The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Back Tracks: Michael Jackson Part 1 – The Motown Years

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With Friday being the year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, The Second Disc would be at fault for not commemorating The King of Pop’s recording career and its representation through catalogue preservation. But to quote a dusty outtake from The Jackson 5, we’re gonna change our style.

Your humble correspondent cannot possibly say anything about Jackson’s career that hasn’t already been said in the year since he passed away. There are plenty of other resources for such a thing – I recommend Popdose’s ongoing multi-part retrospective – but here will be simply devoted to the work as it has been presented for reissue and remaster enthusiasts.

Obviously, for someone with as long and prolific a career as Jackson’s, this is going to be a long set. Today presents the Jacksons’ reissues on Motown, and tomorrow will showcase the Epic years as well as a review of the brand-new J5 Live at The Forum from Hip-o Select.

Get it together and hit the jump for a tidal wave of Jacksonmania!

The core Jackson 5 LPs (Motown, 1969-1975 – reissued 2001/2010)

Since Motown valued most of its acts for their singles (at least until Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye raised the bar in the beginning of the ’70s), it’s rather interesting to note that the J5 album catalogue has always been pretty common on CD. Most of the records were pressed onto disc early in the days of compact discs, and all of them were remastered in 2001 (a big comeback year for Jackson, as tomorrow’s post will further detail). For that go-round, they were issued in pairs: Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969) and ABC (1970); Third Album (1970) with Maybe Tomorrow (1971); the tie-in LP to the Goin’ Back to Indiana TV special (1971) with Lookin’ Through the Windows (1972); Skywriter and Get It Together (1973) and Dancing Machine (1974) and Moving Violation (1975).

Each set had new (admittedly generic) cover art, but preserved the original liner notes alongside new essays. Each disc also had a bonus track or two; usually a previously-released outtake (more info below) or non-LP B-side (like the “Sugar Daddy”/”I’m So Happy” single, released to promote the 1971 Greatest Hits record). Collectors beware, though: early pressings of the Skywriter/Get It Together disc had a mastering error that was quickly corrected.

In 2010, everything from Goin’ Back to Indiana onward was pressed onto CD on their own, keeping the bonus tracks and preserving the original album artwork. (For most of them, it was also their premiere release on standalone CD.) Today, those issues are easier to find than the 2001 two-fers, which fetch high prices on the secondary market.

The Jackson 5 Christmas Album (Motown, 1970 – reissued 2003/2009)

Considering that this holiday record was the third J5 LP released in 1970, it’s a relief to note that this is about as much fun as a Christmas record can get. Christmas standards and Motown-penned tunes (“Give Love on Christmas Day,” “Someday at Christmas”) are given a master’s touch by producer Hal Davis. The album became part of Universal’s “20th Century Masters” series in 2003, adding a solo Michael tune from a Motown Christmas compilation (“Little Christmas Tree”); 2009’s Ultimate Christmas Collection further added a few remixes and snippets from a promo LP that featured the Jacksons sending Christmas greetings to the listener. In this form, The Jackson 5 Christmas Album looks to remain a holiday staple.

The MJ solo LPs (Motown, 1971-1975)

Michael of course struck out on his own on Motown, releasing Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music & Me (1973) and Forever, Michael (1975). They’re increasingly filler-y, but some of these tracks have a power that resounds to this day, from the early singles (“Got to Be There,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” “Ben”) to the last few cuts (“One Day in Your Life”). Only a handful of the albums were ever released on CD, but they were all compiled onto another set last year (keep reading, we’ll get to it yet).

In Japan! (JVC, 1974 – reissued Hip-o Select, 2004)

The only live album released during the band’s lifespan (and only in Japan, naturally) is a bit of a dud. Those expecting the hits – or at least tracks popularized by the J5 – will largely be disappointed; outside of the infamous “I Want You Back/ABC/The Love You Save” medley and “Never Can Say Goodbye,” the setlist is mostly Motown covers (“Superstition,” “Ain’t That Peculiar”) and solo turns for Michael (“Ben,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are”) and Jermaine (“Daddy’s Home,” “That’s How Love Goes”). Adding to the problems are the sterile mix of the record and Michael’s full-fledged case of puberty, which stretched his voice thinly. Despite its shortcomings, it became a neat little curio when Hip-o Select put it on CD, complete with the original Japanese liner notes.

Joyful Jukebox Music (Motown, 1976) / Boogie (Natural Resources, 1979 – both reissued Hip-o Select, 2004)

Ah, the famed Motown vaults. Is it a true, dusty warehouse of unreleased master gems or the savviest marketing ploy from a label famous for them? Only a few have the answer, but that vault has been spitting out J5 rarities every now and again, starting almost before the ink dried on The Jacksons’ contract with Epic Records. Joyful Jukebox Music was a hodgepodge of outtakes spanning the group’s whole career, but it was all unreleased material. Boogie, by contrast, split vault cuts with a handful of hits (“ABC,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Dancing Machine”). In 2004, Hip-o Select paired the sets up with the full master of fan favorite “Hum Along and Dance” for a now-out-of-print set that commands some of the highest prices for a J5 release ($129 and up for the CD, versus $13 and up for the used Joyful Jukebox LP).

The Jackson 5 Anthology / Gold (Motown, 1976 – reissued 1986/2000/2004)

The original Anthology set was a three-record compilation of the J5’s best hits and album tracks meant to entice new fans now that the boys weren’t on Motown anymore. The name and idea would be reused twice. The first time was on a slightly-reshuffled two-CD set in 1986. Anthology reappeared in the new millennium, but with a collector’s eye; the 2000 set included all the hits and the best album cuts with both of the J5’s non-LP B-sides (“I’m So Happy,” “Love Song”) and a few then-unreleased-on-CD rarities (a live cut from In Japan! and another live cut from the long-out-of-print Motown Live at The Hollywood Palace compilation).

Farewell My Summer Love (Motown, 1984)

Another rarities clearinghouse, this one dealing with Michael’s solo years (and at the height of Thriller-mania – Motown is nothing if not timely). Bizarrely, these completed tracks were given a heap of overdubs to sound modern. Over time, the entire track list would be released in their original form. The title track is one of Jackson’s best solo for the label.

Looking Back to Yesterday: Never-Before-Released Masters (Motown, 1986)

On this set, MJ and J5 rarities are present, free of any ridiculous overdubs. Some killer covers abound (“I Was Made to Love Her,” “I Hear a Symphony,” “Lonely Teardrops”) as well as a great original tune, “If’n I Was God,” penned by Walt Disney favorites Richard and Robert Sherman.

Anthology: The Best of Michael Jackson (Motown, 1987/1995)

Another generic Motown CD hits-and-deep-cuts compilation that was properly expanded at the height of the CD reissue craze, the 1995 version added a couple of the famed original mixes from Farewell My Summer Love, their premiere release anywhere.

The Original Soul of Michael Jackson (Motown, 1987)

Released opposite Bad, Original Soul seemed a harmless enough compilation (with another vault cut, “Twenty-Five Miles”) until one realized that there were a few remixes that are as dated as they come. The morbidly curious can seek the remixes out easily; the set was released on iTunes last year.

Soulsation! / The Ultimate Collection (Motown, 1995)

The mid-’90s proved to be a windfall for Motown’s compilations and box sets, as these releases proved. Soulsation! was a 25th anniversary box set (released a year later than the actual anniversary, of course) that took three discs of hits and album tracks and threw in another excellent disc of rarities (most of which do a good job of eclipsing the material on Joyful Jukebox Music or Boogie) and packed it in a colorful set with some of the best writing on the band (by master biographer David Ritz). A more compact version was released not long afterward; The Ultimate Collection is the best single-disc offering of the J5 (plus a few key tracks by Michael and Jermaine), with Soulsation‘s “It’s Your Thing” as a bonus track.

The Jacksons Story / Number 1’s (Hip-o/UTV, 2004/2007)

The only thing remarkable about this compilation is that it’s the most comprehensive single-disc set that covers both The Jackson 5 on Motown and The Jacksons on Epic. As such, it’s a breezy overview that spans from “I Want You Back” to “Billie Jean.” Universal gave it some eco-friendly packaging in 2007 for its Number 1’s product line.

Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (Hip-o Select, 2009)

This three-disc box set collected all of Michael’s solo records, the Farewell My Summer Love and Looking Back to Yesterday sets, and all the original mixes of the Farewell tunes in a beautiful book-styled case. It also had some of the worst timing; released in June as a commemoration on the eve of Jackson’s O2 Arena tour, it became a memorial to the fallen King of Pop, and became one of the few Hip-o Select titles to see mass release (stores from FYE to a local music shop in Bermuda – I’m not kidding – stocked this set.)

The Stripped Mixes / The Remix Suite (Motown, 2009)

When Michael Jackson died last year, Motown reshuffled its priorities to celebrate The King of Pop as much as possible. To some, this may have looked crass, and unfortunately these two releases are Exhibits A and B to that perception. Stripped would have been a good idea any other time – acoustic remixes of J5 and solo hits – but it seemed a bit silly coming out less than a month after Jackson had passed. The Remix Suite, released as four digital EPs and a physical compilation in October, fared even worse; while some of the tracks were inspired flyovers of the originals (including decent mixes by Salaam Remi, Frankie Knuckles, Dmitri from Paris and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182), too many of them were superfluous – and the best cuts didn’t necessarily end up on the final CD.

I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters (Motown, 2009)

After a few cash-ins, Motown revealed an ace up their sleeve. Wisely marketed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the group, I Want You Back! took 11 tracks that may have been the best of the vault. “That’s How Love Is” and “Love Comes in Different Flavors” saw The Corporation producing to the fullest, “Love Call” and “Listen I’ll Tell You How” showcase Michael at the apex of his youthful vocal power and “Buttercup” finally lifts the curtain on the fabled Jacksons sessions with Stevie Wonder in the producer’s chair. Throw in a few interesting alternates (“ABC” and “Dancing Machine”) and some live cuts recorded for The Flip Wilson Show and you’ve got what may be the best set of Jacksonian rarities anyone’s put out yet.

J5 Live at The Forum (Hip-o Select, 2010)

Why was there never any good J5 live material released in the ’70s? Whatever the reason, that gap has finally been filled: this brand-new set compiles two shows at L.A.’s Forum – a record-breaking set from 1970 and an equally-killer set from 1972. Suffice it to say that you’ve never quite heard The 5 like this. (I don’t want to spoil too much; the full review will be up tomorrow.)

Written by Mike Duquette

June 24, 2010 at 12:25

2 Responses

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  1. […] a comment » After poring through Michael Jackson’s Motown years, we commemorate the year anniversary of his passing with a look at the material he recorded as an […]

  2. […] the 40th anniversary of the J5′s first single, which was true enough). Surprisingly, after a great but ill-timed box set collecting Jackson’s solo albums and a series of not-entir…, I Want You Back! was a fitting tribute to the first great period of Jackson’s long career, […]

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