20, has been a Jackson 5 fan since 1993. His favorite hobbies are listening to music, playing racquetball at the YMCA, and hanging out with friends. Corey’s life passion is centered on music. His latest project is an all-new production company shared with Robert White Jr. entitled "Ask About It Productions."


  1. To Know is one of my Top 5 J5 songs ever.

    Mostly because of the reasons you stated. Hardly anybody ever knows this song when I bring it up though and it's one of their best.

  2. I always enjoy 'To know' but I wouldn't call it one of my favorites.

    I can't wait untill next week's song. That one IS one of my favorite songs!!

  3. I love this song now, Corey, but I used to always skip the track on the LP when it first came out. The spoken word parts embarrassed me, especially Tito's. I would love to hear it without the talking, because the melody and harmonies are so beautiful.

    I felt the same way about the spoken parts of "I Only Have Eyes for You" on Jermaine's first solo LP. ("My love must be some kind of blind love..." woeful!)

    I think Michael was the only group member who was really good at dramatic spoken words in songs, like in "Ain't No Sunshine," where he sounds like he's imitating Diana Ross at the beginning of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." I'm not sure who he's mimicking at the beginning of "Honey Chile" but I love his fake Southern accent.