Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jackson 5

  • ABC [Motown, 1970] B+
  • Third Album [Motown, 1970] B-
  • Greatest Hits [Motown, 1971] A-
  • Maybe Tomorrow [Motown, 1971] C+
  • Lookin' Through the Windows [Motown, 1972] B
  • Dancing Machine [Motown, 1974] B+
  • Anthology [Motown, 1976] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

ABC [Motown, 1970]
Admittedly, the charm of hearing an eleven-year-old cover Smokey, Stevie, and the Delfonics may not be enduring. And admittedly, some of the filler--"The Young Folks," for instance--is embarrassing even by Motown standards. But in fact the eleven-year-old doesn't disgrace himself against Smokey and Stevie and beats the Delfonics going away. And some of the filler--"ABC" you know, but how about "2-4-6-8"?--recall the days of great B sides. B+

Third Album [Motown, 1970]
The first bad sign is that the best cut on the album is a ballad. The second is that the best fast one is the tossed-off "How Funky Is Your Chicken" rather than a Corporation special like "Goin' Back to Indiana" or "Mama's Pearl." The third is the worst "Bridge Over Troubled Water" I ever want to hear. Is that Jermaine or Jackie? Are we supposed to care? B-

Greatest Hits [Motown, 1971]
Surprisingly resistible for a record that offers "I Want You Back," "ABC," and "The Love You Save," three of the greatest radio ups ever. I wish they were on the same side along with the second-line fast ones so the hits could just keep on coming, you know? Admittedly, the boys do have a cute, astute way with a ballad, too. Just thank Berry that "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "I'll Be There" are good ones. A-

Maybe Tomorrow [Motown, 1971]
It's getting serious when the only discernible appeal of the title hit is that Michael is singing. The follow-up "Never Can Say Goodbye," has more going for it. As do "Sixteen Candles," originated by the Crests, and "Honey Chile," originated by Martha & the Vandellas. C+

Lookin' Through the Windows [Motown, 1972]
They're wonders of nature no longer, but they're still a good group, and this snaps back toward the usual marvelous Motown multiplex. Jackson Browne's specifically late-adolescent "Doctor My Eyes" brings Michael along too fast, but it sounds good on the radio. And Jermaine (I think) proves equal to Ashford & Simpson's specifically adult "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." Recommended ballad: "If I Could Move a Mountain." Continuing a great tradition: "E-Ne-Me-Ne-Mi-Ne-Moe." B

Dancing Machine [Motown, 1974]
My friend who goes to discos tells me the Jacksons are the first major artists to put out a real disco album--designed for dancers, and listeners be damned. This may well be true--certainly the guitars and electric keyboards are more noteworthy than the singing. He also tells me it's the Jacksons' best album since who knows when, and what's surprising is that he's right again. This is a tribute to the aforementioned instruments, but the singing is fine, and if a lot of the songs live up to the album title, that ain't necessarily bad. For listeners (dancers too): "What You Don't Know." B+

Anthology [Motown, 1976]
The only one of Motown's triple-LP retrospectives to concentrate on (or even include much) '70s music documents an institution in decline. Initially, the company marshalls everything it's got for one final push--not for nothing was the group's songwriting-production combine called The Corporation, and it's a measure of their seriousness that they asked the Crusaders to help with the tracks. But within two years they'd run out of gas--all the mini-comebacks after that, even the dancing-machine coup, were flukes. The proof is that the old-formula filler often surpasses the desperate imitations that became minor hits--better "E-Ne-Me-Ne-Mi-Ne-Moe" than "Skywriter" or "A Little Bit of You." The selection includes Michael's hits, Jermaine's hit, the works, and as the other albums disappear it will become essential in its way. But not to listen to, much. B+