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The Jacksons: The Best Non-Michael Songs

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Mon 26 June, 2017

As The Jacksons prepare to head to Blackpool without their much missed leader, Shaun Ponsonby considers the best of the rest of the iconic family. 

The Jacksons are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

As part of their celebrations – which included an appearance at Glastonbury last weekend – they are performing a special set at the races at Blackpool’s Limewire Festival on 25th August, alongside Will Smith, Jazzy Jeff and Pete Waterman’s Hit Factory.

The Jackson family are a rare clan. It is easy to forget their impact. It isn’t just their success; this was probably the first time black America were able to follow an entire family’s progress – that is the real reason they transcend.

Of course, Michael gets most of the attention, but I often feel like the rest of the family are underestimated as a result. Michael was obviously the most singularly talented, not to mention the most business minded. But the others have made more than decent contributions too.

Each of the Jacksons have now released solo projects; brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy (with his band Randy & The Gypsies), and sisters Rebbie, La Toya and, of course, Janet. Even Tito‘s kids formed a group called 3T and had multi-platinum success in the 90s.

Therefore, ahead of their performance at Limewire, I decided to present a Top Ten of the best Jackson songs that aren’t Michael.

10. Centipede [Rebbie, 1984]

The Jackson that nobody remembers! Rebbie is the oldest of the sibs, and despite appearing with the Jacksons on TV a number of times, she didn’t release her own material until she was 34 years old. 1984’s Centipede was written and produced by Michael (and features backing vocals from The Weather Girls, for some reason) hot off the heels of his world conquering Thriller success. It was a fair hit with a gloriously ridiculous video. It’s typical middle tier mid-80s material, but has maintained a campness that is weirdly engaging. Of note, the parent album features a version of Prince’s I Feel  For You that was released a week after Chaka Khan’s massive version of the song.

9. Don’t Go [Marlon, 1987]

Marlon may not be the most vocally talented of the brothers, but he is definitely one of the more charismatic, and it feels like this is what carries his performance. He also reveals a fairly unique dancing style in the songs’ video.

Marlon only made one solo album, 1987’s Baby Tonight. It was a pretty average record and it was never going to set the world on fire, but within it there are moments that at least match up to songs he had done with his brothers in the past. Don’t Go is one of them – a uniquely 80s soul ballad. With a different name attached, it might have been a bigger hit.

8. Get It Baby [Tito, 2017]

Tito is a bit of a dark horse. Often hanging out in the background and never one for dancing, and neither is he viewed as a particularly great guitarist, although his guitar solo in This Place Hotel would suggest otherwise, thank you very much. He has also been doing the rounds as a blues guitarist over the past few years.

It is therefore a surprise that his first ever solo album, released this year, doesn’t centre around the blues. Instead he joins up with Big Daddy Kane on the likes of Get It Baby, which sounds as if it could be on an album by The Jacksons in 2017. Until now he was the only Jackson without a solo album, surprising seeing as the group wouldn’t exist had Tito not been playing his dad’s guitar behind his back. Kudos, Tito. His sons did have some success though (see below).

7. Word To The Badd!! [Jermaine, 1991]

This is a song that was never meant to come out, but ended up being leaked. It was slightly controversial as it was a criticism of his more famous younger brother.

The story goes that label boss Clive Davis hired Babyface and L.A. Reid to produce Jermaine‘s then-upcoming solo album, before Michael tied them up for his own projects that ultimately never saw the light of day. An incensed Jermaine recorded Word To The Badd!! in response to what Jermaine saw as Michael deliberately sabotaging his career.

Some of the crazier MJ fans still hold a grudge against Jermaine for this, as if they have a right to intervene in family affairs. But the truth is, it’s a total jam, and you can feel Jermaine’s anger in it, in a way that Michael himself wouldn’t be able to articulate until 1995’s HIStory. Plus, it was a popular diss track before diss tracks were popular.

6. Sex Appeal [3T, 2004]

3T were the three sons of Tito Jackson (hence the name, 3T. Geddit?). They actually had a number of hits in the 90s and were tipped to be a major boyband. They were kind of in the R&B ballad category, but they scored four Top Ten hits in the UK all the same; Anything, I Need You, Gotta Be You and Why, the latter being a duet with Uncle Michael.

This comes from a few years later, and is significantly more obscure. It didn’t chart in most countries, although it was a number seven hit in Belgium of all places. A funky early 00s pop-R&B jam. Very of it’s time, but catchy as hell.

During the promotion of the album the faux outrage over their aunt Janet’s wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl, and it was the only subject people wanted to talk to them about (discussing your aunt’s breasts – not something you’d be too willing to discuss. Michael’s trial started not long after, and 3T were blacklisted until the outcome.

5. Nothin’ (That Compares 2 U) [The Jacksons, 1989]

The Jacksons only made one album without Michael. 1989’s 2300 Jackson Street – named after the actual address of the home in which they spent their early childhoods in Gary, Indiana. Produced by Babyface and LA Reid, it is a pretty middling affair, but there are a number of songs that are up to scratch.

Nothin’ (That Compares 2 U) actually updates The Jacksons’ sound for the New Jack Swing era pretty successfully. They touched upon the style before Michael did, and it is much more in line with what Janet was doing at the time with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It also meant it was much more successful on the R&B charts than on the pop charts. Had this been recorded by a younger group at the time – say New Edition or Boyz II Men, it likely would have been a much bigger hit.

4. Got Til It’s Gone [Janet, 1997]

Michael may have been bigger than Janet, but I would argue that Janet was the more interesting artist. For all his success, Michael never would have done something like this.

Got Til It’s Gone was based on a sample from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, and is far less polished than anything Janet – or, indeed, any of The Jacksons – had done before. It incorporates pop, R&B, folk, jazz, reggae, neo soul and features Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. On paper, none of these things work. In practice, it is sheer brilliance.

This brilliance is only extenuated by its video, in which Jackson portrays a lounge singer during the time of apartheid in South Africa. It depicts freedom and prosperity, opposing racial segregation and supremacy. It almost feels like a study of blackness, probably the most profound study of blackness explored by any of the Jackson siblings.

3. Wait [The Jacksons, 1984]

Victory was the final album Michael made with The Jacksons, and it saw the return of Jermaine after nearly a decade. There was no real reason for Michael to do it. He had been riding high with Thriller for a full two years by the time the album came out, and tensions between the brothers were obvious by the fact that there were no real group tracks on the album.

Instead, what Victory gives us is a succession of solo tracks from most, if not all, of the brothers. It is a decidedly mixed bag. Bizarrely, Michael provides one of the most loathsome moments with the turgid Be Not Always, though he totally redeems himself with Mick Jagger duet State of Shock.

Wait is one of Jackie’s songs, and is one of the few to feature numerous brothers. Jackie takes the lead, with Michael and Jermaine adding prominent ad-libs towards the end. Truth be told, it would be easy for the track to fall into cheesy 80s mode, but the chorus such a monster earworm that it undeniably acts as one on the album’s highlights.

It is certainly superior to Thriller’s Baby Be Mine.

2. Let’s Get Serious [Jermaine, 1980]

Jermaine left The Jackson 5 when they dropped the “5”and left Motown for Epic. It was a bit of a quandary for him. He had recently married Motown founder Berry Gordy’s daughter Hazel, so the situation was understandably difficult for him.

Sadly, his solo career had a hard time taking off. His first three post-J5 albums were either mediocre or outright uninspired. Then along came Let’s Get Serious, and a funky as anything title track written by Stevie Wonder. Although it has all the makings of one of Wonder’s own songs from the period, Jermaine definitely puts his stamp on it, and reveals some pretty nifty bass skills at that.

The song was such a smash that it ended up being the number one soul hit of 1980. To put that into context, Michael’s Rock With You was number two.

1. Love Will Never Do (Without You) [Janet, 1989]

It is probably cheating putting a Janet song at number one, seeing as she has almost been as successful and iconic as Michael, but it’s my list, so I’ll do what I want.

Janet’s Rhythm Nation 1814 is a genuine masterpiece, and an album that works best as a whole. Despite this, it spawned eight singles, seven of them being Top Five hits in the US, four of them number one. It was every bit a monster as Michael’s Bad.

Frontloading the album with songs of social conscious, she backs down before Miss You Much, proclaiming “Get the point? Good. Let’s dance”. What follows is a series of deliciously perfect pop songs, where Janet and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis even out-do some of Michael’s magic.

For me, this is the best of the bunch. A chronic ear worm that I often find myself playing on repeat. Pop perfection.

  • The Jacksons play Limewire Festival on Friday 25th August
  • Image: Artist’s website

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