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.