Pop chart statistics may mislead you otherwise but, in terms of The Jackson’s’ early years at Epic this has to be their more consistent and enjoyable album. Whereas some of the production on their self titled debut from the previous year is somewhat by-the-numbers Philly soul and is also recorded rather flat this album is mixed up a lot hotter and,while still deeply ingrained in the Philly sound the grooves,rhythms and sense of funk are much strong emphasized. So this second Epic album is a lot more punchy, aggressive and uptempo than the debut.
I didn’t realize until recently that “Music’s Takin’ Over” was really huge in New York during this time-according to an interview with Chuck D of Public Enemy my friend Henrique heard. And I can see how it would be a huge funk monster because the guitar and bass riffs are MEAN and Mikes voice has a lot of strength on the song.The title song is the only tune here that doesn’t really represent anything entirely new for the group and kind of sounds just a little behind the times.
“Diff’rent Kind Of Lady” is one of two (again) self written songs and is another incredible groove that has this great sense of tension in the rhythm and a tad of Vocorder in the end.”Even Though Your Gone” and “Find Me A Girl” are more glossy Philly ballads than the kind heard on the debut and actually serve as good selling points for this album.There are a couple more great uptempo tunes in the heavily,percussive bounce of “Jump For Joy”-one of the most genuinely “positive thinking” type songs I’ve heard and the happily funky orientation of the music really delivers on the promise.
There are some excellent celebratory synthesizer squiggles at the conclusion of the song that help to bring it even more to life.”Do What You Wanna”,another self written tune has a really crisp Philly jump to it and..is yet another positive attitude kind of song.Michael singing “Don’t be phony just be for real” may seem slightly awkward now but at least then I could sense he believed it even for himself.
The pointed anti war ballad “Man Of War” points to the Jackson’s’ future Utopian vision of unity over conflict. This more than any other Jackson’s album from the mid/late 70’s really pointed the most to an individual musical and conceptual direction for the brothers.And even though this is still a very much ignored part of their recorded legacy that should at least be taken into consideration.
The Jackson’s were already prepping for their second album self written and produced in June of 1979-just when the finishing touches to Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album were being completed. It made sense then that musicians such as Michael Boddicker, Jerry Hey and Paulinho Da Costa played strong instrumental roles between both albums. The Jackson’s Triumph album turned out to be no mere extension of MJ’s swiftly developing solo music. It was one of the most truly collaborative albums they made together. With Michael, Randy and Jackie Jackson being its creative triad.
Each member of the family played a different part. Michael and Jackie contributed much in the way of songwriting. While Randy did the same with more instrumental touches as well. The brothers fully flowered independence earned them their most successful album in nearly a decade-both in terms of critical acclaim and commercial status. I’ve had a decades long relationship with Triumph now. And had actually grown up on a truly epic video to very musically like song that turned out to be the opening track of the album. The name of this song, of course, was “Can You Feel It”.
An enormous adult choir sings the songs chorus acapella for the intro. This is arranged masterfully by the talented vocalist/vocal coach Stephanie Spruill . The horns kick into the disco march that makes up for the refrain of the song. And also its central rhythm as well. Ollie Brown holds down the 4/4 beat to perfection. Nathan Watts and Ronnie Foster play a conjoined, clomping bass line. The string and horn melodies go right into Randy’s vocal intro. On the chorus, another drum is added for funkier sound. Along with David Williams chunky, reverbed guitar while Michael sang lead. With flourishes of synths and a choral bridge, the orchestration fades the song out.
Musically “Can You Feel It” starts Triumph off in a manner that would follow it through the entire album. That is showcasing disco’s roots in the cinematic soul/funk of the early 70’s. All wrapped up with a more electronic boogie/post disco twist. As for the songs Utopian message? Its tempting to view its plea that “we’re all the same/ the blood inside of me is inside of you” as being Michael and Randy being a bit removed from earlier civil rights struggles generationally. Yet the general message of seeing racial difference as positive is at its core. And its all pushed forward by a dynamic musical offering.
Jackie Jackson,being the eldest of the Jackson’s siblings whose turning 65 today,brings to mind an important element in the Jackson family musical dynamic. With the enormous commercial success of the late Michael Jackson,it often seems that the different musical talents of the other family members are torn down in order to build up MJ’s cult of personality. Michael Jackson was a very talented performer,and one of the most rhythmic and distinctive vocalists of his era. Yet with such a musical family,his talent was made stronger (not weaker) by the unity he had with his brothers.
Born Sigmund Esco,Jackie was part of the main vocal trade-off’s between young Michael and Jermaine during the salad days of the Jackson 5. At that time he often sang high,reedy falsetto parts. When four of the brothers,including him,teamed with youngest brother Randy at Epic,the lead vocals Jackie provided to the group found him singing in his gruff,gravelly low tenor. Between the summer of 1979 and 1980,the by that time re-christened Jackson’s began work on their sixths album Triumph. Dominated vocally by Michael,the final song was a major triumph for Jackie in “Wondering Who”.
Ollie Brown’s hi hat drum kick off starts the song off along with Michael Boddicker’s melodic Vocorder line. It then kicks off into a percussive,uptempo Latin-funk rhythm with Boddicker’s brittle synthesizers and Vocorder providing equally rhythmic accompaniment. Nathan Watts’ 2 on three note bass thump and Tito Jackson’s low,fast past chicken scratch guitar lines lead into the 4/4 dance beat of the chorus-with the synthesizer’s becoming more orchestral. Tito’s bluesy guitar riff’s buffet each choral/refrain pattern. Michael and Jackie duet on the final chorus before Boddicker’s jazzy Vocorder scat fade out the song.
The first time I heard this song,it sounded as if the Jackson’s were ending their first album of the 1980’s with a nod to the future of funk. Indeed, they were. Composed wonderfully by Jackie and Randy Jackson,this song has a strong bluesy melody. Instrumentally it is extremely compelling. It’s a full on boogie/electro funk groove. And one where the synthesizers and Vocorder play the same role as the live percussion. The frenetic power of the songs music,combined with Jackie’s matured versatility as a singer,make this one of the best examples of futurist funk that ever came out of the Jackson’s camp in it’s day.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, chicken scratch guitar, elecro funk, Jackie Jackson, Michael Boddicker, Michael Jackson, Nathan East, Ollie Brown, Randy Jackson, synthesizers, The Jacksons, Tito Jackson, Uncategorized, vocoder
The Jacksons self titled label debut on Epic is a very nostalgic one for me. For one thing, it’s the very first CD I purchased with my own money-if I remember sometime in the autumn of 1994. The history of the brothers breaking their contract with Motown,the record company who made them famous for the sake of gaining more creative control fascinated my burgeoning artistic ethic at the time. I was very interested to hear what the Jackson brothers sounded like having experienced their first tastes of artistic freedom. Even understanding they only wrote two of the ten songs on this album was still an exciting understanding to have as a teenager growing up near the turn of the millennium.
During the final years at Motown,the Jackson brothers had become fascinated by the Philly sound coming out of the PIR studios. Especially under the tutelage of Kenny Gamble,Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. These were record producers who thought like artists-in the case of the latter two they made records under their own name. So they always approached the record from a quality control rather than a commercially geared manner. Because this was quite a different approach to the assembly line hit factory approach of Motown,it did allow for the brothers to gain a stronger uniqueness to their sound. And the result was the lead off song and single from their 1976 debut as The Jacksons on “Enjoy Yourself”.
A nasal bass pitched rhythm guitar opens with the main melody of the song. It’s accompanied with the medium tempo beat with a bouncing conga drums-perhaps from the Jacksons youngest brother Randy. The harmony’s of the brothers trading off with the leads of Michael are themselves harmonizing with a short chordal burst of electric piano and big band style horns. Those horns play more sustained phrases on the refrains. The bridge of the song is sung by elder Jackson brother Jackie in his gravely lower register along a jazzy funk electric piano part and horns that keep building in intensity up until the song fades out on an even more powerful variation of the chorus.
Conversing with my main musical inspiration right now Henrique about this song has bought me to a significant musical understanding. He describe this song, especially it’s opening rhythm guitar part as having a country sound. My drummer had me on the beat that in musical terms “country” was short hand for country/western music. In fact it referred to a very rural approach to playing an instrument-such as at a family reunion or county fair live band. Considering these brothers were taught old blues and country songs by their mom Katherine,it’s probably no surprise that Gamble & Huff would tailor an uptempo funk/soul tune for them with that strong down home instrumental flavor.
In any event this song was a wonderful way to begin the Jackson brothers adult career. The song really emphasizes them strongly as a group-with their deep,gospel drenched five part harmonies taking presidents on the choruses. The focus of the family was not yet focused so heavily as a dry run for the upcoming solo career of brother Michael. And as I listen to it as an adult with all these new musical understandings, the fact that Gamble & Huff put that country styled soul flavor into their new funk really gave the brothers more musical distinction than the production line approach Motown often used with them. In a lot of ways,it’s a song that says a lot about the Jacksons more personal musical interests.
Thematically the song also has it’s place in the creative liberation of the Jackson brothers. Basically Mike is singing about being at a party with a very insecure date whose “sittin’ over there starring into space” while everyone else is “dancing all over the place”. He’s advising this person to not obsess over what they can’t change. Finally he asks them flat out to have a good time instead of “sittin’ there with your mouth poked out just sweet as you can be”. It was recorded during the bicentennial year. Seems to have been the idea at the time of moving ahead from where the 60’s attitudes left off. And this song simply advises to live the life they’ve got and to enjoy themselves.
Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Dexter Wansel, electric piano, Epic Records, Funk, Gamble & Huff, horns, Jackie Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson, Philly Soul, Randy Jackson, The Jacksons, Uncategorized