Monday, September 17, 2012

If the Shoe Don't Fit

"If the Shoe Don't Fit" is the first full-length song on the new Jackson 5 cd, Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls. Like many of the songs on the album, it was written and produced by The Corporation, and, like most songs by this team, it's got a catchy tune and clever lyrics that were especially tailored to the Jackson 5's youthfulness. According the to the liner notes, it was recorded 1970-71. It features Michael on the up-tempo lead vocals that are reminiscent of "My Little Baby," another Corporation song that was recorded around the same time and was first released on the Maybe Tomorrow LP in April 1971.

"When at first I took you in
We had a nice association
Your love was sweet as honey then
Even bees will vouch for that.
But now you've found I'm not your type
In a different situation
The love you give is cold as ice
Even snowmen feel the draft."

After Michael sings the first line in the next bit, Jermaine comes in with the counter-lead, as we've come to expect in songs from this era. Unfortunately, it sounds like his vocals were recorded down the hall -- there's an odd echo to them.

Michael: Baby, why should we carry it on?
Jermaine: If you really think you must, girl,
I'm telling you that you're wrong.

And here's where it gets really interesting. Instead of going back to Michael, or to Jackie, Tito sings the second counter-lead in his bass voice.
Tito: If my love don't fit your heart
Then I don't belong.

It's a pleasant surprise to hear Tito sing lead vocals here -- and he has another line before the second chorus as well.

Speaking of the chorus, we return to Michael for the lead vocals in what is without a doubt the best part of the song -- and the part that will stick in your head for days:

"Oh, darling, don't do me no favors
Don't feel obligated
Don't you do it now, baby
If the shoe don't fit, baby, don't force it on yourself
Oh, if the shoe don't fit, honey, don't force it on yourself."

While there are some nice harmonies in the song, and the chorus is definitely memorable, the verses in this song feel a bit unfinished, and it's easy to see why the song wasn't completed and released when the J5 had recorded similar songs in late 1970 / early 1971 that were so much stronger, like the afore-mentioned "My Little Baby" and the brilliant "It's Great to Be Here."  Still, Corporation-produced J5 failures are more interesting today than most album fillers that got released by other groups forty years ago. The shoe might not have quite fit back then but it feels just fine now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My American Dream Sounds Like the Jackson 5

There was a great piece on NPR this morning about the song "I Want You Back." In it Harvard History and Literature professor Jack Hamilton says:
 "I consider "I Want You Back" to be the best pop record ever made, by such a wide margin that I can barely entertain a conversation. It's three minutes of shimmering and sustained explosion. I can't remember where and when I first heard it but I've wanted to listen to it forever ever since."

What a treat to hear him say these things as I was getting ready for work this morning. You can hear the whole thing on the NPR website.

We're the Music Makers

Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Michael and Fred
The first song included on Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls is something of an enigma. There's not much info about it in the booklet, not even a date for the recording, and the song itself is only one minute long.The lyrics introduce the brothers individually twice, which makes me think this may have been written for a television show, perhaps as an alternative to the intro used in their 1972 TV pilot, which was sung to the tune of "I Want You Back"

Let us tell you who we are in case you just forgot
Beatles, Osmonds, Rolling Stones, Temptations we are not.
If five is not your number, there's something you can do
Just roll the dice and you'll get Jackson 7 minus 2.

"We're the Music Makers" is a bit more of a song but not by much. It could perhaps be seen as a precursor to "We're Here to Entertain You," but really isn't much more than a jingle.

We like to make music
It's fun to make music, music
We like to make music
It's fun to make music, music

Let us introduce ourselves to you:
Hi, I'm Jackie! Tito! Jermaine! I'm Marlon! And I'm Mike!

Hey, hey! We're the music makers.
Hey! Everybody! It's fun to make music
Come on! Sing along! It's fun to make music, music
Do what the feeling tells you.
We're the music makers

Tito swings, while I can sing, and Jackie scores right through
Marlon dances,  Jermaine fancies he'll play the bass for you
We're the music makers

And that's it.  Catchy but ultimately forgettable.

As a historical relic, it's of interest, but it's by far the weakest song on the entire album, if for no other reason than it feels incomplete and underdeveloped. I will say one thing: I am really, really grateful they didn't call this album We're the Music Makers.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Come and Get It

If anything can take this blog off hiatus, it's a brand new cd by the Jackson 5. Come and Get It has just been released by Hip-o-Select, and it includes 32 great tracks, including 19 I've never even heard before.  The actual release date for the cd is Sept 18, but you can buy the mp3 versions now off Amazon or iTunes (the more affordable option). I got it the day it was available on iTunes for a mere $15.99 and it's been in constant rotation on my iPod ever since. It's like taking a time machine back to 1971 and hearing a new J5 album for the first time.

There are some inspired cover versions -- and, hey, "Mama Told Me Not to Come" actually works, sort of, for a young teen group the way it was produced, as well as some great original songs. Most of the songs were recorded in the J5's early years at Motown (1970-71), but there are a few later ones recorded after Michael's voice had changed.

Along with Soulsation and I Want You Back: Unreleased Masters, this is the third major offering of previously unreleased songs, and it is by far the best. I think what makes it so good is that most of the songs showcase the Jackson 5's talent as a group, instead of focusing mostly on Michael's vocals, as the previous releases did. There are more than a few songs here with Jermaine leads, for example, and Jackie gets a chance to actually sing some, too, instead of just supplying a backing warble. Even Tito and Marlon get their turns at the microphone. One of my favorite songs is their cover of The Drifters' "Up on the Roof," where the entire group sings together, sounding very much like a youthful Fifth Dimension.

I'll be blogging more about this amazing record and the individual songs on it over the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you haven't ordered it yet, don't delay! And if you have and you're waiting for the cd to arrive in your mailbox, prepare to have your socks knocked off.

And, of course, releases like this always make me wonder, what else do they have in those vaults?