Given the built-in obsolescence of pop stars, it is remarkable that the singer who made the biggest impact in 1970 should have still made world headlines almost a quarter of a century later.
But Michael Jackson, the 11-year-old frontman of the Jackson 5, was no ordinary pop star.
During that first year with Motown Records the group spent 13 weeks at #1 in the US singles charts as their four releases – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There – sold in excess of 15 million copies.
Each of their three 1970 albums went Top 10 in the USA, and they re-established Motown as the “Voice of Young America”.
In 1970 the group consisted of Sigmund Esco Jackson (Jackie) (19), Toriano Adaryll (Tito) (17), Jermaine LaJaune (16), Marlon (13) and Michael, but the three oldest boys had already been performing for eight years – known as the Jackson Family – their three-part harmonies were augmented by cousins Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer.
Managed and coached by their father Joe, a crane driver who once played guitar with Detroit R&B band The Falcons (who featured Wilson Pickett as lead singer), the quintet made a living in the clubs and bars around their hometown of Gary, Indiana.
It wasn’t until 1964 that Marlon and Michael (at the ages of 7 and 5 respectively) were judged ready to enter show business and joined the vocal line-up, relegating their cousins to pianist and drummer.
The name was changed to The Jackson 5, and by winning talent contests they started to establish themselves beyond Gary’s city limits.
Although legend has it that Diana Ross ‘discovered’ the Jackson 5, credit for such scouting actually goes to Gladys Knight. In 1967, after they had supported her and the Pips at a concert in Indiana, Gladys wrote to Motown label owner Berry Gordy suggesting he check them out at the Regal in Chicago.
A year later – after the Jackson 5 had performed as far afield as New York City – where they won Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater – and released an unsuccessful single, Big Boy, on a local label – the group were noticed by another Motown act, Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers, who also recommended them and suggested the label take them to Detroit for an audition.
In June 1968, the brothers were on the bill of a fund-raising concert for Gary’s mayor – as were Gladys Knight and The Pips and Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers. It was at this show, according to Motown‘s publicity machine, that Diana Ross first saw the group and had them signed on the spot.
In truth, they had been signed some weeks earlier and Ross was nowhere near Gary, Indiana at the time, but rehearsing for a Supremes gig at the Coconut Grove. However, the story was a good one and Motown stuck to it, even hosting a launch party for the boys at the Hollywood Palace as special guests of Diana Ross and The Supremes (hence the “discovery” confusion – A mix-up that was compounded by their first album being called Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5.)
Having failed to shed their teen pop image whilst at Motown, in 1975 the Jackson brothers quit Motown and signed to CBS under the name The Jacksons (Motown retained the name ‘The Jackson 5’) and immediately set about retooling their sound.
Since Jermaine was now married to Berry Gordy’s daughter and so could not easily leave Motown, brother Randy (who had been a part-time bongo player with the group) came in as Jermaine’s replacement.
Three albums later they struck gold with the disco-inspired Destiny (1978), driven by the irresistible pulse of Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).
By 1981, Michael Jackson was the biggest black music artist in the world and the brothers took a back seat while Michael repeatedly topped the charts all over the world and became a heavily-guarded recluse.
The Jacksons reunited with brother Michael in 1984 for what they announced would be “our final farewell tour as a family” to promote the largely uninteresting album Victory. The 40-city tour started on July 6 in Kansas City.