It’s funny how some Beatles fans thought that their recent remastered box sets and The Beatles Rock Band video game had something to do with the death of Michael Jackson, as a means for someone to cash in. MJ would have cashed in regardless, and yet people want to create a scenario that only exists in their mind. I say this because arguably, the same can be said for a new Jackson 5 compillation called I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters (Motown/Universal).
But let’s get to the real deal. The Motown catalog is worth A LOT, and its owners, Universal, have been going out of their way to exploit it. No, that’s not a harsh way of saying it, that’s a word that you can find in any and all record contracts. Motown released an incredible series of karaoke discs where fans were not only able to sing over the original instrumentals, but it became a great pool of music for producers to sample from, and DJ’s to get creative and make some incredible mixes. There are many Motown-related remix projects in Japan, and the Motown Remixed compilations from a few years ago tapped into the catalog where hip-hop and electronic-based producers got a chance to reconstruct cherished gems.
I would consider I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters to be less about raiding the vaults to cash in, but merely a continuation of what they’ve been doing for years, which is giving fans new ways of hearing the familiar. You’ll hear “TV tracks” that were meant for television appearances, or alternate tracks where you’ll hear a different vocal track or different backing. The alternate versions of “ABC”, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, and “”Dancing Machine” are incredible, although the mix of “ABC” might shock a few people because the vocals are completely different and it’s a song that’s ingrained in our minds. If anything, it reveals a demo-like quality to these songs that most people never heard or associated with the Jackson 5, whose music has always been about creating perfection in our minds. If anything, these alternate versions show that they were kids and young men, five brothers, just having fun without knowledge of the business that they were involved in. When you hear Michael Jackson ask his brothers to spell out the alphabet, it’s a bit more innocent than hearing him say “shake it baby, shake it” in the well known version. For a brief moment, we can imagine them still in Gary, Indiana just kicking it on the corner.
I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters simply offers a different twist of the J5 perspective the world has loved for 40 years. It has the hits, forgotten album tracks, and if there’s any track that might show a few revelations, it’s “Buttercup”. The song was written specifically for the group by Stevie Wonder in 1973 and very much sounds like the album Wonder released that year, Innervisions, and Michael sounds incredible, offering a confidence that he found himself growing in for the rest of the decade until he broke out with Off The Wall. The song was scheduled for release but was called back, and upon hearing it, you’ll find out why it could have been one of the best songs of the decade, period. That’s not me throwing hype just because this is the Jackson 5, it’s an incredible injustice because the song is that good, and because Michael was not able to know what fans thought of it. If there is justice, perhaps a younger generation of fans will take this song and turn it into their own.
With luck, maybe Motown will turn Unreleased Masters into a new reissue series.