As a casual observer of the Jackson 5 for most of my life, I always assumed that while Michael was clearly the lead performer of the group, I never fully appreciated the degree to which he carried the group until recently, including listening to today’s album, “ABC”. That is a lot of pressure to put on the youngest of the five brothers in the act, as well as an overbearing stage father, and it isn’t difficult to see how things started in a tough and unusual place for Michael Jackson.
This album, which is their second studio album, features Michael on lead for every song, with the single exception being “I Found That Girl”, with older brother and original lead singer of the group, Jermaine on lead. The centerpiece of this album is naturally the funky mega-hit title track, “ABC”. Michael Jackson was roughly twelve years old at this point, and his insane level of talent as a singer, dancer and performer was clearly apparent. There are several “live” performances of this song available on the internet, of course they were lip-synced performances that allowed the group to feature their choreographed performances. The charisma and energy of Michael is truly remarkable, even at that age, and it was clear he was on a different level than not only his performing brothers, but just about anyone else in or out of Motown at the time.
The rest of the album is interesting but not nearly as compelling as the title track. “The Love You Save”, which opens the album, was the other hit single from this album, and I appreciate the song “2-4-6-8” as a follow-on to “ABC”. We will see Michael Jackson many more times on this journey, and I often come back to songs like “ABC” or “I Want You Back” (different album) to hear him at his simplest and purest as performer.