20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: The Jackson 5.
What: The sophomore album by Motown’s second-generation superstars, featuring their second and third Number One singles, “ABC” and “The Love You Save,” as the quintet settled into its California-crafted sound with producers Hal Davis and The Corporation. The package also contains their take on two Stevie Wonder hits, “Never Had A Dream Come True” and “Don’t Know Why I Love You,” as well as the Miracles’ “(Come ’Round Here) I’m The One You Need.” ABC reached the Top 5 of the Billboard pop charts, spending a year there.
When: Jermaine, Jackie, Michael, Marlon and Tito began recording prolifically soon after signing with Motown in March 1969, and the material on ABC was laid down during the next 12 months. As a single, the title track topped the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1970; the LP was released May 8 to capitalize on the group’s hit-making momentum. That same week, their first album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, was in the Top 10. (For more on the Jackson 5, read here.)
Where: Most of ABC was recorded at Motown’s preferred studio in Hollywood, the Sound Factory. A couple of tracks were created in the company’s Detroit facilities with producer Bobby Taylor, who supervised sessions with the Jacksons there soon after they signed. “Usually, the first time we’d hear a song was when we walked into the studio,” recalled Jermaine Jackson in his autobiography, You Are Not Alone. “We worked hard on improving our song presentation, but there was nothing we couldn’t do because Michael had an incredible range in his voice.”
Why: With the success of their first release, “I Want You Back,” Motown realized the Jacksons’ commercial potential – and the firm’s founder was personally involved. “We would go to Berry Gordy and he would tell us what to do,” said songwriter/producer Freddie Perren, one of the creative team known as The Corporation, years later. “Most people think he’s just an executive, but he’s a great writer.”
What else: Six days before ABC was issued, the Jackson 5 played their first official Motown concert at the Spectrum Arena in Philadelphia, to a sold-out crowd of 16,000. About a third of the way through the set, the audience left its seats and pushed towards the stage. “It was like the beginning of a small earthquake,” Jermaine remembered. The show was halted for fear of damage and harm: it was the start of Jackson-mania.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?