The Jackson 5

Michael the Lover: The First Ever Recordings of the Jackson Five

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This version of the Jackson Five's pre-Motown efforts for the Steeltown label during the years 1966-68 is the most complete to date at 65 minutes-plus. Serious Motown fans will probably be lured to these recordings in the hope that they'll be at least near the level of professionalism of, say, those old Supremes/Primettes sides, dating from the period before Florence Ballard and company were signed to Motown. Alas, these tapes turn out to occupy about the same place in the Jacksons' output that the Byrds "Preflyte" material does in the folk-rock quintet's history, an experiment to see what they could do on tape; except that the Jacksons were in their early teens or younger and, consequently, less able as musicians worthy of recording than the Byrds were. Some of it regardless is extremely satisfying, particularly "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Under the Boardwalk," which display a youthful charm and exuberance that's hard to ignore, while others, such as their hopeless attempt at Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," are of minimal interest A significant part of the material has been tampered with, mostly in the form of bass and drums being added to the original demos to give them a more professional veneer. The sound is decent, if rather ragged at times in capturing the ensemble singing of the group. The packaging features a colorful picture-disc and see-through jewel-box design, and if one looks closely enough, the German-made CD misspells songwriters' names, and has the disclaimer about the additional instruments on the back in very small print.