FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO today, the Jackson 5 hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “I Want You Back,” the first of four straight chart-topping singles for the all-brother boy band from Gary, Indiana.
When first informed of the funk-pop group featuring eleven-year-old lead singer Michael Jackson, Motown boss Berry Gordy had grumbled, “I hate kid groups.” He changed his mind after hearing brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael. Good move: The Jackson 5 injected new life into Gordy’s slumping record company.
The first of the Jackson 5 hits, “I Want You Back,” proved the perfect tune to kick-start their career, and its success was no accident. Gordy, one of the song’s co-writers, reportedly spent more time on that single than any other tune he’d been involved with.
The result was a song that Don Waller, author of 1985’s The Motown Story, called “probably the best pop record ever made.” “The record just explodes off your turntable,” Waller said. “I Want You Back” reached number one on January 31, 1970, ending the four-week reign of B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”
Next for the Jackson 5: “ABC,” which spent two weeks at number one; “The Love You Save,” another two-week chart-topper; and “I’ll Be There,” number one for five weeks.
Two other Jackson 5 singles — 1971’s “Mama’s Pearl” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” — reached number two, and the band recorded four top-10 albums from 1969’s Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5 to 1972’s Lookin’ Through The Windows. They also appeared on a popular Saturday Morning cartoon show that aired for two years beginning in 1971.
When Michael’s solo career took precedence over his work with his brothers, he soared and the J-5 swooned. In the 1980s, the King of Pop recorded two masterpiece albums, Off The Wall and Thriller. The Jackson 5 made one last shout with 1984’s “State of Shock,” a number-three single.