The Jackson 5

ABC

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 2:55
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
Boogie 1979 Motown / Uni 2:57
No Image 1979 Motown
12 #1 Hits from the 70's 1982
Various Artists
Motown 2:59
No Image 1983 Telstar
No Image 1983
Various Artists
Motown
Great Songs & Performances 1983 Motown 2:57
Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 1983 Spectrum Music 2:57
No Image 1992
Various Artists
Pioneer
Hitsville USA - The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 1992
Various Artists
Motown 2:59
Dangerous: The Short Films 1993 Sony Music Distribution
Kid Rock! 1993
Various Artists
Rhino
Music from the Wonder Years, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Laserlight / Delta Distribution 2:59
Soulsation!: 25th Anniversary Collection 1995 Motown 2:57
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
The Very Best of Michael Jackson with the Jackson Five 1995 Motown 3:00
Crooklyn [Original Soundtrack] 1995
Original Soundtrack
MCA 2:57
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
Dick [Virgin] 1999
Original Soundtrack
Virgin 2:57
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of the Jackson 5 [Domestic Version] 1999 Motown 2:59
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
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 2:59
Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5/ABC 2000 Motown 2:57
Anthology [2000] 2000 Motown 2:59
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
Lizzy McGuire [Original Television Soundtrack] 2002
TV Original Soundtrack
Buena Vista / Walt Disney 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
The Very Best of the Jacksons 2004 Epic 2:59
Best Of Soul [Madacy Box Set] 2004
Various Artists
Madacy 2:58
'70s [Universal] 2004
Various Artists
Universal / USM 2:53
Joyful Jukebox Music/Boogie 2004 Hip-O Select / Universal Distribution
Motown Remixed 2005
Various Artists
Motown 3:49
Motown Unmixed 2005
Various Artists
Motown 3:00
The Essential Michael Jackson 2005 Legacy / Epic 2:57
Daddy Cool [Universal] 2006
Various Artists
Universal International 2:56
Clerks II 2006
Original Soundtrack
Bulletproof 0:00
Motown Classics 2006
Various Artists
Drew's Famous 0:00
Motown Number 1's, Vol. 2 2007
Various Artists
Motown 2:59
More Motown Classics Gold 2007
Various Artists
Motown 2:58
The 70s Collection 2008
Various Artists
Brunswick 2:59
Motown Remixed & Unmixed 2008 Motown / Universal Distribution 3:49
Universal Music Family Sampler 2008
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:56
Motown 50 Fanthology 2008
Various Artists
Universal 3:00
Motown: The Complete No. 1's 2008
Various Artists
Motown 2:56
Motown 50 [International Version 2] 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 2:58
Songs for the Car 2008
Various Artists
Hip-O 0:00
The Motown Years 2008 Island 3:01
Memories of Motown 2009
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Music 3:13
The Stripped Mixes 2009 Motown 3:11
Michael Jackson: Remix Suite IV 2009 Motown 3:16
Ultimate Pop Jr. 2010
Various Artists
Universal 2:58
Honey Honey: The Sound of Bubblegum Pop 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music / Sony Music Distribution 2:58
Motown the Musical: 100 Originals 2013
Various Artists
Cobalt Helladisc / Universal Music 2:58
Remix the Classics, Vol. 2 2016
Various Artists
UMe / Universal 3:24
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 Kids' Party
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 2:58
Classic Love Songs of Rock 'N' Roll
Various Artists
Time Life 2:59
No Image
Various Artists
Motown 2:38
I Am Happy
Various Artists
Polystar / Universal 2:54
No Image
Various Artists
Universal Music 2:59
No Image
Various Artists
Allegro
Sugar Pop
Various Artists
Somerset Group / Universal / Unversal 2:58
The Motown Story
Various Artists
Universal 2:57