#165 – I Want You Back by The Jackson Five
– There was a popular television show when I was a kid called, I’ve Got A Secret. The song I Want You Back by a preteen Michael Jackson and his brothers has really nothing do with that, except for bringing back how I felt – sort of – when I first heard it in 1969.
The show was hosted by popular television personality, Gary Moore – not to be confused with the guitar playing Gary Moore decades later. A supposedly unknown person would be introduced, chalk his or her name on a blackboard and sit behind a desk with the host. Moore would give a panel of four celebrities a brief hint of what secret the guest was hiding, while the viewing audience would be given the answer at the bottom of our black and white television screens.
The two guests I remember most were Brian Epstein and in a separate episode, Pete Best. Brian’s secret was that he managed The Beatles while Pete’s was being a former Beatle. Of course, to first generation Fab Four fans, there was nothing secret about either guest and we immediately knew when they walked out to sign their name on the chalk board. But it was fun watching the older generation (I also remember Groucho Marx as an occasional guesser) try to figure out who these guys were.
My secret in 1969 was that I really liked The Jackson Five. It may not seem like such a scandalous admission now, but this was around the time when another great musical divide was occurring within the generational gaps.
As mentioned in previous Classic Rocker ramblings, my particular segment of the boomer generation was too young to experience firsthand the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s. The dangerous element was toned down into being popular music in the early 1960’s, then burst into the fab stratosphere as pop in 1964. This morphed into more rebellious pop-rock, drifted into hazy psychedelic and eventually just all-out anarchy rock toward the end of the decade. By early 1969 The Beatles had just released The White Album, The Who were promoting Tommy by trashing instruments and acting like punks before anyone ever heard of punk music, and we were just getting into Led Zeppelin.
Woodstock was only a few months away and by the fall we were listening to Abbey Road.
But there was another form of music “bubbling” beneath the surface labeled as bubble gum. My teenaged “just getting our driver’s license” crowd had zero interest in this AM radio takeover, even though we were often forced to listen since that was the only bandwidth our parents’ cars came equipped with at the time. Without doing an internet search, my recollections go to Donny Osmond and his Osmond Brothers, The Archies and… well, that’s the extent of how deep I want to go into the memory bank on this topic.
Bubble gum seemed to be music made for my little sister’s demographic and she was seven years younger than me.
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Now, there’s no way I can ignore Motown in the above listings. I suppose the Top 40 deejays tried to fit it into the pop music category, but we knew it was more than that. Hitsville in Detroit gave us more rhythm and soul than most of the light weight pop acts. Motown could sound clean and smooth, or hot and sweaty. My favorites were The Temptations with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and The Four Tops with the great Levi Stubbs. But in 1969 Stevie Wonder was still trying to distance himself from the Little adjective that had been stuck on him for his early records and label head Barry Gordy was grooming The Supremes as a lounge act and Diana Ross for solo superstardom.
Okay, now that I’ve set the stage for what a sixteen-year-old boomer was listening to and my thoughts about it all, in the winter of that year we were presented with The Jackson Five and their first hit record, I Want You Back.
First thought: This is a kid singing.
Second thought: This is great!
Now, I wasn’t sure if this realization would seem cool to my fellow-teenaged friends that, along with me, were listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Who (and The Rolling Stones). But it was impossible for me not to turn up the AM radio dial or even sit still when hearing I Want You Back.
These kids just… Okay, did it rock? Was it pop? Bubble gum? It didn’t sound like the Motown of The Temps, The Tops or Little Stevie, but it couldn’t be ignored. At least by me and the millions of other fans that sent this record screaming up the record charts. Maybe it was because my little sister and her age group were finding their own musical personalities at the time and jumping on the Jackson (and Osmond) bandwagons. There was no reason why I couldn’t also make room on my playlist for this rocking’ and soulful family band.
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But like the television show, I had a secret. There was no way I could ask my friends to turn off Led Zeppelin and listen to The Jackson Five if I wanted to remain hip enough to look cool. So, without Groucho and the other panelists outing me on national television, I kept it to myself. At least for a while.
But here’s another secret…
The first time I saw The Jackson Five was on The Ed Sullivan Show. And one of the most memorable parts was how Michael and his brothers danced. So yeah, I wanted to dance like The Jackson Five. Too bad my feet, arms and… well, everything else could never move like that. It’s also too bad I never realized that when I was on a dance floor. More on that in a moment, but first…
I Want You Back danced its way onto this Dream Song List on September 10th. And yeah, I own a copy, it’s on my digital playlist and I had just heard it. So, this one moonwalks into the recent memory category.
I won’t pull any punches here. Myself and my buddies were far from possessing any soulful or rhythmic moves. I might have imagined myself as Michael or even Jackie (or Tito?) at our high school and later college dances, but reality has a way of exposing our secrets. For a description, if you combine The Twist with leg jerks and flaying arms as if you were being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos – it would look better than what we were doing. The effort might have been there, but the talent was missing.
I recently had a chance to reconfirm this no-so-secret admission.
A couple days ago I was just about to leave the house when I Want You Back came on. At this moment, at least for the first verse or two, time and commitments are forgotten. There’s no way to prevent a dance attack and I was doing my best twisting, jerking and flaying moves when I looked up and into a mirror directly in front of me. It was far from being Michael, Jackie or even Tito staring back at me. Of course, I didn’t stop – but from now on I’ll keep these moments between you and me.
Can you keep a secret?
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Here’s a video of The Jackson Five with a very young Michael on lead vocals performing I Want You Back.
To purchase The Ultimate Collection: Jackson 5 on Motown Records with I Want You Back visit Amazon.
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