By Alan Light
In 1976, the Jacksons stood at a crossroads. As the Jackson 5, the future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers had already made history — they were the first act to see their first four singles hit Number One on the pop charts, and established themselves as international superstars with huge albums, massive tours, and even a Saturday morning cartoon series. Those early years made them the inspiration for generations of boy bands that followed, from New Edition and New Kids on the Block to One Direction and BTS. But now Michael, Marlon, Jackie, and Tito had grown into young men who were looking for more creative independence, and it became clear that they needed a new home that would allow them to spread their wings.
And so the Jacksons — with youngest brother Randy replacing Jermaine in the line-up, and dropping the Jackson 5 name — signed a new, landmark deal with Epic Records. Over the next eight years, they would release five studio albums and a live record (followed, a few years later, by a sixth studio album) that not only secured their iconic status and produced numerous classic hit singles, but also built a crucial platform from which Michael Jackson skyrocketed to become the greatest entertainer of all time. Now, for the first time, Legacy Recordings is releasing expanded digital editions of the Jacksons catalogue — the definitive chronicle of one of the world’s most beloved and influential groups. These albums proved that a boy band could grow up, maintaining their success after gaining their freedom and then getting bigger when they asserted their creative control.
For their first project with their new label, the group was teamed with the legendary producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who were dominating the R&B charts at the time with their Philadelphia International roster. In November 1976, on the heels of the debut of the Jacksons’ weekly variety series on CBS, they released their debut for Epic — which was self-titled to help establish the new band name.
The album’s biggest hit was the irresistibly funky “Enjoy Yourself,” while “Show You the Way to Go” became the group’s first Number One hit in the UK and “Good Times,” though never released as a single, became a staple on the “Quiet Storm” radio format. Most notably, the Jacksons were able to write and record their own material for the first time; “Style of Life” was credited to Michael and Tito, and “Blues Away” was the first published song written solely by Michael. These two tracks also marked the first time the Jacksons served as producers.
The Jacksons reached #36 on the Billboard 200 and #6 on the R&B charts, and was certified Gold. The expanded edition adds four bonus tracks to the original album — the 7” extended version and 12” version of “Enjoy Yourself,” the 7” version of “Show You the Way to Go,” and a “Disco Re-Edit” of “Living Together” by the celebrated DJ/producer Dimitri from Paris.
Almost exactly a year later, the Jacksons reunited with Gamble & Huff for the Goin’ Places album. Again, the album included two songs written by the brothers, this time credited to the full group: “Do What You Wanna” and the dance floor hit “Different Kind of Lady.” Tito was given a rare lead vocal spot on the song “Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl.”
Goin’ Places hit Number Eleven on the R&B charts, and sold more than half a million units worldwide. For the first half of 1978, the Jacksons took the album on the road for a successful tour, which concluded with a triumphant date at Dodger Stadium. The expanded digital edition of Goin’ Places includes the full original album plus the 7” versions of the title track, “Find Me a Girl,” and “Even Though You’re Gone.”
On 1978’s Destiny, for the first time, the Jacksons truly took control. It was recorded in a few inspired months at their home studio and at Dawnbreaker Studios in San Fernando, California and produced entirely on their own, with all but one song written by the Jacksons themselves. The brothers were backed by an ace team of session players, including keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, bassist Nathan East, and guitarist Michael Sembello.
The results were explosive; not only did the album feel more confident and modern, but the first single, “Blame It on the Boogie,” went to Number 3 on the R&B charts, Number 11 on the pop side, and reached Number 8 in the UK. The propulsive “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” written by Michael and younger brother Randy, was even bigger, peaking at Number 7 in the Top 10. Destiny was certified platinum, and has sold more than four million copies worldwide.
The expanded digital edition of Destiny adds six bonus tracks: the 7” versions of “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground” and “Destiny;” two 12” disco mixes — “Blame It On the Boogie” and “Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)” — originally done by DJ John Luongo for the album’s 30th anniversary edition in 2009; and two remixes of “That’s What You Get (For Being Polite),” a 12” version and the DJ Reverend P Edit.
Before the Jacksons returned to the studio, Michael released his breakthrough solo album Off the Wall in 1979, which would go nine times platinum and establish him as one of the greatest solo artists in the world. And barely one year later, Michael and the rest of the Jacksons were back with the group’s 1980’s Triumph album, another smash and creative leap for the group.
The album, once again fully written and produced on their own, put them back in the Top Ten and, for the first time in their Epic years, went to Number One on the R&B album charts. Triumph spun off the hits “Lovely One” and the electrifying “Can You Feel It” written by Michael and Jackie. The cinematic production on “This Place Hotel” (originally titled “Heartbreak Hotel” but renamed to avoid confusion with the Elvis Presley classic) was written solely by Michael and pointed the way toward his future direction.
The expanded edition includes ten bonus tracks: the 7” versions of “Can You Feel It,” “Lovely One,” “This Place Hotel,” and “Walk Right Now;” three different remixes of “Walk Right Now” by DJ John Luongo (a 7” version, 12” disco mix, and 12” instrumental mix); and three brand-new remixes of “Can You Feel It”: “Jacksons X MLK” by producer/composer Greg Curtis, which incorporates excerpts of speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama, emphasizing the song’s message that “All the colors of the world should be/Loving each other wholeheartedly;” the
Kirk Franklin Remix, on which the Grammy Award-winning contemporary gospel artist reminds everyone that “the winds of change are blowing your way” and channels a Sunday church service with gospel musicians and choir, the soulful vocals of the legendary Tamela Mann, and his own call-and-response with Michael Jackson; and the “Island Remix,” another Curtis production on which six-time Grammy winner David Sanborn adds his signature sax to the laidback groove that gives this version its title.
The Triumph tour — a spectacle that included effects designed by magician Doug Henning — covered 39 cities in the summer of 1981, winding up with a record four sold-out nights at the Forum in Inglewood, California. The shows were documented on the Jacksons Live! album, which Legacy is reissuing as a two-LP vinyl set.
Following the tour, Michael completed work on Thriller, which was released in 1982 and would become the biggest album of all time. In March of 1983, the Jacksons — including Jermaine — performed together on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special, the moment which shot Thriller into the stratosphere. But immediately on the heels of that album’s eighteen months of global domination came the next Jacksons project — 1984’s Victory album, which saw Jermaine return to the studio with his brothers after almost a decade.
Each Jackson had a lead vocal on the album, which sold seven million copies worldwide and was certified double platinum, the biggest sales for any Jacksons record. “State of Shock,” a duet between Michael and Mick Jagger, went to Number 3 on the pop chart, and “Torture,” which paired Michael and Jermaine, also reached the Top 20. The album was followed by the historic Victory Tour, which played to almost two million fans on its way to becoming the highest-grossing tour at that time. The expanded edition of Victory adds ten new tracks, including multiple edits and remixes of “State of Shock,” “Torture,” and “Body,” and the 7” version of “Wait.”
In 1989, twenty years after the first release by the Jackson 5, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Randy came together to record one final album as the Jacksons, releasing 2300 Jackson Street, named for the address in Gary, Indiana where they grew up. Michael and Marlon joined on for the title track, which was co-produced by the reigning King of New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley. The legendary team of LA Reid and Babyface wrote and produced the album’s first single, “Nothin’ (That Compares 2 U).” The expanded edition adds no less than seventeen bonus tracks — remixes and edits as well as three B-Sides of songs not included on the album itself.
These reissues illustrate the growth and the legacy of one of the most popular groups of all time. The Jacksons’ music during the Epic years not only stands on its own, it also provided the laboratory for Michael Jackson to develop a sound that would truly change the world. The titles tell the story — this body of work was their destiny, it resulted in triumph, it represents their victory.