Michael Jackson’s music may yet survive his reputation, but its meaning is forever changed. Michael’s ranch has imbued each of his solo records, and the Jackson Five’s, with an aura of moral repugnance that outweighs their artistic merits. Michael’s misdeeds are difficult to overlook: they have made it almost impossible for the ethical listener to derive any sort of pleasure from his music.
I feel the erasure of the Jackson 5, and Michael, acutely. To try and trick myself, I figured what I needed was to invent some sort of faux-Jackson product, and so I formed a new soul band. In reverse alphabetical order, may I present to you The 5 Jacksons.
Walter J, no relation, I have written about here before. His recording of “My Ship is Coming In” is a contender for best ever soul singing ever done anywhere by anyone. Walter J had polio and performed on crutches. He wasn’t born in Chicago, but that’s where he was made. Curtis Mayfield was a mentor.
Thelma was born a Jackson (but not a Michael Jackson Jackson), then became a Houston (but not a Whitney Houston Houston) through marriage. "Once a Jackson, Always a Jackson," as the Jacksons always say and even if this is not technically true, I am still counting Thelma Houston as a Jackson, ok? When Thelma released Sunshower (pictured) in 1969 it was her first record and she was 23 years old. Thelma Houston will not have a hit until she is 30, but it is a hit worth waiting for because "Don't Leave Me This Way," will become an international cultural sensation topping soul, disco and R&B charts everywhere in 1976, and not really ever going away since.
When Let me Tickle Your Fancy was released in 1982, Jermaine was not the biggest musical star in his family. His younger brother Michael released a record that same year and it was called Thriller. Motherfucker! Albeit minor, Jermaine was still a star, equipped with enough clout of his own to convince Devo, the Kent State New Wavers from Ohio, to play on the title track, a pairing so successful you wish they’d taken the concept and expanded it further: Tito Jackson with Talking Heads. Janet Jackson with the B-52s: now that's what I call a Love Shack! Marlon Jackson and Television perform Marquee Moon in its entirety, one night only. The new wave/post-punk Jackson genre is ready for revival.
Chuck J, no relation, was the male equivalent of Dionne Warwick: a big singer backed by slick, Burt Bacharach (and Bacharachesque) arrangements with lots of strings. He never caught on quite like Dionne, but he remained an urban delicacy, New York soul for the sophisticated set. The song “The Thrill Is Gone”, for instance, the stand-out track from Teardrops Keep Fallin' On My Heart (1970), the last of three albums Chuck J cut for Motown, pairs nicely with Armagnac, Armani and ennui.
One of North America’s most undervalued blue-eyed soul singers, Alan J, no relation, wears a mullet, has an exclusive line of consumer goods, called “The Alan Jackson Collection,” sold at Cracker Barrel stores throughout the United States, and sings a brand of country-soul that is, of course, in no way soul at all. The Alan Jackson Collection includes baseball caps, barbecue sauce, and an old-fashioned wooden walking chair with a metal plate containing Alan J's autograph for you to rest your head. Al(l)an Jackson is also the name of my old friend from Quito. He is hard to google as a result, but as far as I can tell he and his partner Pearl still run an orphanage in Manta, Ecuador.