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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Jacksons: We want you back
The Jacksons
The Jacksons with Michael (centre) at Heathrow in 1979
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

Motown records called itself "the sound of young America" - and they didn't come much younger than the Jackson 5.

The youngest brother Michael was only 11 years old when the group burst onto the scene in 1969 with I Want You Back - a number one in the US and a number two in the UK the following year.

Our uncles didn't have a childhood

Taj, son of Tito Jackson
The Jackson 5 went on to become a show business phenomenon, though some purists might say that the group never surpassed this pop classic.

It is still electrifying 22 years later, and an instant floor-filler.

Its unique signature is its stop-start intro, which snakes round some jazzy chord changes before Michael's voice starts telling its tale of pre-teenage heartbreak.


The song was written by a team of Motown staff writers called The Corporation TM - Freddie Perren, Fonce Mizell, Deke Richards and label boss Berry Gordy.

The song returned to the UK charts in 1988 - the year that it was also sampled in Eric B and Rakim's I Know You Got Soul - emphasising its timeless appeal.

Michael Jackson
Michael: Just 11 when Jackson 5 had first hit
If I Want You Back made the Jackson 5 into stars it was, as usual, no overnight success story.

In the 1960s the brothers Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Jermaine and Michael were pushed by their parents into talent competitions and then into supporting soul acts on the live circuit - where they learned stagecraft from the likes of James Brown, The Temptations and Gladys Knight.

It is said that Gladys Knight introduced them to Motown records.


The fruits of their tough apprenticeship can be seen in film of the group playing the early singles like ABC - another classic penned by The Corporation TM.

Live, Michael Jackson overflowed with an energy and optimism that subsequent events have rendered quite poignant.

And he could already dance like no-one else on the planet.

In the US the Jackson 5 had 16 top 40 singles between 1969 and 1975, and three top five LPs in 1970 alone.

Solo career

In the mid-1970s their Motown contract ended and Epic Records picked them up - necessitating a name change to The Jacksons as Motown owned the Jackson 5 title.

Michael Jackson in Thriller
Thriller was celebrated for its classic video
Another brother, Randy, replaced Jermaine, but for a while it seemed that the success story would continue uninterrupted - despite Michael's increasingly high-profile solo career.

In fact the Jacksons' biggest hits in the 70s were songs so identified with Michael that many forget that they were released by the group - Blame It On The Boogie and Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).

Michael's career finally eclipsed his brothers' with the LP Thriller - which, with 47 million sales since 1982, is the biggest selling album ever made.

A tour in 1986 proved to be the group's swansong.

The tensions in the group also became increasingly obvious - to be expected in any family, perhaps, but exacerbated by the show business pressure-cooker in which the boys had grown up.

Michael Jackson
At 43 Michael has spent a quarter of a century in showbiz
Tito's son Taj went on record as observing: "Our uncles didn't have a childhood."

Which may be true - but the brothers illuminated millions of other childhoods with some of the most infectious and joyous dance music ever made.

And they incubated the talent of one of the biggest creative talents in pop history, Michael Jackson - celebrated at Friday's tribute show at New York's Madison Square Gardens.

The second of the Michael Jackson tribute shows takes place on Monday evening.

And if the idea of Jackson organising his own tribute shows seems a little self-congratulatory, then it may be because, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, Michael has plenty to be immodest about.

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