The Jackson 5 Era

The Jackson 5 Era, 1963-1975, would see young Michael burst onto the music scene with his brothers, The Jackson 5. Michael would also cut his first solo record at the tender age of 13 and establish himself as an accomplished and polished performer. These years were a whirlwind of performances, recording, television appearances, interviews and constant touring.

Michael Jackson’s biggest dream as a child was to become a singer. His brothers, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon had already formed a small musical group and had been practising around the house. Young Michael wanted to join the group, but was thought to be too young. In 1963, Michael, at the age of only five, performed an amazing rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” for his class at Garnett Elementary School in Gary, Indiana. His performance moved many teachers to tears and he received a standing ovation. Immediately after his stunning performance, little Michael was invited into the Jackson brother’s group as their lead singer. A lady from their neighbourhood would suggest calling the group “The Jackson 5”.

Joseph Jackson, the boys’ father, took on the role of manager for The Jackson 5 and began to rehearse them before and after they went to school. He helped polish and mould the group by adding the latest songs to their repertoire and checking out what the top musicians were doing. Michael would also study the greats on television- such as James Brown and Jackie Wilson to learn the newest dance steps in order to add them to The Jackson 5’s routines.

The Jackson 5 won their first talent contest at Gary’s Roosevelt High School with a rendition of “My Girl”. Michael says that after that, they won every talent contest they entered in Gary. Joseph started to invest more money in the group by buying new musical equipment for the boys- microphones, amplifiers and guitars.

The Jackson Five started gaining a reputation for being great performers in their hometown and they got their first paid gig at a nightclub called Mr Lucky’s. They also performed at other nightclubs in Gary, earning their payment when coins and notes were thrown onto the stage after each performance. The boys were joined by two neighbourhood friends- Johnny Jackson on drums and Ronny Rancifer on keyboards.

Soon, The Jackson 5 were on the Chitlin’ circuit, which took them to Chicago, where they won amateur night at the Regal Theatre three weeks in a row. Here, they opened for acts such as The Temptations, The Emotions, Jackie Wilson and the O’Jays.

In August 1967, The Jackson 5 performed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem for their amateur night. The Apollo’s amateur night audience was known to performers as the toughest audience around. Many performers had been discovered here and it was an important night for the young group. After their set, The Jackson 5 won first prize and brought the house down.
After winning a talent contest at Beckman Junior High in Gary, Gordon Keith of Steeltown Records asked The Jackson 5 to sign a contract with his label. It was their first official recording contract and The Jackson 5 immediately began recording. Their first single was released in late 1967, called “Big Boy”. Although it never charted, it became a big regional hit.
In May 1968, The Jackson 5 were invited back to the Apollo, this time for a paid performance. They were also invited back to the Regal in July. While in Chicago, they opened for bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers at the High Chaparral Club. Taylor was so impressed by the group that he phoned Motown’s creative department to suggest that The Jackson 5 be allowed to audition for Motown. Artists and executives at Motown had heard through word of mouth that The Jackson 5 were an up and coming group, and while concerns were raised about their ages, the excitement the group generated could not be denied. Ralph Seltzer of Motown’s creative department asked Bobby Taylor to bring them in for an audition in Detroit.

On the 23rd of July, 1968, The Jackson 5 auditioned for Motown. Although the record company’s president, Berry Gordy, was not present, several members of Motown’s creative department were there to witness and video tape the audition for Gordy. After performing an impressive set with “I Got the Feeling” and “Who’s Lovin’ You”, the audition tape was sent to Gordy, who decided to sign the group immediately.

On the 26h of July, 1968, The Jackson 5 were officially signed to Motown Records. Michael Jackson was just 9 years old.

Their first engagement for Motown was a benefit concert for the mayor of Gary, Indiana. The Jackson 5 would be performing with a host of other Motown artists including Gladys Knight and the Pips and Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. The legend would be born that Diana Ross had discovered The Jackson 5 at this performance. Berry Gordy then held a formal party at his home at Christmas of 1968 to officially introduce The Jackson 5 to Motown. Diana Ross would be presenting them on their first album and at future performances.

The Jackson 5 started recording immediately for Motown under producer Bobby Taylor. During this period, the boys would go to school during the week in Gary and then go to Detroit for the weekend to record. It would not be until August 1969 that the Jackson family would be invited to move to Los Angeles to be closer to Motown’s new studios.

In early August, Diana Ross formally introduced The Jackson 5 at a private club, the Daisy in Hollywood. Five days later, they performed with Diana at a concert at the Los Angeles Forum.

The Jackson 5’s first ever national TV appearance was on the Miss Black America Pagent in August where they played “It’s Your Thing”. They then appeared on a show presented by Diana Ross, called The Hollywood Palace in October 1969. They performed their single, “I Want You Back” to an incredible reception. The group’s natural musical and vocal ability amazed the world. Michael Jackson, the front man, had all the vocal and soul qualities of a veteran performer over three times his age. No one had ever seen a child of only 11 years old with such stage presence, vocal and dancing ability and soul. This pint-sized performer knew how to create onstage drama and capture an audience. Michael Jackson had technique and style that was all his own, even at such a young age.

On October 7, 1969, The Jackson 5’s first single for Motown was officially released. “I Want You Back” was produced and written by Berry Gordy’s new writing team, The Corporation™ (made up of Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell and Deke Richards). It was The Jackson 5’s first song recorded at Motown’s L.A. studios and originally intended for Gladys Knight. The song was an amazing hit, going to number 1 on the US chart (knocking the Beatles’ hit “Let It Be” out of the top spot), number 2 in the UK and selling over 4 million copies globally.

The Jackson 5’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was on 4th of December, 1969. Ed Sullivan was known for having an eye for talent and was very particular about the acts he presented. The Ed Sullivan show was a major breakthrough for The Jackson 5, who performed “Stand!”, “Who’s Lovin’ You” and “I Want You Back”, with Michael in front wearing a striking magenta hat. They would be invited back to perform another set in May 1970.

Motown released The Jackson 5’s first album on the 18th of December 1969. Titled “Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5”, it was produced by Bobby Taylor and the Corporation™ and featured 12 songs. The album’s only single was “I Want You Back”. The album was a successful debut worldwide, charting at number 5 in the US, number 16 in the UK and staying in the charts for four weeks. The Corporation™ would work on The Jackson 5’s next seven albums for Motown.

The Jackson 5 started 1970 with more TV appearances, including their first performance on American Bandstand. The group’s second single, “ABC”, was released in February 1970. Again produced and written by The Corporation™, it went to number 1 in the US, number 8 in the UK and sold a massive 4.1 million copies world wide.
The Jackson 5’s second album, “ABC” was released in May 1970. It was another major success for the group, charting at number 5 again in the US. The album generated another hit, “The Love You Save”, which was released on May 16. It replaced the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” at number 1 in the US and hit number 7 in the UK.

The Jackson 5’s first concert appearance was at the Los Angeles Forum on the 20th of May. The concert broke attendance records, selling over 18,500 tickets and grossing over $100,000. Fans rushed the stage during “The Love You Save” and the boys first experienced the “Jacksonmania” that had swept the globe, Similar mob scenes would follow them wherever they played.

The group’s forth single, “I’ll Be There”, was released in July. It was a mature themed ballad; a change of pace for the young group. It went to number 1 in the US, number 4 in the UK and sold a massive 6.1 million copies world wide, becoming one of Motown’s most successful singles. The Jackson 5 became the first music act in history whose first four singles went to number 1 on the US chart.

September 1970 marked the release of The Jackson 5’s third album, called simply, “Third Album”. It went to number 4 on the US chart and number 1 on the US R&B chart. It became the Jackson 5’s most successful album at Motown. It generated a second hit, “Mama’s Pearl”, which was issued in late 1970. It reached number 2 on the US chart, selling over 2 million copies globally. The following month, Motown issued The Jackson 5’s first and only Christmas album.

The Jackson 5 started their first national tour on the 9th of October, 1970, starting in Boston. They would play at 16 cities, finishing with a special “homecoming” performance in Gary, Indiana. They performed 2 sell out concerts at Westside High School and each member of The Jackson 5 was presented with a key to the City of Gary.

In January 1971, The Jackson 5 received the NAACP Image Award for Best Singing Group of the Year. They also attended the Grammy Awards in April where they were nominated for Best Contemporary Vocal Group. March and April were full of television and concert appearances for the boys, who would move into their new home at 4641 Hayvenhurst Avenue, Encino California in May, with the rest of their family.

The Jackson 5’s fifth album, “Maybe Tomorrow”, was released on the 12th of April, 1970. It reached number 11 on the US chart and generated 2 hits. “Never Can Say Goodbye” reached number 2 in the US and “Maybe Tomorrow”, the album’s title track went to number 2 on the US R&B chart.

The brothers then embarked on a second six month national tour, starting in July in New York and supported by the Commodores (whose front man was Lionel Ritchie). At their first concert, the Jackson 5 had to be rushed offstage less than two minutes into their first song when fans attempted to storm the stage. The concert resumed but the last song was cut short when fans again rushed the stage hoping for a closer glimpse of their idols.

In September, ABC TV aired The Jackson 5’s “Goin’ Back to Indiana” TV special. It featured guest appearances by Bill Cosby, Diana Ross and Bobby Darin. The show was supported by a live soundtrack album of the same name, recorded at The Jackson 5’s homecoming concert in Gary in 1970. The album went to number 5 on the US R&B chart.
Also in September, The Jackson 5 cartoon premiered on television. The cartoon used original Jackson 5 music, but due to their heavy schedule, the voices of the brothers would be provided by young actors.

At the end of 1971, “Sugar Daddy” was released from The Jackson 5’s first Greatest Hits LP. The song went to number 10 in the US.

On October 7th, 1971, Michael Jackson’s first ever solo single, “Got To Be There”, was released. It was a soulful love song that showed off thirteen year old Michael’s amazing vocal ability. The song went to number 4 in the US and number 5 in the UK and sold almost 2 million copies. By this time, Michael had eight chart topping singles and six albums with his brothers.
In January 1971, Michael’s first ever solo album “Got To Be There” was released. It had a beautiful mix of ballads and up tempo numbers perfectly suited to Michael’s range and style. Young Michael had shown that he could carry a full album all on his own. The album charted at number 14 in the US and number 37 in the UK. “Got To Be There” generated 3 more singles. “Rockin’ Robin” hit number 2 in the US and number 3 in the UK. “I Wanna Be Where You Are” hit number 16 in the US and “Ain’t No Sunshine” was a European only release that reached number 8 in the UK.

The Jackson 5’s sixth album, “Lookin’ Through The Windows” was released in May of 1972. It charted at number 7 in the US and spawned 2 singles; “Little Bitty Pretty One” and the album’s title track which both charted in the top 20 and sold over a million copies each.

Michael Jackson’s fourth single, “Ben”, was released in August 1972. The song was written for a film of the same name and was about a young man and his pet rat. The response to the single was massive; going to number 1 in the US and Australia and number 7 in the UK and selling over 2 million copies. It became Michael Jackson’s first ever solo number 1 single. Michael became the third youngest artist to have a number 1 hit at just fourteen years old. The song was nominated for an Academy Award in 1973, where Michael performed the song. “Ben” won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in 1973.
Michael’s second solo album, “Ben”, was also released in August. An album rich in ballads, it showed Michael’s vocal growth and ability. It reached number 5 in the US and number 17 in the UK.

In November of 1972, the brothers appeared on Soul Train to perform a medley of hits. They also hosted their own “Jackson 5 Show” where they performed several hits and sketches. They then embarked on their first ever European tour. In England, they gave a Royal Command Performance for the Queen and performed on Top Of The Pops.

In March 1973, the “Skywriter” album was released. It was a turning point for the Jackson 5, and it would be their last album with The Corporation™. The album would not sell as well as their previous efforts, mainly due to lack of promotion because The Jackson 5 had began a world tour. The album generated three singles: “Corner of the Sky”, which was a top 20 US hit; “Doctor My Eyes”, which reached number 9 in the UK; and “Hallelujah Day” which hit number 20 in the UK.
Motown issued Michael Jackson’s third solo effort, “Music and Me” on April 13th 1973. Again due to low promotion, the album did not sell as well as Michael’s previous albums. One single was released from it: “With A Child’s Heart”, which reached number 14 on the US R&B chart.

The Jackson 5’s first major world tour started in Japan in late March 1973. The tour would last until September, travelling to Australia and New Zealand and back to the United States.
In September 1973, The Jackson 5 released another album, “G.I.T: Get It Together”. Michael’s voice was now noticeably more mature and the Jackson 5’s overall sound changed as they experimented with a new disco / funk sound. The album’s title track was released as a single and became a major hit, selling over a million copies and going to number 28 in the US.

In February 1974, the single “Dancing Machine” was released from the “G.I.T” album. The disco infused number was hugely popular, reaching number 2 in the US and selling approximately 3 million copies. The Jackson 5 performed the number on Soul Train with an amazing robot dance routine by Michael. Michael Jackson was considered to be the pioneer of the robot dance and his performance during “Dancing Machine” certainly popularized this disco dance style.
In April 1974, The Jackson family starred in their own show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The show boasted a variety of song and dance numbers from the Jackson 5 and other family members Janet, La Toya and Randy. The show had a different format and presentation to The Jackson 5’s usual performances for Motown and the family had total control of the show’s content. The show was extremely well received with stunning reviews and after their first series of shows in April, the family went back to Las Vegas to perform in August and then again in November.
Motown issued the Jackson 5 album “Dancing Machine” in September 1974. The album also featured the track “Dancing Machine”, due to the song’s popularity. The album went onto sell over 2 million copies. It generated three singles. “I Am Love” was the major hit from the album; reaching number 15 in the US and selling over a million copies.

In January 1975, Michael Jackson’s fourth album was released, called “Forever Michael”. Two singles were released from it: “We’re Almost There” and “Just a Little Bit of You”, which were both top 40 hits. “Forever Michael” reached number 10 on the US R&B chart. It would be Michael Jackson’s last studio album for Motown.

The Jackson 5’s last studio album for Motown, “Moving Violation”, was released in May 1975. “Forever Came Today” was the only single released from the album. The album and single were not major successes, and the Jackson 5 had become unhappy with Motown’s promotion. The Jackson 5’s time at Motown had come to a close. The brothers had already begun writing their own songs and they were looking for creative freedom; something that Motown was not willing to give them. Motown had taken Michael Jackson and his brothers as far as they could and The Jackson 5 would leave Motown, minus brother Jermaine, in 1975 to sign with Epic records.

During their six years at Motown, The Jackson 5 had worked hard; recording over 450 songs of which only 174 were released. They made a total of ten studio albums and generated ten top 10 US and UK hits. They had made numerous television appearances and toured America several times. Young Michael Jackson had released four albums of his own and generated a major number 1 hit. Under Motown’s direction The Jackson 5 had made a massive impact in the music world and Michael Jackson had become the youngest vocalist ever to top the US charts.

Moonwalk by Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness by J. Randy Tarraborelli
The Visual Documentary by Adrian Grant
Michael! By Mark Bego
Michael Jackson The Golden Touch by Paul Honeyford
Michael Jackson Body and Soul by Gordon Matthews
“The Jacksons: An American Dream”
”Michael Jackson: The Legend Continues” presented by Motown
“The Jacksons: America’s First Family of Music” presented by Marlon Jackson
Michael Jackson The Ultimate Collection (booklet)
The Jackson 5: Soulsation! (booklet)
Footage Viewed:
The Jackson 5 on Ed Sullivan, The Jackson 5 Motown Audition,


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