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ABC - The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5 was the brainchild of Joseph Jackson, a steel mill crane operator from Gary, Indiana. Frustrated as a musician, he formed his own blues band in 1951, the Falcons, and held group rehearsals at home. His three young sons, Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine, watched these sessions with fascination and, after the adults had gone, picked up the same instruments and tried to imitate what they had seen. By 1959, it was evident that the Falcons’ career was not going anyplace, and Joseph decided to transfer his dreams for a show biz career to his children.
Joseph began the process by carefully studying the techniques of successful black recording acts. He discovered that it was usually the tallest or the shortest member of the group that emerged as the flashy front man. The others would croon at his side or behind him, providing both an audio and visual backdrop. Careful choreography, impeccable harmony, and a distinctive lead singer seemed to be the elements that set the superstars ahead. Joseph committed himself to making sure that his boys had all of those things, and more.
The family diet suffered first; grocery money was rechanneled into bigger and better guitars, amplifiers, and other equipment. The boys happily fell into a routine of practicing for four hours a day, seven days a week. After more than a year of polish and rehearsal, they began to turn up at talent shows, winning nearly everything they entered. Midwestern tours came next, including dates with the Chi-Lites, the Emotions, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and their early idols, the Temptations. New brothers Michael and Marlon joined the group in the early sixties, and by the end of the decade, the Jackson 5 were primed, precise, and ready for the big time.
In the summer of 1969, the boys appeared at a charity concert hosted by the mayor of their hometown, Richard Gordon Hatcher. According to legend, Diana Ross was in the audience and was “genuinely astounded” at their performance. She persuaded Berry Gordy to audition the group, and in August 1969, they were signed to Motown. Their first single, “I Want You Back,” was released in October and within six weeks had sold more than two million copies. Shortly after Christmas, it entered the Top 10, and by mid-January, the Jackson 5 had the number-one record in the country.
On February 24, Motown issued a second Jackson 5 single, “ABC.” Like the first, it was written and produced by a faceless team, known only as “the Corporation.” Later, they were identified as some of the cream of Motown’s writing and production staff: Freddie Perren, Fonzo Mizell, Deke Richards, and Berry Gordy himself. Those four men designed “ABC” as a high-energy showcase for their youngest and tiniest protegé, eleven-year-old Michael Jackson. In his whirling, free-wheeling live performances, Michael was already being described as “a miniature James Brown,” “an unabashed child prodigy.”
“ABC” quickly outstripped “I Want You Back,” selling more than two million copies in less than three weeks. It was followed in May by “The Love You Save,” backed with “I Found That Girl.” In September, Motown issued “I’ll Be There.” All five Jackson 5 titles reached number one in 1970 — an unprecedented achievement. The Jackson 5 were easily among the most innovative and imitated pop groups of the early seventies. They pioneered the sound of bubblegum soul and, in doing so, outsold every other recording act in Motown history.