Friday, November 4, 2011

Dear Michael, Indeed!

Are you kidding me?! Amazon wants $409 for this multi cd set that includes re-releases of all of the Jackson 5 and Michael's solo LPs? I am so, so happy they didn't tempt me by putting a previously unreleased song on this set!

I Want You Back Live on American Bandstand

There are many things I like about the J5's first appearance on American Bandstand but I especially love the performance of "I Want You Back."  Their dance moves look well-practiced and close to perfect but the song was still relatively new, and they hadn't yet toured so they hadn't already performed it hundreds of times. A year later, they'd be rushing through the first verse and the chorus as part of a medley they would go on to perform in every concert -- and Michael would continue to perform the snippet in concert for the rest of his career. Complete live versions of "I Want You Back" are rare.

Here Michael sings the lead vocals live over his brothers' prerecorded vocals and instrumentation.  He can barely stand still enough in front of the microphone to get all the words out -- he so obviously wants to break into dancing (and those of us watching him would like him to, too).  He makes two rare mistakes. The first occurs at the :50 mark -- he sings "Those pretty faces always treat you" instead of  "Those pretty faces always made you."  No big deal, really, and a few seconds later he even appears to be laughing at himself.

The second mistake is more obvious and it occurs at the end of the song. It looks like Michael forgot that they had prerecorded an extended ending, and that he thought the song would end like it did when they first performed it a few months earlier on The Ed Sullivan Show. At 2:55, he looks momentarily startled that the music didn't end on his "I want you back!" but then he picks up and just keeps singing, giving us the most soulful conclusion ever to the song.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's Your Game?

In the fall of 1974, Joe Jackson announced the formation of his own record label, Ivory Tower Records, and introduced his new act, four sisters named Maxine, Diane, LaVerne and Tina Willis who went by the stage name M-D-L-T Willis, or simply MDLT.  Joe first met the sisters when he saw them singing back up at Peggy Fleming's Ice Show in early 1973. He was impressed by their sound and was sure they would be the next big thing. In one of the few publicity photos that exists of the group, they are posing around Joe, looking like the old Ivory Tower himself.

The group recorded just one single, "What Your Game?" and it's of particular interest to J5 fans because it was written and produced by the Jackson 5 during a time in their careers when they were pressing Motown to let them perform their own material.  I wonder if the record itself was a ploy to prove to Berry Gordy that the Jackson 5 were ready to write and produce their own songs. 

MDLT toured briefly with the J5, performing this song and four others as part of an opening act for The Five. They even appeared on Soul Train with the J5, and they performed two songs: "What's Your Game?" and the single's b-side, "Runnin' and Pushin'" They immediately sank into obscurity, but if you  move quickly you can catch their act on YouTube.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Know Just How You Feel, Kid

Actual caption: "I wish they'd play the Jackson 5 songs."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Michael's Secret Phone Calls

In May 1972 16 magazine promised to reveal some juicy secrets, gleaned from listening in on Michael and Jermaine's phone calls.

As usual, the teasers promised more than they delivered. First, we saw the banner headline on the cover, announcing:  MICHAEL JERMAINE Listen to Their Secret Phone Calls.

Right inside the front cover, we got another invitation, this time in the form of a full color glossy photo of  lovely Jermaine, asking the question: What do I talk about on the phone?

And in case you missed it, there was Michael inside the back cover, also in the form of a glossy color poster, begging us to turn to page 16 to find out his secrets:

By now, you're probably dying to know his secrets and surprises, right? But if you've read enough teen magazines, you probably think they're going to reveal their summer concert dates, don't you? Ah, but this is even better. In this case, it's not so much what Michael says on the phone as it is who he says it to. Read on.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween, J5 Fans!

Jackson 5, You're on the Air

There's a wonderful radio interview on YouTube now, recorded in 1973 when the Jackson 5 were in New York City for a concert appearance. The interview was long and free-ranging, more spontaneous than J5 interviews usually were, and the personalities of the six brothers really emerge. It was first broadcast live on WWRL on July 22, 1973.

In Part One they talk about their recent tours in Australia and New Zealand, their early years in Gary, the copy-cat groups, their recent LPs, why Tito's wife doesn't tour with them, and Janet's desire to join the Jackson 5.

In Part Two the talk about their upcoming tour to Africa, the role of their parents in their success, rehearsals, their musical influences, their hobbies, show business advice, and bubblegum vs funk.

Part 3 opens with a radio concert ad, and then the interview continues with questions about concerts, a solo song they have written and produced for Randy, fans,and their upcoming concerts.

In Part 4 they talk about what they do in their off-time on tour, favorite foods, Jermaine's cooking, what Randy likes best about show business, Jackie's upcoming solo LP, their J5 cartoon series, and the Sylvers.

Part 5 begins with the DJ opening the interview to others in the studio so they can ask questions. They talk quite a bit about how they work in the recording studio, what sorts of songs they like to record, their "cousins" Ronnie and Johnny, Steve Manning and the Jackson 5 fan club, favorite television shows, and Jackie's girl friend Debraca Foxx.

In Part 6, they talk about Jackie's recent car accident, Jermaine and Tito's cars, auto insurance (?), Isaac Hayes' cover version of "Never Can Say Goodbye," the Sylvers (again), security, the J5's worldwide image, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" as a million-seller in New Zealand, the J5 as role models for Black kids, and financial matters. The interview closes by playing "Never Can Say Goodbye" in its entirety, and the J5 return at the every end to say goodbye. Tito ends with the surprising revelation that this was the first time they had ever been invited by a DJ to come to the studio for an on-air interview. "I think that you guys are groovy disc jockeys, outta sight."

Later that day, the Jackson 5 posed backstage with some young fans prior to their concert.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Randy the Ham

In the early years of the Jackson 5, little brother Randy was often in the shadows. So on those rare occasions where he was included, he made sure people noticed him. Big arms was one technique he used...

Jumping over his brothers was another...

I've always wondered what this scene looked like once Randy landed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rare Jackson 5 Medley

I thought I had seen them all till Spyros posted this find on the Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 Facebook page. Unfortunately, Jermaine wasn't with them, but hearing Jackie cover a Bread song almost makes up for it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oldies Week: Sixteen Candles

Michael wasn't the first to sing an old hit from 1958 when he recorded "Rockin' Robin." The Jackson 5 themselves did it first with "Sixteen Candles," a song that was released in April 1971 on the group's fifth LP, Maybe Tomorrow.

The song was originally released in 1958 by The Crests:

So why why did the Jackson 5 ever record such a hokey, dated song? Well, we may have a couple of clues in the song itself. Jermaine sings the lead vocals, and he changes the lyrics in a significant way. Instead of singing what The Crests did:

Sixteen candles make a lovely light
But not as bright as your eyes tonight

Jermaine sings:
Sixteen candles make a lovely sight
But not as bright as your hazel eyes

Is it mere coincidence that Berry Gordy's daughter Hazel has just turned 16 a few months before the song first appeared on a Jackson 5 LP? Or that since Hazel was 15, Berry had known his daughter had such a huge crush on Jermaine that she wrote him over-the-top fan letters? Could it be that Berry had arranged to have Jermaine sing the song as a birthday surprise for Hazel when she turned 16 on August 24, 1970, and then liked it so much he decided to put it on the J5's next LP?

It's all speculation, of course, but the pieces do all fit together.

In Holland and Sweden, where "How Funky Is Your Chicken" was released as a single, "Sixteen Candles" was used as the B-side.

Whether is was an album cut or a single, it was never a popular song among fans, except for those young female fans about to turn 16. They all knew exactly who Jermaine was singing to.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oldies Week: Rockin' Robin

The Jackson 5 recorded several cover versions of old songs that were classic doo-wop. This week, we'll take a closer look at them, starting with one of Michael's solo release that was released as a single 39 years ago this month.

In February of 1972, Michael released his second solo single, "Rockin' Robin." The song hadn't originally been scheduled as a single, and it was only after radio djs started playing the song from Michael's first LP, Got to Be There, that Motown decided to release it as the second single, instead of of "I Wanna Be Where You Are."

The djs who has originally played the album cut in the first place probably chose it because it was a familiar song to them, having first been released as a single back by Bobby Day back in 1958, the year Michael was born.

Here's Bobby Day's version for comparison.

The Jackson 5 performed the song live on Top of the Pops when they were in England in November 1972. Tito has a nice guiar solo, and be sure to check out the very end where Marlon, Jackie, and Michael do a little bit of the funky chicken.

The song was released as a single not just in the United States but in other countries, as well. Here are some of the foreign pressings I have in my collection.

Germany, Japan, Spain, and Sweden all issued the single with different picture sleeves. All were backed with "Love Is here and Now You're Gone," as was the U.S. pressing.

Greece didn't issue it with a picture sleeve, but this is one the few Greek pressings I have in my collection. They issued it as the B-side of "Got to Be There."

The picture sleeve from Spain had an interesting back cover, too, showing the different photo they used on the LP release of Maybe Tomorrow (MS-9030) -- a rarity I have so far been unable to find.

The search never ends for a Jackson 5 collector.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Show and Tell with the Jackson 5

I know it's hard to believe but after the Jackson 5 returned from Dakar, they visited a public school in Los Angeles to talk about their trip. I know, I know, I would never have believed it myself if the July 1974 issue of Rock and Soul Songs hadn't carried this amazing piece with the photographic evidence.

But Rock and Soul Songs wanted to make one thing clear: they did not sing. They only ever did that at West Side High.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

From the moment the Jackson 5 touched down in Dakar, cameras were rolling to record their every move for a planned documentary, the brainchild of the concert promoter Johnny Secka, a Senegalese filmmaker (not to be confused with Johnny Secka, a Senegalese actor).

Secka had first met Michael and Joe Jackson at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1973, when Michael was there to sing one of the nominated songs, "Ben." According to reports, it was then that Secka told Joe he wanted to get the Jackson 5 to Africa. Secka, then just 26 years old, was quite the entrepreneur. He had moved to the United States to pursue his career, but his heart remained in Africa, and he was driven to get American soul acts to perform there. At the same time, he was also working to get James Brown, B.T. Express, the Staple Singers, and Stevie Wonder to come to Africa. He was acting not just as a de facto goodwill ambassador and concert promoter, but he also hoped to stimulate the economies of West African countries and to get Americans to pay attention to some of the local talent in Africa.

The Jackson 5 tour to Africa was Secka's first big success. The documentary film he made based on their trip, called The Jackson 5 in Africa was really more of a publicity tool than it was a work of art. That's why the 60-minute film appears to American viewers to be more of an educational film than a concert film. Watching the film, we learn more about Dakar and modern West Africa than we do the Jackson 5. In this regard, Secka was really quite the brilliant strategist and businessman, not unlike Berry Gordy, Jr. He was essentially a one-man "USA for Africa" about a decade ahead of his time.

The film itself premiered at the United Nations in November 1974, and got a bit of play in big-city markets, but it was probably not the smash hit Secka or the Jacksons had been hoping for. The most interesting part of the film for J5 fans is, without a doubt, the live concert footage. We see them singing "Hum Along and Dance," "Feelin' Alright" and "You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)," amongst scenes of them at the National Palace, visiting an artists' village, and awkwardly answering questions at a press conference conducted mostly in French. At the end of the film -- and perhaps most tellingly -- narrator Robert Hooks makes a plea for other Black artists, or "displaced persons," to return to Africa.

Sadly, Johnny Secka never got to realize his dream. He died five years later at age 32. At the time of his death, he was just putting the finishing touches on a tour that would bring Bob Marley and the Wailers to Gabon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Exclusive! On Tour in Africa with the Jackson 5"

Blues & Soul, a British music magazine, had the best coverage I've found to date of the J5's trip to Africa. Reporter Kwame Brathwaite offered a detailed, up-close-and-personal account of the trip he took to the Motherland aboard Pan Am Flight 184 with the Jackson 5.

Brathwaite was not just a reporter and photographer, but also a J5 fan, so he gives us all sorts of interesting details about what the trip was like. His photos offer the same level of intimacy. I love his portraits of Randy and Jermaine, playing an acoustic guitar. He also doesn't shy away from discussing politics, something most other reporters avoided.

The color photograph used as the centerfold poster was taken shortly after the Jackson 5 arrived in Dakar. Here they pose with promoter, Johnny Secka.

And just who was Johnny Secka? Tune in tomorrow.

"Frenzy of Senegalese Surprised Group"

Jet magazine sent a reporter and a photographer along ont he Jackson 5's trip to Senegal, resulting in a wonderfully informative 8-page cover feature. Right from the beginning of their career, Jet was always great at covering the Jackson 5, but this report is their best J5 coverage ever.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Explore the Mysteries of Exotic Africa"

16 magazine gave the trip to Senegal a two-page spread in their June 1974 issue. The Jackson 5's heads were superimposed on the continent of Africa in 16's trademark cheesy poster, and the sensational headlines might lead you to believe that their coverage would be embarrassingly silly. But once you get beyond the poster, the report was surprisingly informative. They mentioned Africa as a continent, named Senegal as the country the J5 visited, and actually named Dakar and Joal (albeit misspelled) as places they went. Their photos and captions were fine. They just neglected to mention that the J5, you know, performed a few concerts while they were there.

And if the J5's trip to Africa wasn't exotic or mysterious enough for you, check out Michael's strange companions on the teaser poster on the back cover. They make Donny Osmond look good.

Monday, January 31, 2011

African Fans

Nothing had prepared the Jackson 5 for the level of recognition and love they received when they were in Senegal. During the trip, Jackie commented that he had had no idea they had so many African fans, and that they were just like fans in the United States.

It's true. They played to record audiences who danced and screamed and applauded, just like American fans did. And wherever the Jackson 5 went, they were recognized. But they weren't so much mobbed as treated with reverence and respect. Here's a great photo of Jackie, stopping to talk with young fans in the market area.

And Marlon was a favorite with the young ladies -- and scorned by jealous boys -- at home and in Senegal.

But everywhere the J5 went, it was Randy who was showered with attention and adoration. Maybe it was because he was the smallest. Maybe it was his willingness to jump right in and learn the traditional dances. Or maybe it was an appreciation for his drumming. Whatever the reason, he was the only group member who was given a ceremonial robe at the end of one of their concerts.

In the photo to the left, he poses with a Nigerian student. From the expression on Randy's face, it looks like he is already tired of posing for photos with adoring fans. He just wants to get out and snap some pictures. But wait! Some of the student's friends also want to pose for a photo with Randy.

At the far left side of this photo, you can see just the edge of Michael, who is being completely ignored by the students who only have eyes for Randy.

Speaking of Nigeria, the only thing in my collection that's from Africa is a photocard from Nigeria. It measures 4 x 6 inches, and if you look closely, you can see it's actually a photograph of a poster that was once folded, and has been tacked to wooden planks of a floor or wall.

I absolutely treasure this item. It's one of my favorite artifacts, due to its origin. I sometimes wonder about the Nigerian fan who bought this card and kept it safely for so many years before it found its way to eBay and my collection. Even though Randy was not included in the photo.

Bientot a Dakar

On January 29, 1974, the Jackson 5 boarded a plane headed for Dakar, Senegal, in the early evening hours. They were scheduled to play their first concerts there and for the Jackson brothers, this would be their very first trip to the African continent. They landed in Dakar, Senegal, early the next morning, just before sunrise, with an entourage of about two-dozen associates and members of the press.

They were greeted by dignitaries, government officials, traditional dancers, and crowds of fans as they deplaned, and they were quickly led into a VIP lounge inside the airport for a quick press conference. After meeting with the press, they spent more time watching the dancers, and eventually joined them, trying to learn their steps. Reports indicate that Randy picked up the dances faster than anyone else, one of the many ways he endeared himself to Senegalese fans and quickly became the darling of the group.

Although the trip was billed as an "African Tour," in truth the Jackson 5 performed only three concerts, all in Dakar. Originally there had been talk of them traveling to Ghana, Zambia, and Ethiopia for some additional concerts, but the tour was cut short and they never made it past Senegal. Reports vary as to why the additional dates were cut. Some say it was due to "technicalities" and others say that it proved too hard for the Jackson brothers to adjust to the changes in food and water.

Instead of traveling elsewhere to perform, the Jackson family got the chance to explore Senegal a bit. They went to Joal, a traditional fishing village, shopped in the markets of Dakar for souvenirs, and traveled to Goree Island, the departure point for many African captives who had been sent to the United States as slaves in earlier centuries. According to all reports, the brothers were deeply affected by the visit to Goree, so much so that their second and third concerts were much less exuberant than their first one had been.

Over the next week we'll take a closer look at the Jackson 5's momentous trip to Africa by looking at the press coverage, photos, the documentary film that was made about their trip, and even a show-and-tell day they did after they returned to the U.S. Bientôt!