The Jackson Five
fter three number one singles in uptempo, "soul bubblegum" groove, it was a bold move for Berry Gordy, Jr., to allow his young charges from Gary, Indiana, to record a ballad. But producer Hal Davis had found the right song, and Berry passed over an early version of "Mama's Pearl" written by Freddie Ferren and the rest of the Corporation (see "I Want You Back") in favor of "I'll Be There."
Gordy's judgement was flawless. "I'll Be There" entered the Billboard Hot 100 on September 19, 1970, at number 40. Four weeks later it went to number one and stayed there for five weeks, making it the most successful Jackson Five single of all time.
Davis met the Jackson Five as soon as they signed with Motown. As head of the West Coast office, he picked them up at the airport when they arrived in Los Angeles for a year of intense rehearsals before recording their first record and going on the road.
Soon after the Jacksons came to Motown, Davis received a song written by a friend of his, Bob West. The song had also gone to Motown's A&R department, but they hadn't shown much interest -- especially since it was unlikely the Jackson Five would be recording ballads for their singles.
But Davis felt differently. "Very few tunes have come along in my lifetime that I knew were just natural. This particular tune was natural. I first heard it on just the keyboards. I loved the melody -- the title was already 'I'll Be There,' and I thought it needed some lyric help."
With Willie Hutch, Davis and West re-wrote the song and took a chance on recording the instrumental track. They hadn't completely resolved the problem of new lyrics when they played it for Gordy. "Berry liked it instantly," Davis remembers. Gordy started writing lyrics and helped finish the song. "The next thing you know, we're in the studio with Michael and the kids," Davis laughs.
"I'll Be There" became the biggest-selling Motown single to date. When it went to number one, it gave the Jackson Five the unique distinction of being the only group in the history of the Hot 100 to have their first four entries go to number one.
The Jacksons were not to have another number one single as a group. Perren and Mizell re-wrote "Mama's Pearl," and it followed "I'll Be There," peaking at number two for two weeks. A Clifton Davis song, "Never Can Say Goodbye," came next, and peaked at number two for three weeks. "Maybe Tomorrow" broke the run of Top 10 singles, but just temporarily. "Sugar Daddy" was net, and hat went to 10.
There was only one more Motown Top 10 single for the group: Davis' "Dancing Machine" in 1974. In 1975, the Jackson Five left Motown for Epic Records. Jermaine Jackson, who married Berry Gordy Jr.'s daughter, Hazel, did not leave -- yet. He stayed with Motown until 1984, when he signed with Arista.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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