Saturday 20 February 2021

Dancing Machine/ The Jackson 5 (1974): Albums of my Life: An A-Z

...watching 'Moonwalker' as a kid. I was a Michael Jackson fan from a young age and soon got to liking the Jackson 5 too. The first CD I ever owned was Michael Jackson's 'Ben' at 9 years of age. I had cassettes of some Michael Jackson albums and some Jackson 5 ones too from Boot fairs that we would visit on a Sunday as a family. My dad would always like to find bargains and any time we would see a Michael Jackson tape he would get it for me because he knew I loved his music. I realise that not only do kids today miss out on the thrill of physically owning an album and playing it over and over because what they own is the limit of what they can listen to; but also that not every parent is as nurturing of their child's interests as mine were.

Back to 'Moonwalker'-- there was a brief part of a montage of Michael's earlier music which featured him dancing with a robot. The small clip featured a section of 'Dancing Machine' and it always stayed in my mind, but I didn't recognise the song. Later in life I heard the song and, of course, loved it. 

'Dancing Machine, the album, came to my consciousness most probably in one of my returns to Jackson's earlier music after one of my many hiatuses. I found him at 7 or 8 years old when 'Dangerous' was out. I then returned to him in my late teens and early 20s, finding a few new Jackson 5/ Jacksons tracks due to the internet opening up a few more avenues for music exploration. A friend from Primary school who had complimented my MJ T Shirt at a school disco became a good buddy to me at this age. He was probably the only person who I've been able to muse with about about my devotion to Michael Jackson's back catalogue and feel like there was a shared degree of enthusiasm. I re-kindled a love of  MJ materiaI at this point; I'd love to reconnect on our shared love of music one day.

At some point in my 20s I heard 'If I Don't Love You This Way' and it must have stuck with me because when I came back to Michael Jackson (this time in my 30s and in a big way), I felt the love come back for this song immediately. I have read that when Michael Jackson was interviewed about this album he said that this was one of his favourites too.

Full disclosure: I own this album twice-- a second hand 1970s pressing and a limited pressing coloured vinyl version (pictured above). The older version has the name 'Caroline' on the front and some notes inside (which is always really interesting to me-- who is Caroline and is she still about today?)

Out of all of the many Jackson albums I own, why Dancing Machine as a top pick? Why not Dangerous or Destiny, for example? Firstly, there is a purity about the Jackson 5 that is sacred to me. My love of music pretty much started with their songs, their talent at such a young age is incredible and there is a joy and passion that you hear within their music that cannot be replicated. Dancing Machine has tracks to make you dance balanced perfectly with love songs. It also has that 70s vibe with its psychedelic synths and drums on 'I Am Love', the opening track (and a seven and a half minute masterpiece).

The title track, 'Dancing Machine', 'Life of the Party' and 'She's a Rhythm Child' are disco tracks guaranteed to make you want to move; whilst Michael's vocals are so accomplished and flawless (he was 16 years old when this album came out). As I listen to this album--and though it came out before I was born-- I feel like I am transported to a 70s dancefloor. The sleeve of the vinyl (including the re-pressing) have some adorable Jackson 5 fan merchandise offers which makes me wish I was a 70s teen; I would be ordering those stickers and joining the fan club as quick as you could say 'Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day!'

'What You Don't Know' is also a track Michael stated as a favourite and I can see why. It is grittier in tone with its themes of betrayal, secrets and lies, yet still features some funky drums, guitar and synths, tying it into the previous tracks. When 'If I Don't Love You This Way' follows, Michael's heartfelt vocals shine. This song, with its harmonic backing vocals from the Jackson 5, manages to be poppy, harking back to their earlier commercial sounds, yet deeply soulful and emotionally stirring. When Michael sings: 'If I don't love you this way, why do I say what I say, If I don't need you this much, Why do I ache for your touch, yeah.' can feel the deep longing and devotion that is felt when in love. 

I really like Michael's voice at this age. It is similar to on one of the earliest albums that I owned on cassette: 'Farewell My Summer Love' which is a compilation album with songs from 1973 which were released in 1984 with some 80s sounding overdubbing (it's a great collection of songs.) There's a maturity and ease to Jackson's vocal, yet a youthful, earnest edge that, for me, really peaks in this period. 

Though Michael has always been the focus for me, it has to be said that Jermaine's voice is gorgeous. In 'It All Begins and Ends With Love', a ballad, showcases the individual voices of the Jackson 5 beautifully. It's so nice to hear Tito, Jackie, Michael, Marlon and then Jermaine all take parts-- and they sing so earnestly here. I know that if I had had this album when I was younger, I'd have overlooked this track, but as an adult who has more of an interest in musicality, this is a stand out.

Dancing Machine was the penultimate album to be released with Motown and before Jermaine left to go solo. After this came Moving Violation which is also one of my favourite J5 albums. This era of their music is fun, funky, yet polished and rather sexy (these were now young men, not children appearing for on the Ed Sullivan show.)

1. If I Don't Love You This Way
2. I Am Love
3. Dancing Machine

... I'm in the gym or it's Saturday morning and I want to jig around the bedroom (the disco tracks), sunbathing in the garden or walking in the Summer ('If I Don't Love You This Way'), or on a Jackson 5 binge.

'She’s a dance, dance, dance, dance, dancing machine
Watch her get down, watch her get down
As she do, do, do her thing
Right on the scene'   
('Dancing Machine')

This song was written by Hal David, Don Fletcher and Dean Parks. It's not that the lyrics to 'Dancing Machine' are mind-blowing or deep, but they syncopate and perfectly convey the mood of the song. They make you feel like the queen of your own private disco. 

... well the brown vinyl does fit perfectly with the cover artwork, but... I envisage a mirrorball reflecting onto a dimmed disco dancefloor, so I would say it is a holographic silver. You could actually play this whole album and it would emulate an entire disco experience in just over half an hour with its upbeat early tracks filling the floor, some slower, smoochy numbers, then an upper at the end.

'Destiny'/ The Jacksons (1978)
'Dangerous'/ Michael Jackson (1991)
'Dru Hill'/ Dru Hill (2002)

What is your favourite album beginning with D?

1 comment :

  1. One Day In Your Life is my favourite by Michael Jackson.