The Jackson 5

ABC

Composed by Alphonso Mizell / Berry Gordy, Jr. / Deke Richards / Freddie Perren

Song Review by

A stop and start bass line and drum part, and propulsive percussion -- congas, tambourine, shakers -- horns, a fuzz-box guitar, dual Afro-Cuban-influenced piano parts, and, of course, the adolescent call-and-response vocals of the Jackson 5 brothers drive this Motown classic and one of the sweetest and simultaneously most satisfying confections of the 1970s. The song displaced the Beatles' "Let It Be" in the number one spot on the pop chart. Opening with the fuzz guitar, an off-beat percussive piano note, and a "doo-dooh" vocal hook line, the drums kick in on the down beat with Michael Jackson, then all of 12 years old, who starts in on the school metaphor: "You went to school to learn girl/Things you never knew before/Like "I" before "E" except after "C"/And why two plus two makes four/Now, now, now I'm gonna teach you, teach you, teach you/All about love girl, all about love/Sit yourself down, take a seat/All you gotta do is repeat after me." The school scenario was no accident; Freddie Perren, a member of the Corporation, the writing/producing collective behind "ABC," was a former school teacher. He has noted in interviews that producing -- especially a group comprised of teens and preteens -- is much like teaching: outlining a plan and having the students execute it until the teacher is satisfied. The similarity of the song's groove to the Jackson 5's first hit single, "I Want You Back," is also no accident; "ABC" is essentially the chorus of the former single (and by theory a pop song's catchiest part), repeated and looped for the body of the newer single. The walking bass line forms the backbone -- bass having always been a top priority in Motown recordings. The arrangement builds to a rowdy drum breakdown in the middle of the song, Michael Jackson shouting out to the object of his young heart's desire: "Sit down girl! I think I love you!" He is egged on by his brothers, "No! Get up girl! Show me what you can do!" At which point, the brothers start to harmonize on "Shake it, shake it baby." Through the whole arrangement, the brothers share the lead vocals, trading lines, Michael taking the lion's share. The urgency in Michael's young voice is befuddling; this is no child novelty act -- a youngster propped up and made up to look and sound like an adult; Jackson just belts it out as soulfully as an adult, yet still sounds natural, effortless, and untrained, simply gifted. One wonders why such gifts became watered down and squandered to the extent that they did in the 1980s and beyond. For, while this early stage of his career was often called bubblegum soul, the emphasis must surely be placed on soul. There is little cuteness beyond the knowing school metaphor and Michael Jackson is not handled with kid gloves in the arrangement. The resulting recording avoids a ham-fisted, over-processed, and produced child act. As with their previous hit, the Jackson 5 are clearly influenced by the Temptations, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Sly and the Family Stone. And one would be remiss not to mention a distinct Stevie Wonder vibe here, another boy wonder. But the Jackson 5 do not sound like any of them; they end up sounding completely unique. The collaborative group called the Corporation was made up primarily of Berry Gordy, Motown founder and president; Perren; Fonce Mizell; and Deke Richards. There was some speculation that the group was formed to sublimate individual identities and, thus, egos, and possibly avoid future legal wrangling. The three aside from Gordy had known each other for years and had written "Love Child" for the Supremes and then "I Want You Back." The recording features two of the Corporation's members, Perren and Mizell on piano, as well as top sessionmen, assuring the funky soul groove.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
ABC 1970
ABC
Motown 2:58
The Greatest Hits 1971 Motown 2:57
Motown Chartbusters, Vol. 4 1971
Various Artists
Motown 2:54
No Image 1975
Various Artists
Anthology [1976] 1976 Motown 2:58
Joyful Jukebox Music 1976 Hip-O Select / Hip-O / Motown / Universal 2:57
Boogie 1979 Natural Resources
No Image 1979 Motown
Mad Max/Decades Collection 1980s 1980
Various Artists
Metro Goldwyn Mayer 2:58
12 #1 Hits from the 70's 1982
Various Artists
Motown 2:59
No Image 1983
Various Artists
Motown
No Image 1984 Motown
No Image 1986
Various Artists
Motown
Sounds of the Seventies: 1970 1989
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:00
No Image 1990 Motown
No Image 1992
Various Artists
Pioneer
Hitsville USA - The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 1992
Various Artists
Motown 2:58
Kid Rock! 1993
Various Artists
Rhino
Music from the Wonder Years, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Laserlight / Delta Distribution 2:59
Music from The Wonder Years 1994
Various Artists
Laserlight
Billboard Hot Soul Hits: 1970 1995
Various Artists
Rhino 2:59
The Ultimate Collection 1995 Motown 2:58
Motown Year By Year: The Sound of Young America, 1970 1995
Various Artists
Motown 3:15
Crooklyn [Original Soundtrack] 1995
Original Soundtrack
MCA 2:58
Dance Party [Polygram] 1997
Various Artists
Polygram 2:52
Motown 40 Forever 1998
Various Artists
Motown 2:57
Have a Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box 1998
Various Artists
Rhino 2:43
70's Funk & Soul Classics 1998
Various Artists
Repertoire 2:52
The Real Thing Series 1999 Motown 2:57
The '70s, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:59
Dick [Virgin] 1999
Original Soundtrack
Virgin 2:57
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of the Jackson 5 [Domestic Version] 1999 Motown 3:00
Motown Chartbusters, Vol. 1 - 6 1999
Various Artists
Spectrum Music / Motown 2:54
AM Gold: Teen Idols of the '70s 1999
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 2:59
Free Soul 2000 Motown
Entertainment Weekly: The Greatest Hits 1970 2000
Various Artists
Buddha Records 3:00
Motown History, Vol. 1 2000
Various Artists
Polygram 2:57
Soul Train: The Dance Years 1970 2000
Various Artists
Rhino 2:58
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of the '70s 2000
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:00
Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5/ABC 2000 Motown / Universal / Universal Music 2:57
Anthology [2000] 2000 Motown 2:57
Dick Clark's #1's: 50's to 70's "When AM Radio Was King" 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 2:58
Motown Chartbusters, Vol. 4 [Polygram International] 2001
Various Artists
Polygram 2:54
Entertainment Weekly: The Greatest Hits 1970-1974 2001
Various Artists
Buddha Records 3:00
Motown Chartbusters, Vols. 4-6 2001
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 2:54
Lizzy McGuire [Original Television Soundtrack] 2002
TV Original Soundtrack
Buena Vista / Walt Disney 2:58
Motown Party 2003
Various Artists
Metacom 2:58
Daddy Day Care 2003
Original Soundtrack
Columbia 2:59
Soul 70's: What's Going On 2003
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:58
Supa Funky, Vol. 2 2003
Various Artists
Universal International 2:51
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music TV
Motown Greatest Hits 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:57
Let's Dance [Pottery Barn Kids Exclusive] 2003
Various Artists
Rock River Records
60's Soul Mix, Vol. 2 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 2:51
Best Of Soul [Madacy Box Set] 2004
Various Artists
Madacy 2:58
The Magic of Motown [Motown] 2004
Various Artists
Motown 2:59
Joyful Jukebox Music/Boogie 2004 Hip-O Select / Universal Distribution
Gold 2005 Motown 2:59
Beer Time!: Music for Your Happy & Relaxing Holidays 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Motown Unmixed 2005
Various Artists
Motown 3:01
Dancing in the Streets: Motowns Greatest Hits 2005
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:59
No Image 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Motown Remixed [Australian] 2005
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 3:48
Greetings from Detroit 2005
Various Artists
American Beat Records 2:58
No Image 2005 Universal Distribution 3:43
Akeelah and the Bee [Original Soundtrack] 2006
Original Soundtrack
DV&A / Lions Gate Films 2:58
Motown Made to Measure [Sparks] 2006
Various Artists
Motown / Island 2:58
Jackson 5 Story 2006 Universal Distribution 2:59
Soul Legends 2006 MSI Music Distribution / Motown 4:56
Clerks II 2006
Original Soundtrack
Bulletproof 2:58
No Image 2006
Various Artists
Brunswick / Universal 2:57
To Go: Stick It in Your Ear 2006 Motown 2:59
Motown Number 1's, Vol. 2 2007
Various Artists
Universal 2:58
More Motown Classics Gold 2007
Various Artists
Universal / Universal Music 2:57
No Image 2007 Spectrum Music 2:58
Top of the Pops 1970 2007
Various Artists
EMI 2:57
No Image 2007 Barclay 2:59
Best of Motown, Vol. 1 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 2:57
The 70s Collection 2008
Various Artists
Brunswick 2:59
Dad's Jukebox 2008
Various Artists
Universal / Universal Distribution 2:57
The Ultimate Collection 100 Hits: Seventies 2008
Various Artists
Union Square Music 2:57
Motown Remixed & Unmixed 2008 Motown / Universal Distribution 3:01
The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970 2008
Various Artists
Hip-o Select 3:12
Motown for Kids 2008
Various Artists
Hip-O / Motown / Polydor / Universal 2:57
Universal Music Family Sampler 2008
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:56
Feeling Good: The Ultimate Collection 2008
Various Artists
Ultimate 2:58
Party Time, Vol. 6 2008
Various Artists
SPG / Unidisc 2:56
Motown 50 Fanthology 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Strategic Marketing 2:58
Motown: The Complete No. 1's 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Island/Def Jam / Universal Music 2:57
Songs for the Car 2008
Various Artists
Hip-O / Strategic Marketing 2:57
Memories of Motown 2009
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Music 3:13
Motown 50 Essentials Box 2009
Various Artists
Motown / Universal
Icons 2009 Universal Distribution 2:58
Jackie: Summer Special 2009
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:57
Motown 50 Fanthology 2009
Various Artists
Motown 2:57
Motortown Review 2009
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 2:58
I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters 2009 Motown / Universal 3:24
No Image 2009
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:56
J Is for Jackson 5 2010 Motown 2:55
Live at the Forum 2010 Hip-O Select / IMS / Strategic Marketing 3:32
Ultimate Pop Jr. 2010
Various Artists
Universal 2:58
Icon 2 2010 Motown 2:59
4 CD Originals 2010 Universal Distribution / Universal Music 2:57
Funky Grooves 2011
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:08
The Ultimate Collection: Running Songs 100 Hits 2011
Various Artists
Ultimate 2:54
Honey Honey: The Sound of Bubblegum Pop 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music / Sony Music Distribution 2:58
Motown Anthems 2012
Various Artists
Universal Music TV
The Ultimate Collection: Party Classics 2013
Various Artists
Ultimate Collection 2:53
Motown the Musical: 100 Originals 2013
Various Artists
Cobalt Helladisc / Universal Music 2:58
Latest & Greatest Kids Party 2014
Various Artists
USM Media
100 Hits: Super 70s Karaoke 2014
Various Artists
100 Hits
NOW: 25 Top Hits of the 1970's 2014
Various Artists
Universal 2:59
20 #1’s: Pop
Various Artists
Universal 2:58
202 Motown Songs: The Complete #1's
Various Artists
Island/Def Jam / Universal Music 2:57
Classic Motown
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 2:57
Everybody Dance
Various Artists
Rhino / Wea UK 2:57
Funk [UMTV]
Various Artists
Universal 2:57
No Image
Various Artists
Motown 2:38
No Image
Various Artists
Greatest Ever
High Society: We Got the Soul
Various Artists
Universal
I Am Happy
Various Artists
Polystar / Universal 2:54
No Image Motown 2:58
No Image
Various Artists
Universal Classics & Jazz 2:59
Motown Gold: The 1970s
Various Artists
Universal
Now That's What I Call '70s
Various Artists
Now!
Office Party: Work Hard, Party Harder!
Various Artists
Made II Measure
No Image Pair
Pop Jr.: Let's Dance
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:58
Sugar Pop
Various Artists
Somerset Group / Universal / Unversal 2:58
No Image Universal 2:58
The Motown Story
Various Artists
Universal 2:57
The Ultimate Collection: 70s Schooldays [2013]
Various Artists
Ultimate Collection 2:57
No Image Universal 2:59
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