The Jackson family’s biggest female star commercially is undoubtedly Janet. However she was not the first lady of the famous family to embark on a music career. The first was LaToya Yvonne-born today in 1956. The second made her debut five years later in 1984. This was Maureen Reillette Jackson,known as Rebbie. She is the eldest of all the Jackson siblings-born in 1950 on the same day of the year as her younger sister LaToya. Both haven’t been taken very seriously-likely due to criticism they’re not talented vocalists. For their birthdays,thought I’d explore their first albums through my Amazon.com reviews.
LaToya Jackson-Self Titled/1980
Obviously not in the state of mind to be the last member of the Jackson family to record an album (that honor would go to big sister Rebbie) LaToya came out with this album in 1980 and,actually wound up becoming the FIRST Jackson girl to record rather then the last (prefiguring her little sisters debut Janet Jackson
by a couple years.Even at this time LaToya was the shy and somewhat sheltered “middle child” of the Jackson family and it comes off all too clearly in her timid,restrained singing.
To some it comes of as pure vocal weakness but most of the time,that isn’t the case at all. Luckily for her LaToya chooses to begin the album in the best possible way with the “If You Feel The Funk”-it sounds not unlike a Patrice Rushen hit of the same vintage but has a lewdness in it’s lyrics I am surprised that then heavily Jehovah’s Witness LaToya could manage to project.Many of these cuts are cut from the same basic cloth as the pop/R&B/disco projects that Jermaine was cutting at this time.
Only it was without the strong sense of craft and they certainly bare little resemblance to the majestic sounds The Jackson’s were getting the same year on their Triumph
album.Even Janet’s collaboration with Michael “Night Time Lover”,while a good dance tune is too much an obvious clone of a Donna Summer tune to really stick out.But this album is home to three other truly great songs-“My Love Has Passed You By” is a pretty EWF type ballad featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica (a really nice touch too).
Another great song here is “Lovely Is She”;now Wonder isn’t on this track but the arrangement of the synthesizers brings him to mind,and the light latin inflected melody is pretty infectious.”If I Ain’t Got It” ends the album the same way it begun-with hefty funk and,this time around,a more lyrically assertive LaToya.So while nothing on ‘LaToya Jackson’ qualifies as truly wretched,if this music were precious metals exactly half this album is pure gold.The other half may be good quality brass but they all shine in much the same way.And no matter what it’s nice to have this long forgotten album available for those who really want to hear it.
Since Maureen “Rebbie” Jackson was the last of her superstar family to record there were probably very few expectations;after people had been exposed to the sweet but light,whispy singing of Janet and LaToya it seemed that the talent in this family laid mainly in the boys. But after listening to this it’s clear Rebbie is the Jackson’s best kept secret. Rebbie has one HELL of a voice if I may say so:she uses a lot of jazzy phrasing and inflections and obviously possess at least a 3 octave vocal range-dropping from her materialistic high alto down to a raspy Chaka Khan-ish growl in no time at all.
Her alluring,sexy voice is married to some truly wonderful material here,most of it with a mildly exotic 80’s funk-jazz bent. The best example is the title cut.Penned by brother Michael the tune has a strong electro funk pulse which Rebbie wraps her impressive voice around…well like a crawling centipede indeed. She also gets to mix it up in much the same way on the similarly part friendly groove of “Come Alive (It’s Saturday Night)”. “Hey Boy” finds her spreading her jazzy voice along to a very 70’s style soul ballad that ups in tempo a little bit towards the end-her malisma’s and turns on this song are truly tasty.
“Open Up To My Love” is one of the best songs on this overall wonderful album-nice mid tempo soul with tasteful,80’s friendly instrumentation and a really strong catchy hook. “Play Me (I’m A Jukebox)” showcases Rebbie in a very Minneapolis-type setting-she even adds some sassy rapping to the setting;for a woman who is a devout Jehovah’s Witness this song is very openly erotic. She obviously has a strong affinity for Prince’s sound because,as Chaka Khan and earlier The Pointer Sisters had done she covered his “I Feel For You”.
Nobody can probably beat Chaka’s famous reinvention of the same vintage but like the Pointers Rebbie retains the original’s upbeat music (the instrumentation is even very similar) and the use of her higher voice and the rocking guitar solo in the middle really help that feel along. “A Fork In The Road” is beautiful with it’s 60’s soul ballad feel and Rebbie’s yearning voice throughout. The album ends in a great way with the peppy,very 80’s Jackson-sounding groove that will have you bobbing and singing right along!
Rebbie’s solo career turned out to be sadly short lived;because of the Victory tour and Michael’s huge success in 1984 “Centipede” became her only big hit-she only recorded two more albums in the 80’s after this and her long awaited fourth album didn’t come out until 1998. With the proper guidance Rebbie could’ve easily been the heiress to Michael’s throne.Sadly that never happened but we can still listen to this and muse on this legend that should’ve been.
Since writing these reviews,there’s been something of an online buzz about the growling vocal parts of Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede” were sung by The Weather Girls’ big voiced Martha Wash. Whatever the case may be, Rebbie and LaToya Jackson both share a soft,soulfully jazzy whisper of a voice. And actually are able to utilize family members and outside musicians,writers and producers who bring in material suited to their particular style.