Thursday, April 20, 2017

70s Motown: I Want You Back

Graham Parker & The Rumour: I Want You Back (Alive)

“I Want You Back” was recorded by the Jackson 5 as the first single the band released on Motown, on October 7, 1969, so I’m kind of pushing the theme a bit. But it became a Billboard No. 1 single for the week ending January 31, 1970, so there’s that.

By the time that Michael Jackson died in 2009, he had gotten pretty strange, what with the skin lightening, the nose, the glove, the monkey, the Neverland ranch and the sexual molestation allegations. But as a child myself when “I Want You Back” was released (MJ was born three years before me), it never struck me how strange it was that the Jackson Five songs about love and loss were being sung by an 11 year old child.

And yet, it is hard to deny that “IWYB” is a great song, with an incredible riff. It was ranked 121 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and the notoriously picky Pitchfork listed it as the second best song of the 1960s (sorry, theme maker). Apparently, the Daily Telegraph said that it was “arguably the greatest pop record of all time.” As a lawyer in my non-blogging time, I’m always wary when someone uses the word “arguably,” but it is certainly in the conversation.

Not surprisingly, it has been covered many, many times. My favorite version is by Graham Parker & The Rumour, who regularly began performing the song on their 1979 tour supporting Squeezing Out Sparks, the album that briefly catapulted them to fame. It was originally released as a single, with “Mercury Poisoning,” one of the great record company “fuck you” records of all time, and later as part of the Live Sparks radio station promo disc (ultimately released to the public as a bonus CD with Squeezing Out Sparks). Parker’s version is, predictably, intense. That it is being sung by an angry adult seems way more appropriate than the pre-teen fronted original. But who says rock ‘n’ roll needs to be appropriate?

Proof that “I Want You Back” is a great song is demonstrated by the fact that it works in pretty much any genre. My friend Patrick wrote about Five Good Covers of the song, including the Parker version, here, and it also is successful in jazz instrumental and vocal versions, Brazilian versions, performed by a steel drum band (hey--that fits the last theme!), as an emo song, in Japanese, by former Michael Jackson backup singer Sheryl Crow (here, inaccurately, but more theme-appropriately, introduced by Jamie Foxx as a “1973 hit”) and, predictably, if excellently, by Bruno Mars.. Although, I’m not liking this version.

But if you want to see something incredible, again, thanks to Patrick, here’s a version with just Michael Jackson’s vocals.

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