4. "I'll Be There"
Third Album, 1970
"Just look over your shoulders, honey!" Jackson declares midway through "I'll Be There," misquoting another Motown hit, the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There." It's a telling mistake that somehow makes his performance even greater – still 11 years old when the song was recorded, he was singing about emotions he couldn't possibly have experienced, with the power and fire of a man who'd lived several lifetimes. Extensively rewritten from a demo by the recording's bassist, Bob West, with a vocal arrangement by Willie Hutch (later a star in his own right), "I'll Be There" also features Jermaine Jackson tearing it up on the bridge ("I'll be there to comfort you. . . . "). Their fourth consecutive Number One hit and Motown's bestselling single up to that point, "I'll Be There" showed that the Jackson 5's gifts ran much deeper than the giddy fun of their earlier hits, and revealed the gospel roots that anchored their art. In Moonwalk, Jackson called it "our real breakthrough song; it was the one that said, 'We're here to stay.' "