23. "Never Can Say Goodbye"
Maybe Tomorrow, 1971
Looking back at the Jackson 5 era years later, Jackson said that his "three favorite songs from those days are 'Never Can Say Goodbye,' 'I'll Be There' and 'ABC.' " The man had good ears for the boy's best work. Written by Clifton Davis, who would perform it at Jackson's funeral in 2009, "Never" set heartbroken lyrics to a sparkling melody. Davis was worried that 11-year-old Michael might not understand the pain in the lyrics. "I recall him asking about one of the lines," Davis said. " 'What's this word mean, "anguish"?' he asked me. I explained it. He shrugged his shoulders and just sang the line 'There's that anguish and there's that doubt.' And I believed him." The single, buoyed by a dreamily baroque arrangement gilded with flute and chimes, reached Number Two on the Billboard chart instead of the Jackson 5's by-then-customary Number One. But as Jermaine Jackson recalled in his book You Are Not Alone, neither his dad, Joseph Jackson, "nor Mr. Gordy" complained. How could they?