I suppose it’s understandable, given their earlier output, that The Jackson 5 are not widely regarded as a premier funk act. More’s the pity. Forty-four years ago today, on September 21, 1973 they released. Get It Together, a huge departure from their earlier sound and one of the funkiest slabs ever cut.
There’s a lot of credit to go around, most notably producer Hal Davis and Norman Whitfield and the trio of arrangers, David Blumberg, James Anthony Carmichael, and Arthur G. White. The Jacksons (including father/manager Joe Jackson) were tired of the direction Motown was pushing the group, so Davis and Carmichael changed things up enough to give them a new sound while still conforming to the wishes of Motown magnate Berry Gordy.
While Michael Jackson was still the undeniable lead singer in the group, James Carmichael’s vocal arrangements were much more democratic than earlier albums, with all of the brothers sharing verses and leads throughout the album, most notably on their cover of The Temptations’ “Hum Along And Dance” and “Mama I Got A Brand New Thing (Don’t Say No)” originally recorded by The Undisputed Truth.
Hal Davis is credited with funkifying their sound, stacking layer upon layer of production and instrumentation – heavy bass, funky keys, and blistering extended drum breaks. And instead of keeping the songs to sub-three minute pop numbers, Davis recorded extended takes of several of the numbers that showcase the disco/funk arrangements and vocal ad-libs.
I like the early Jackson 5 bubblegum as much as anyone, but this record shows a group coming into their own, maturing before the eyes of America. Michael, the youngest, was 15 on this album and there’s a maturity in his voice that wasn’t there on earlier records. He was the most vocal in terms of his family’s dissatisfaction with Motown’s vision – it was Michael who pushed the hardest to make this a dance record.
And as part of the disco movement’s vanguard, this was an amazing dance record, starting with the title cut and not letting up until the massive closer, “Dancing Machine” 37 minutes later (the latter went to #2 on the Billoard charts). The choice of covers is inspired, as well, taking Diana Ross’s “Reflections” from a straight-up soul number to a dance-floor filler. They cut out the band and cranked up the bass and drums on the arrangement of the Gladys Knight cut, “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You),” exploiting the rhythm track to full effect. The mellowest cut on the album, “It’s Too Late To Change The Time,” still rocks a mid-tempo bass groove over Caribbean percussion and Michael’s best vocal performance in the set.
But for me, it’s the raw funk indulgences that really make this release stand out in my book. “Mama I Got A Brand New Thing” is a teenage declaration of independence set over a blaxploitation soundtrack, while the album’s centerpiece, “Hum Along And Dance” is an eight-and-a-half minute bombast with an extended drum break that could be looped endlessly to keep people’s asses wigglin’ eternally. In short, the record is a party from front to back.
The Jackson 5 never again reached the heights of funkiness that they achieved on Get It Together, though there were some shoutbacks, particularly on their follow-up, Dancing Machine. So they never really got their due as a funk powerhouse aside the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and George Clinton. But they deserve it, if for this record alone.