1970, Music

ABC (1970) by Jackson 5

This is a slickly produced Motown record with a lead vocalist who is entirely too young. I don’t necessarily blame the people alive in 1970 who celebrated this group for what happened with Michael Jackson, but did nobody stop and wonder about this? It was probably “cute”, right?

The songs are not great. “ABC” is by far the best thing here. I’ve never heard “The Love You Save” before but I’m shocked it was a #1 hit. “ABC” is likely the only song you’ll remember unless you were alive in 1970 and remember the other hit or the originals.

About those covers: like so many Motown albums, a Motown act is covering recent hits by other Motown acts. I don’t know why they did this but it’s a bad strategy. I don’t know every one of these songs well but the ones I do know, I know these versions are not marked improvements.

As anyone knows Motown knows, these songs are pretty slick. The break in “ABC” is one of the few times the polish drops away for something that feels a little closer to what I think of as soul. The arrangements aren’t anywhere near as over-the-top as some earlier Motown groups, but they’re still extremely precise and polished. This is just not my type of soul.

And there’s the elephant in the room: the group has a tween as one of the primary lead singer, singing love songs. (A brief aside about the lyrics: It’s not good that some of these lyrics recall other Jackson 5 hits, right?) We now know how troubled Michael Jackson was and we can surmise that at least some of that trouble comes from being turned into a professional musician when he was six or seven. I understand that we know a lot more about development – and the pressures of fame – than we did even 50 years ago, but it’s still sort of crazy to me that a child lead-singer was just a thing that was totally okay for people. (It was part of the appeal, I know.) Aside from the fact that it is disconcerting to hear an 11-year-old sing love songs that adults are the primary audience of, it’s also just a weird experience listening to this now, knowing what we know about Michael’s life.


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