THE FIRST ever visit of Motown's Jackson Five is something which numerous people won't forget in a hurry: the staff at the hotels that the group used, at the airports, and at Wembley Pool and the other theatres the group played at during their brief time here, if only because of the number of fans that turned out to see them. With the attendant publicity, what with weeny-boppers and all, it would be easy to dismiss the group as the 'new' Beatles in terms of the sheer hysteria they created, but when it all boils down to it, just how good are The Jackson Five? After all that's been written and said about them since they first hit with 'I Want You Back', it was a question that must have been uppermost in many minds. Well, taking everything (particularly their ages) into consideration, the Jacksons are exactly what we'd been told to expect: talented, slick, and surprisingly professional and polished – but for all that, purveyors of either good pop music, or depending on how you look at it, bubblegum soul! Perhaps it's wrong to bring the word 'soul' into it at all, because no one could honestly claim that it's been an ingredient as such of anything the group have ever done. Not to say they don't put a lot into what they do – but because they happen to be black surely doesn't make them any more soulful than anyone else. Indeed, the group can easily lay claim to be the leading black pop group and judging them as such they are very good indeed – but they hardly bear some of the comparisons that have been made with some top soul groups.
Apart from any other consideration they draw a completely different audience – when has anyone ever witnessed the kind of scenes we did at Wembley for any other black act? It would probably be true to say, too, that no one fully expected the reaction there was to the group's visit – after all, they have had their share of chart failures here. But they've always had a following: did anyone think it was as big as it turned out to be?
From how the audiences reacted at Wembley, no one could possibly dispute that the group have far more fans than anyone had ever given them credit for! Proceedings at the jam-packed Pool on Sunday, November 12, were severely marred by the long wait everyone had to endure in pouring rain until the entrances were opened – the delay was possibly due to the time it took to empty the vast arena from the hastily-organized first house. When the magical moment did come, all hell broke loose and it's a miracle that there weren't literally hundreds of accidents.
It was, in some ways, far worse than any football crowd and the fact that the average age must have been around fourteen or fifteen didn't help much. When eventually the show opened late, every mention of The J5 was met with the kind of deafening roar that made the wholes place shake and that's more or less how it went all evening. Local group The Orange Rainbow started off with 'Shaft' and 'Backstabbers' before serving as backing group for MoWest's four Sisters Love. The former team of Raelets did not meet the kind of response they deserved but since they have yet to become established here, that's hardly surprising
Throughout their act, the girls displayed a remarkable sense of showmanship and timing as well as some exceptionally fine vocal teamwork. Kicking off with 'Now Is The Time', they proceeded with a soulful 'Giving Up' before their much-appreciated funky 'Mr. Fix It Man' which has given the girls some degree of success here, particularly amongst disco-goers. Unfortunately, their version of 'Do What You Gotta Do' seemed pretty weak, but they made up for it with an up-tempo 'Come Get It, I Got It' (the last Raelets single).
Their closer was the exceptionally soulful 'Are You Lonely', which just missed being an American hit for the group on A&M, just prior to joining MoWest. And, boy, can those girls sing! Their harmonies are really excellent and particular credit should go to Vermyetta Royster whose wailing, gutsy voice was particularly stunning.
Unfortunately, the soulful ladies did not get the reaction they earned with their hard work, but perhaps, all things considered, it may have been the wrong kind of bill for them. There could be no question, however, about Junior Walker's place as special guest of the evening. Supported by his All Stars, the man had the vast audience with him every step of the way. Whether he played and sang his haunting 'What Does It Take' or equally mellow 'These Eyes' or whether he had the crowd clapping and singing along to the strains of 'How Sweet It Is', Junior simply could do no wrong.
His act should have ended with 'I'm Losing You' which he did insist was the last number, but he was forced to continue with his recent smash, 'Walk In The Night'. Yet again, he insisted that 'Shotgun' be the absolute closer and he demonstrated his ability on the sax by playing it literally on the stage!
What then followed is open to question: was it planned or did the organizers of the show have genuine trouble trying to get him to conclude his act? Nobody seemed quite sure, but he was yanked up onto his feet to finally finish off his act. From the reaction he got from the audience, they would have gladly listened to more – but by now, time was rolling around, and the big moment was not too far away.
When the Jacksons' drummer came out on stage, the whole place fell apart; then, when the boys themselves appeared, the entire crowd hollered till you couldn't hear yourself think. Looking just as smart as you'd expect, the group launched into a number presumably entitled 'Doing Our Thing'. Each separate offering met with the same roar of approval and the flashes of slick choreography that permeated the act also met with instant acceptance.
It was left to Michael and Jermaine to draw some of the biggest screams whenever either sung solo or spoke. Naturally, the group sung their major hits, 'I Want You Back', 'A.B.C.' and 'I'll Be There' before giving way to some humour. They needn't really have sung a note, if they'd only done 'Humpty Dumpty' it would have been enough for the audience – just their presence sufficed. 'Going Back to Indiana' was followed by our introduction to ten-year old Randy who plays the congas – and he certainly can play. Indeed, whatever criticisms can be levelled at the group, no one can possibly claim they are not good at what they do – Tito and Jermaine are fine guitarists whilst Jackie and Marlon really harmonize and move well, leaving Michael to shine out vocally. But then, all that vocal talent doesn't lie just with him as Jermaine proved on 'I Think I've Found That Girl'.
The Golden oldie, 'Daddy's Home' was a fine group effort and Michael's talent was evident on his own solo hit, 'Ben'. Changing the pace, the group offered 'Rockin' Robin' and their latest hit, 'Looking Through The Windows' before Jermaine insisted on getting in his own plug for his solo album and single, 'That's How Love Goes' which he performed well.
It's Michael that really draws the screams though, and his 'Ain't No Sunshine' floored the crowd. He certainly has a fine professional stance and manner and one can't help but wonder what the group will be like in years to come, seeing how together they are now.
'Never Can Say Goodbye' was a welcome item in the programme though it seemed somewhat spoiled by the instrumental break of 'Walk on By' a la Isaac Hayes. The audience lapped up every minute though and when the end came with 'The Love You Save', the crowd were really enjoying themselves.
The end came rather abruptly and although there were the expected calls for more, the group did not return. So that was it – a phenomenon had come and gone. It's easy to see what all the fuss is about – the group have talent and polish and by no means does their youth make them amateurs at what they do.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.