Friday, May 15, 2009

Life During the Recession - Jackson 5 Friday

In 1973, the U.S. began its descent into its worst recession since World War II. In a nutshell: our gross domestic products levels sank while the jobless rate reached to the sky. Investment purchases collapsed and starting the whole ball rolling, oil prices soared. And to add to everyone's depressive drug- and alcohol-fueled mood swings, there was the Vietnam War and the treachery of Richard Nixon to contend with. It was a low point.

The entertainment industries lifted our spirits with manufactured chaos and polyester glitz and glamour. Disaster movies were huge. We packed in theaters to watch people get eaten by sharks, get sucked out of airplanes and flip over on cruise ships. Television offered escape from its war coverage by flying us to Fantasy Island, sending us on a Love Boat cruise (with special guest star, Andy Warhol!), and providing the drama of undercover female detectives dressed as high-class call girls.

As for music: what is more endorphin-inducing than pop, disco, funk and soul? Enter the Jackson 5. The band of brothers, after touring the back roads of Gary, Indiana, were signed to Motown by Berry Gordy, Jr., and seemingly helmed by eerie childhood prodigy, Michael, would go on to stratospheric hit-tune success.

I LOVED The Jackson 5. They made me and my friends so happy. First there came the infectious, bouncy pop hits like ABC and I Want You Back, then the weird love ballads sung by a child (Ben [about a vengeful rat and his owner], Got To Be There), and finally disco fever with robot dancing! Thanks for getting us through the 70s in almost one piece, Jackson 5. Whatever befell us (and them) later on down the road, it was a good ride while it lasted.

Sugar Daddy - 1971. Michael was originally billed as an eight-year-old when he was actually 11, to make him seem THAT much more amazing. Even so, he astounds with his super-human talent.

Rockin' Robin a cover from Michael's solo album in 1972 (the one where he's wearing a jaunty cap and a big smile) - It's impossible to be depressed while listening to this song. Inversely, it's strangely removed from any musical style of that year. I'm sure the Jackson brothers were all WTF? about performing this live. They didn't have a lot of input in their early hits. I must say, when I was eight, this song was nirvana to me, so Berry Gordy had the right idea (as usual).

Dancing Machine (about one minute in) - 1974. If I had a dollar for every time my friends and I joyfully began dancing the robot when this song came on the radio, I'd have at least $300. Note the horn section at the robot-dance break.

Would you consider bringing up the horn section there? Me neither! Creative composition, just before the explosion of synthesizer-disco hits, beginning with I Feel Love in 1977 with Donna Summer doing an euphoric vocal and Giorgio Moroder on practically unmanageable synth. Before that, synthesizers had pretty much been relegated to krautrock and movie soundtracks only.

I Want You Back / ABC - originally released in 1969 and 1970. YEAH. That's what I'm talking about. The 70s' variety-show format was completely insane as evidenced here. And oh so entertaining.

I Am Love - 1974. Featuring Cher, little Janet and a love ballad sung by Jermaine. What more could we want out of life?

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