Dec 21, 2015

The Jackson 5: Beefcake Brothers of 1970s Soul

In 1964, the Jackson Brothers, consisting of  Jackie (age 13), Tito (11), and Jermaine (10), began performing r&b and soul in their hometown of Gary, Indiana.  Five years later, they added younger brothers Marlon and Michael to the group, changed their emphasis to soul-enhanced bubblegum pop, and, with some savvy promotion from Motown Records and Miss Diana Ross, burst onto the teen idol scene.

They had four #1 hits in 1969: "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," and "I'll Be There."

The lyrics were incessantly heterosexist, always about dating and romance, with "girl" every other word, so gay kids weren't impressed.

You went to school to learn, girl, things you never knew before
Girl, since you been away
Goody girl, let down those curls.

But they were impressed by the semi-nude and beefcake shots splashed across the teen magazines, almost unheard of for African-American performers in the era.  Jackie had the most impressive physique.

The Jackson Five appeared on such white-centric series as The Andy Williams Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Jim Nabors Hour, not to mention their own razzle-dazzle pop show.

I watched their Saturday-morning cartoon series (1971-73).  Michael was the star, involved with pirates, mad scientists, fairy tales, and even a Wizard of Oz parody that presaged his role as the Scarecrow in The Wiz a few years alter.

Their popularity peaked in 1971,  but never waned.  In 1975, after Michael had struck out on his own, they continued to perform as "The Jacksons."  Later Jermaine left the group, and younger brother Randy joined.  Sisters Janet and LaToya have careers of their own.

Raised in the extremely homophobic Jehovah's Witnesses sect, The Jackson family varies in their levels of homophobia.  Jermaine made the nasty comment "We're not faggots."  Marlon said "There's nothing wrong with it. I have gay friends." Janet supports gay marriage.