The Jackson Five stand in the tradition of super young rock singers that goes back to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and, more recently. Little Stevie Wonder. Ever since the day that Frankie Lymon lied about his age to producer George Goldner and earned the right to sing lead on “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” there has been a prominent place in rock and roll for the very young, exceptional voice.
The Jackson Five range in age from 10 to 16. Michael Jackson, the magnificent lead singer, is a scant ten years old. Supplied with some good arrangements and instrumental backing from the Motown assembly line, the boys from Gary, Indiana, perform with an exuberance and flair which many of the older groups on the same label rarely achieve these days.
The hit single, “I Want You Back.” sets the tone for the whole album. Here is the most energetic piece of soul music since Aretha’s “Respect” A very urgent and rapid bass line supports the moaning and groaning of young Michael. The other Jackson’s hold their support and give every evidence that they too can sing. A surprising sidelight of the number comes when Michael defies twenty years of jazz-blues-rock propriety and puts the EEEE back in “baby.” Doesn’t he know that it’s pronounced “Bay bay”? His “Ooo Ooo Bay Bee” is brash to the point of subversion.
The rest of the album combines some authentically good songs with the inevitable Motown blueprint specials. “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” the same version recorded by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans in the early Sixties. comes off very well. “Stand,” done first by Sly and the Family Stone, captures the rhythmic complexity and poignant message of the original. Unlike the Temptations, who are falling all over themselves trying to copy Sly Stone with bombs like “Psychedelic Shack,” The Jackson Five seems capable of incorporating Stone’s new directions into their sound. The disappointments come with the hack Motown standards like “Standing In the Shadow of Love” and the ridiculous “My Cherie Amour.” In songs like these the whole burden rests on the glossy facade constructed by the Motown arrangers. It’s a nice trick, but the question remains, why not use the same ingenuity to come up with songs of real substance?
Given any kind of decent material at all, the Jackson Five should be able to give up many years of good, tight music. Who’s this “Diana Ross” anyway?