Monday, October 4, 2010

Song of the Week: Reach In

by Corey Sheppard

When most people think of the major evolution of the Jackson 5, they automatically think of 1973’s “Get It Together.” And while that was a heck of a change for the boys, I think some of the first signs of maturity of the Jackson 5 sound were first heard in 1970. In my opinion, Third Album was one of the Jackson 5’s most ambitious recordings because it went from one musical extreme to the other. You have plenty of love ballads, a couple of funk classics, and then, of course, you've got your bubble-gum numbers. But there are about three alternative, inspirational numbers that have sparked a lot of conversation around J5 boards as to the actual meaning of the song. This song is one of them.

A lot of people have questioned for years the true meaning of "Reach In." Since it is one of the only Jackson 5 songs that showed some slight influence from gospel music, my interpretation of the lyric is that they are talking about empowering your belief in God and religion. Another way of looking at it is they may be referring to researching your family history, or maybe even learning about your ethnic background. I’m not completely sure of the exact meaning of the song. This is a question that I would love to ask the songwriter, Mrs. Beatrice Verdi. The trend of inspiration records had started about a year before with records like "What’s Going On" by Marvin Gaye, and "Stand" by Sly and the Family Stone. I like to consider "Reach In" by the Jackson 5 a record in that same vein.

As for the music, right from the very beginning, you know you are in for a unique musical journey. Next time you listen to the beginning of "Reach In" I want you to listen in on the many instruments being played on the intro. First you have the piano belting out the main melody line, and then you have two guitar lines completely isolated from each other on the stereo channels. Then once the bass comes in the tracks gets extremely smelly (thanks Mike!). The p-funk groove to this track is not unlike George Clinton and the Parliament sound (which the J5 captured on the previous album with their version of "I’ll Bet You." Also present later in the mix is the interesting synthesizer that was used later on in "We’ve Got Blue Skies" (although it is way lower in the mix than the slightly annoying sound on "We’ve Got Blue Skies").

I love listening to this song through headphones. It is perfectly mixed by the production team The Corporation. Everything can be heard properly, and that’s saying a lot especially since there are a lot of instruments being used in this track (that being said, I do think the strings could be a bit louder). Also, there isn’t as much "air" in this recording as some of the early Jackson 5 numbers and that just makes the production ten times cleaner. The drums throughout the track are amazing. I like the use of the suspended cymbal right before the final chorus begins. It is a pretty powerful effect.

One of the ways this song is distinctly different from other J5 songs is that Jermaine sings the verses and bridge, and Michael backs him up on the chorus. I really like this arrangement, though Motown tended to keep Michael solely on the verses and Jermaine backing him up occasionally. This new vocal arrangement was also used on "Oh How Happy." Also call-and-response was used in the verses with Jermaine singing each time after the background vocals.

You truly have to love the final choruses of this record. It continually builds up until the fadeout. I love Jermaine’s final yelps of "Reach In" at the very, very end of the record. You can tell he was totally into the record, would love to hear an extended cut of this one day. I’m sure the funkiness didn’t just stop there. When I listen to "Reach In" I’m completely am wrapped on in the groove, and I can’t lie, I truly start feeling sad when the record starts to fade out. The recording could’ve gone on for over five minutes, for all I care. When you got a funky groove, you got to wear that bad boy out!

"Reach In" is truly one powerful record. The very first time I heard the song, it completely blew me away. And even to this day, I still get goose bumps listening to this song. The Jackson 5 had never done a record like that before, and would not do a record in the same vein ever again. It is truly an original masterpiece for the group and its groove is truly a one of a kind.

Next Week’s Song Hint: To think of how to say/you’re fine in every way.

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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. Corey, Do you find this song is mixed with a lot of treble EQ?

    I love these early songs where the Corp really treated the J5 as a group, and used all the members a LOT. In fact, I think the high supernatural sounds throughout aren't an instrument, but Jackie's voice. They used him a lot in the backgrounds, like Darling Dear and I'll Be There. You can tell EVERYONE was having fun in those days. Incredible work by the dummer, everybody. Love Jermaine's last "reach IN!!!!"

    The song, I always thought was a strange choice for the group. Singing about sin and wisdom and how the "maker" may destroy every being. (Cue more unearthly rising voices...) On the LP order, All this comes right after a song where Michael's trying to his best to get a honey to give in to him. Beatrice, the song's writer is pretty heavy-- she even had the Supremes singin' about suicide around this time. And her song for Michael, In Our Small way is also a message song. But it just shows how they were tryin' everything and flying by the seat of their pants and kickin' ass.

    And funky! To me they seemed their funkiest in the first two years, maybe the sly stone, Clinton influence. Thanks for the column, every week you make me revisit another boss J5 tune.

  2. I actually did notice the track has is pretty high in the treble department. Lol Beatrice was one serious songwriter I tell ya....

    Btw... love your observations