Jackson 5

Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive
1997
Category:
Performers
Members:
  • Jackie Jackson
  • Jermaine Jackson
  • Marlon Jackson
  • Michael Jackson
  • Tito Jackson

Not only did the Jackson Five launch the career of Michael Jackson,

but the group's own "bubblegum soul" sound—which combined influences from vocal groups, contemporary soul and R&B stars, and classic Motown artists—was enormously successful. 

The Gary, Indiana, sibling troupe became a chart darling and TV show staple known for their heavenly harmonies and polished performances. 

Biography

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It's difficult to believe now, but Motown Records' Berry Gordy was initially hesitant to sign the Jackson 5—a Gary, Indiana, quintet comprised of brothers Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie Jackson—when they auditioned for his label.

Not only did Gordy have an aversion to what he called "kids groups," which was a problem since lead singer Michael was only turning ten in a few weeks, but Motown already had another young prodigy, Stevie Wonder, on the roster.

Still, the industry legend saw something special in the tween vocalist, what with his James Brown-esque moves and soulful performance of Smokey Robinson's "Who's Lovin You," and decided to give the Jackson Five a record deal.

In 1969, Gordy moved the troupe to Los Angeles, where they lived while working with "The Corporation," Motown's in-house team of songwriters and producers. The label's early tactics also included aligning the group with the Supremes—the Jackson 5 opened for the group in August and appeared on the TV show Hollywood Palace when Diana Ross guest hosted—and having the troupe perform on The Ed Sullivan Show later in the year.

As it turns out, this strategy was genius. In 1970, the group's first four singles ("I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There") peaked at No. 1 on the charts. By the summer and fall, they were headlining arenas; a year later, they had a Saturday morning cartoon, TV specials and merchandise galore.

It was a meteoric rise, but the Jackson 5 were certainly performance veterans by this point. In 1964, the group's father, Joe Jackson, saw musical potential in his sons, and spearheaded the group's formation. The brothers spent the next few years playing talent shows and making a name for themselves on the circuit of black theaters and nightclubs; in 1967, the group even won amateur night at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater.

The Jackson 5's true lucky break happened the following year, however, thanks to a string of shows at Chicago's Regal Theater opening for Bobby Taylor. The Motown-associated musician was duly impressed by the young band, and connected the dots to send the troupe to Detroit for the deal-making label audition.

Natural talent and Michael Jackson's preternatural charisma certainly had something to do with the Jackson 5's immediate appeal. However, the group also studied contemporary soul, funk and R&B greats—Sam & Dave, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Etta James, Sly & The Family Stone—and were indebted to the vocal group stylings of early rock & rollers Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. These nods to tradition kept the Jackson 5's music from sounding like a novelty and gave the band credibility.

Motown also made sure the band were constantly releasing albums: By the end of 1973, the group had released 10 LPs, including two live records and a holiday collection. Both Jermaine and Michael Jackson also released solo work.

As the decade progressed, the Jackson 5's sound reflected current trends and the brothers' move toward adulthood: Funk, disco and more mature lyrical content became a part of their music, in particular on 1973's sizzling "Get It Together" and 1974's moving-and-grooving "Dancing Machine." Still, the group's popularity waned, and the Jackson 5 (sans Jermaine) left Motown for a deal with Epic Records.

Now recording as the Jacksons for legal reasons, the group added youngest brother Randy and teamed up with legendary producers Gamble and Huff for 1976 The Jacksons and 1977's Goin' Places. The partnership (and a pronounced Philadelphia soul vibe) revitalized and emboldened the group: They self-produced and largely wrote the songs on their next two LPs, 1978's Destiny and 1980's Triumph, which were both commercial successes.

With Michael Jackson's solo career taking off, he left the group after 1984's Victory LP and its accompanying tour of the same name. The Jacksons released one more album after that, 1989's poorly received 2300 Jackson Street, and then went on hiatus. Save for a 2001 reunion on a TV special to celebrate Michael's solo career, the brothers have largely stuck to separate endeavors.