It seems amazing that the singer who made the biggest impact on the world of music in 1970 would still be making headlines until his premature death on June 25, 2009.
But Michael Jackson, the 11-year-old lead-singer of The Jackson Five, was no ordinary pop star.
During that first year with Motown Records, The Jackson Five spent 13 weeks at number one on the US singles charts and 49 weeks in the UK top 10 with their first four records. ‘I Want You Back’, ‘ABC’ (their only hit that year in Australia, peaking at number 14), ‘The Love You Save’, and ‘I’ll Be There’ sold more than 15 million copies and each of their three albums were top 10 in the US, re-establishing the Tamla Motown company as the voice of the nation.
And it was all via and African American group that appeared to be breaking the slick Motown image with their hippy clothes and Afro hair styles.
In 1970, the group consisted of 19-year-old Sigmund Jackson (Jackie), Toraino (Tito) aged 17, 16-year-old Jermaine, Marlon, 13, and Michael. But the three eldest brothers had been performing since the early 60s. Known as The Jackson Family, their three-part harmonies were augmented by cousins Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer (Their blood relationship to the family has been questioned in some reports of the group’s history).
They were managed by their father Joe, who once played guitar with The Falcons, a Detroit R&B band that at one time or another featured as lead singers Eddie Floyd, Levi Stubbs’ brother Joe, and a teenage Wilson Pickett.
As The Jackson Family, the band was making a living playing clubs and bars around their hometown of Gary, Indiana. Then, in 1964, Marlon and Michael, then aged seven and five, where judged ready to enter show business and joined the vocal line-up, relegating their ‘cousins’ to pianist and drummer.
The band’s name was changed to The Jackson Five and they started to establish a fan base, winning numerous talent contests.
Rumour has it that Diana Ross discovered The Jackson Five but in reality the credit goes to Gladys Knight. In 1967 they supported her and The Pips at a concert in Indiana, and she wrote to famous Motown record label owner Berry Gordy suggesting he check them out.
The following year they won Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre in New York and released an unsuccessful single ‘Big Boy’. Their performance there was witnessed by another Motown band, Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, who also recommended them to Gordy.
In June 1969, The Jackson Five were on the bill for a fund raising concert for the Mayor of Gary and in attendance was Diana Ross and Gordy, who was sufficiently impressed to sign them on the spot. Within weeks the whole family had moved to California for grooming and rehearsals and in October 1969 they gave their first live performance as a Motown act. This was at The Hollywood Palace as special guests of head-liners Diana Ross & The Supremes.
This is where the confusion about their discovery came from, a mix-up compounded by their first album being called Diana Ross Presents The Jackson Five, with the Motown label thinking that they needed this glamour-by-association to give them a leg-up.
The Motown arrangement wasn’t to last, however.
Despite a law-suit from Gordy, the group – minus Jermaine (who was Gordy’s son-in-law at the time) but with the addition of Randy – moved to Columbia’s Epic Label in 1975.
They had their biggest hit in Australia in 1978, with ‘Blame it On the Boogie’ peaking at number 4.