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“The Love You Save”: Remembering Jackson 5-Mania

By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Monday, August 29, 2016.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Michael Jackson, we can look back on the Jackson Five’s first full-blown national tour as the signature act of the legendary Motown label -- and  the beginnings of a phenomenon known as Jackson 5-Mania.  

The five brothers from Gary, Indiana known as the Jackson 5, were no strangers to touring—their father Joe Jackson had the boys toiling on the chitlin’ circuit since 1967, earning themselves a solid  reputation in the Midwest. The group’s fortunes began to change when they caught the attention of Motown artist Gladys Knight at a Amateur Night performance at the Apollo theater.  When the group opened for Gladys Knight and the Pips and fellow Motown act Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers months later during the summer of 1968 at Chicago’s Regal Theater, Taylor, who would become their first producer at the label, arranged for an audition for the group at Motown’s Detroit offices.  The rest is history.  

The Jackson 5’s first Motown single “I Want You Back” was released in late 1969 and was at the top of the pop charts by the beginning of the of the new decade.  Despite the fact that Gordy wasn’t initially enamored with the group — he didn’t trust the long range potential  of child acts — the group’s second single and title track from their forthcoming second album ABC also hit number one on the pop charts in late April of 1970.  The single garnered attention because it knocked The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” (the title track from their farewell album) from the top spot.  In fact, the brothers from Gary, Indiana would do it again months later, when their third single, “The Love You Save” displaced the Beatles’ last number one-single, “The Long and Winding Road.”

Despite the popularity of the group, no one was quite prepared for the response that the group would get when they embarked on a national tour in May of 1970.  For example, when the group landed in Philadelphia for their opening date at the Philadelphia Civic Center, they were met by more than 3500 screaming fans; the group had to be escorted to and from their hotel by the Philadelphia police department.

By the time the group did back to back dates in San Francisco and Los Angeles in June, they had  appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (the most popular variety show of its time) and “The Love You Save” was riding up the charts. In some ways it was a perfect storm and despite his initial hesitancy, Gordy was ready to ride the wave with The Jackson 5.

Ike & Tina Turner opened for the group in San Francisco and veteran balladeer Jerry Butler and the Rare Earth (one of Motown’s most popular white groups) were the opening acts in Los Angeles.  Armed with their three hit records, The Jackson 5 performed for their new hometown fans at the then three-year-old Los Angeles Forum.   A decade before the Los Angeles Lakers would set records on the Forum’s basketball court, the Jackson Five’s one-night stand at the forum would attract nearly 19,000 fans and gross more than $105,000, which was a record at the time. Thousands of more fans were turned away.  The black daily, The Los Angeles Sentinel perhaps captured the essence of all of the excitement running an article days before the concert about a group of black youth who sold lemonade in order to make enough money to go to the concert (“Buy Our Lemonade and Help Us See The Jackson 5”).

The Forum concert is featured on Live at the Forum, a release by Hip-O-Select that includes the June 1970 concert and the Jackson 5’s return engagement at the Forum in August of 1972.  The concerts provide neat bookends to a period of unprecedented popularity for a Black recording group.  Though it did not have the lasting effect of Beatlemania, the two year period that marked the peak of popularity of the Jackson Five would set a tone for the music industry for years to come.

Not only did the Jackson 5's success suggest that youth culture could sustain a band in the marketplace — as Rolling Stone’s Vince Aletti noted in November of 1970, the average age of the group’s fans, 15, was roughly the same as that of the group — but they proved without a doubt that a Black act could inspire such other-worldly excitement.  Jackson 5-Mania, very much laid the groundwork for Michael Jackson’s unparalleled success in the 1980s.

When The Jackson 5 resumed their national tour in the autumn of 1970, setting box office records in Boston, Cincinnati and Memphis, before setting down at New York’s Madison Square Garden, their song “I’ll Be There” from their appropriately titled Third Album (released a month before the tour resumed), was rising to the top of the charts. By that point the Motown promotional machine was in full attack mode.  By year’s end the group earned four straight number one singles (at the time unprecedented for a “new” group) and released four albums between December of 1969 and December of 1970.  To put Jackson 5-Mania into some perspective, their fourth album release, the (just-in-time for) Jackson Five Christmas Album, topped the album pop charts and sold 3.5 million copies.

Motown used the label’s formidable brand to establish a Jackson Five brand.  While the group toured profusely during 1971, releasing their fourth studio album Maybe Tomorrow in April of that year, Motown was busy planning  the next phase of their commercial assault. Just as the new school-year began in the fall of 1971, Motown produced a live television special, Goin’ Back to Indiana, which featured appearances by Bill Cosby, Diana Ross and Bobby Darin. The soundtrack from the show was released in late September of 1971 and featured a re-working of Isaac Hayes’s version of “Walk On By” (one of the tour’s staples) that was later sampled on Jay Z’s S. Carter Mixtape.  (Hayes returned the favor by recording a version of the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye”).  

A week after the broadcast of Goin’ Back to Indiana, The Jackson 5ive cartoon debuted on ABC.  Jackson 5-Mania was in full-effect.  The group closed the year with the holiday release of their Greatest Hits, which included the new single “Sugar Daddy” which peaked at #10 on the pop charts.

The Jackson Five brand was beginning to show fatigue in 1972 and Motown was already planning its exit strategy.  Even as The Jackson 5ive cartoon hit the airwaves, the label was preparing Michael’s solo debut Got to Be There, which was released in January of 1972.  Though Michael was clearly the star of the group, it was also apparent that the teen-age Jermaine was the group’s sex symbol.  A fine singer in his own right, Jermaine’s cover of Shep and the Limelite’s Doo-Wop classic “Daddy’s Home” was a top-10 pop single in the spring of 1972.  

With Jackson 5-Mania on the wane, the Jackson Five released only Looking Through the Windows in 1972 and followed up with Skywriter and Get It Together in 1973.  None of the recordings captured any of the urgency and bubblegum pop genius of their early recordings, many of which were written and produced by The Corporation, a collective of young songwriters and producers including Freddie Perren, who would later produce “I Will Survive” for Gloria Gaynor  and Alphonso Mizell, who would pair with his brother Larry and produce several Jazz fusion classics for Donald Byrd (“Think Twice”) and Bobbi Humphrey.  

The Jackson 5'’s last top-10 single for Motown was largely an accident.  When DJs began playing the Get It Together album cut “Dancing Machine,” Motown quickly released a streamlined version of the song that was the title track of their 1974 album.  The song peaked at #2 on the pop charts and with the popularity of The Robot dance craze, it gave an early inkling of the kind of success that Michael would have as an all-around entertainer in the next decade.

Though Michael’s success with Thriller, dwarfed many of the achievements of the Jackson-Mania era, the reality is that the Jackson 5’s success inspired many copy cats, like the “One Bad Apple” era Osmond Brothers, and became the template for establishing several generations of boy bands including New Edition, New Kids on the Black, Boyz II Men, The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync.

Mark Anthony Neal is the author of several books including Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (NYU Press, 2016).  He is the host of the weekly video podcast Left of Black and curator of NewBlackMan (In Exile).  Neal is Professor of African + African-American Studies and Professor of English at Duke University.

“The Love You Save”: Remembering Jackson 5-Mania

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