Motown came roaring into the ‘70s with a lot to create and celebrate. The rather discreet move from Detroit to Los Angeles may have left the Motor City in doubt. However, Berry Gordy could not have asked for a warmer welcome to California than how the fans responded to a slate of concerts at the premiere concert venue of the day, The Forum.
Not only were hit singles now accompanied by much more profitable hit albums, the diligence and hard work from its Artist Development training program was paying off as well. Having graduated from the high-end exclusive club bookings of the ‘60s, like The Copa and The Coconut Grove, superstars The Supremes, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye were now ready for an even greater challenge. First up was Diana Ross and the Supremes. The ladies set box office records at The Forum (18,000 seating capacity) in Los Angeles. Subsequently, The Temptations would break that record. But nothing quite compared to the sensational stint set by the new Motown superstars, The Jackson 5. The Jackson 5 would break the box office records set by both of their labelmates!
By the time the young men hit that stage on June 20, 1970, they had already sold 10 million albums globally with their debut album, ‘Diana Ross Presents….’ and the followup ‘ABC’ album. They could boast about having three #1 singles (and impressive B-side airplay with both “Who’s Lovin’ You”, the flip side of “I Want You Back”, and “I Found That Girl”, the flip of “The Love You Save”). With the maturation and pseudo-independence of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, all tackling much more challenging, and ultimately, rewarding album projects, The Jackson 5 became the label’s top priority.
Led by a charismatic young man, Michael, the guys had already been through the Motown School of Artist Development. They had toured prior to being signed to Motown. They played The Apollo in 1967, winning the celebrated Amateur Night competition. Still, Berry commandeered the top label songwriters (labeling them “The Corporation” which included the CEO himself Berry Gordy, Alphonzo Mizell, Deke Richards and Freddie Perrin). Suzanne de Passe, Berry’s young up and coming protégé, became the Jackson 5’s personal guide. Under her tutelage, they perfected precision stage presence, choreography and costume styling.
Diana Ross’ leverage, as the label’s biggest superstar, was used to introduce the guys to the entertainment world. (History acknowledges that both Gladys Knight and Bobby Taylor first made Berry aware of their Apollo Theatre performances). The word “Presents” in their debut album title, somehow became misinterpreted as “discovered”, fueling endless discussions through the years. Diana Ross was in the audience when the album was recorded and Michael paid homage to her.
So when the band was introduced at The Forum that evening, they were more than ready. They boldly opened with their first #1 smash, “I Want You Back”. Michael shined, the band was tight and despite the Beatlemania-like hysteria from the audience, the music came through loud and clear. Delving into their debut album, the guys drove the frenzy with exciting versions of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and most impressively, “Who’s Lovin’ You”. It had always been the tradition at Motown to have their core artists record versions of some of the strongest Jobete copyrights. “Who’s Lovin’ You”, originally written and recorded by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, quickly became associated with Michael and his brothers. It was quite amazing that a young 11 year-old lad could convincingly capture the passion of this minor classic.
With only a couple of albums under their belt, they rounded out the repertoire with covers of hits of the day like “There Was a Time” by James Brown. Michael had perfected Brown’s choreography and funkiness. (When they first auditioned for Motown, Michael did a stunning version of Brown’s “I Feel Good”) You can hear the crowd roaring as Michael probably was doing his on-point rendition of Brown’s song. The band also had the opportunity to show their musicianship during an extended jam. They also rocked out on Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright”, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again”, The Isley Bros.’ “It’s Your Thing”, Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” and Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t Know Why I Love You” which they had also recorded for their ‘ABC’ album. The cover songs really allowed the group to stretch out and show they were as good in a live performance as they were in the studio.
“ABC” kept the energy moving at a near breakneck pace. You could almost hear the youthfulness in the audiences’ screams. Jermaine and Michael trade off on lead vocals, however, you still have to marvel at the promise and budding talent of one, Michael Joe Jackson.
To round out the first concert, the audience was treated to a rousing version of their third #1 smash, “The Love You Save”. The single was released exactly a month before the recording of their concert at The Forum. And once again, they gave the audience a hot version as if they had been performing it for most of their short life as superstars. Jermaine’s bass playing was pronounced and drove the song. At the end, the audience sang a brief a capella version of “The Love You Save”. There was no doubt that The Jackson 5 gave their fans everything they wanted and more.
On the second disc, both Michael and Jermaine took the spotlight individually, and sang songs from their solo albums. The concert was rounded out with more of The Jackson 5’s hit singles.
About two years later on August 26, 1972, the guys returned to The Forum for another string of sold out concerts. What made the recording of that show special was the inclusion of rare live versions of Michael’s early solo hits like “Got To Be There” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are”. The liner notes included with this album dubbed the evening almost “a greatest hits show”. Jermaine also got a chance to showcase his lead vocals on some of his earlier solo work. Probably the most famous of those songs would be “I Found That Girl” which was the B-side of “The Love You Save”. His heartthrob status guaranteed that he would get his share of applause and fans. There was a fun interplay between Jermaine and Jackie adding ad libs and soulful vocal nuances. “I Found That Girl” received a lot of airplay and in many ways, it was a hit in its own right, though it was B-side. He did a respectable, if not stirring version of “That’s How Love Goes”.
But, there was no doubt who the star of the show was. Along with the aforementioned “Got To Be There” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, Michael really dug into his first couple of solo albums. Included in his set were his #1 single, “Ben”, and album tracks like his covers of “Rockin’ Robin”, “You’ve Got a Friend” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. There can be so much focus on Michael’s ability to dance and entertain that we forget that he was also a great singer. He took a very deliberate approach to “Ain’t No Sunshine” and delivers a deeply impassioned vocal performance. The spoken word piece he delivers before he begins to sing sounds like something someone a couple of decades older than he was at the time, would say. Once again, you sit in wonderment that he was so young, yet definitely an old soul. The song ends with a surprisingly effective drum solo before Michael yells out a riveting ending. On “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, he captures all the hypertension of the lyric, while closely approximating the original version.
Jermaine’s solo turn included his single, “Daddy’s Home” and a fairly straightforward cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. It is pretty clear though that he comes up a little short, next to Michael. His best performance possibly comes from “I’m So Happy”, another B-side that got a degree of visibility.
The brothers come together on their latter day singles, the beautiful “Never Can Say Goodbye”, the frantic “Goin’ Back to Indiana” and the light and airy, “Looking Through the Window”. One of the showstoppers was their smash, “I’ll Be There”. Though Berry would later miss the boat by forbidding them to showcase their writing and producing skills, it was undeniable that with songs like “I’ll Be There”, they had top-notch material. Michael once again stole the spotlight from the group with an exciting performance.
These two concerts demonstrate why The Jackson 5 instantly became a global sensation. Michael’s talent was undeniable. In some ways, one wonders how he suppressed himself , for as long as he did, within the confines of a group. Michael’s Motown solo albums have attained a rather strange place in musical history. In some career retrospectives, sometimes they are not even included. It is as if it all began with ‘Off the Wall’. Jermaine would go on to make a brilliant album with L.A. and Babyface that, for political reasons, never saw the light of day. Of course, The Jackson 5 would morph into The Jacksons. After a couple of albums working with Gamble & Huff and their camp, they finally were artistically freed, resulting in the minor masterpiece, ‘Destiny’.
Included on both discs, are two separate versions of “Mama’s Pearl”.
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry. Kirk can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.