Jun 08

THE JACKSONS – “Show You The Way To Go”

FT + Popular59 comments • 4,108 views

#407, 25th June 1977

A key player in Popular to come steps lightly onto the scene: Michael Jackson (with brothers) was already a star but his ball-of-energy performances on the Jackson Five’s hits had always just missed out on the UK #1. On “Show You The Way To Go” he’s a subtler presence, cajoling rather than exploding. His presence – still charismatic, still show-stealing – is a ripple of excitement in “Show You”‘s smooth groove. Or maybe that’s just hindsight?

Disco was good to Michael Jackson: it came along at just the right time for the child star to cut the glorious forcefulness and find a voice and style that could carry him along. Jackson realised that the unwavering beat of disco left room for doubt and hurt even while the dancing went on, and on “Show You The Way To Go” you can hear him developing that trademark agonised quaver, that pleading squeak which would take him higher than anyone. The other Jacksons are hardly lacking in suppleness, mind, and this would be a pleasure even if it didn’t point futurewards so tantalisingly.



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  1. 1
    rosie on 17 Jun 2008 #

    And here comes something else which wasn’t new. The Jacksons had been around since I was at school and they were a distinctive and high-profile sound. Michael is beginning to find the voice that would come to be associated with the peak of his career, and however Michael the man may have fallen to pieces since, and however he may now be a figure of fun, he was a towering presence in the years to come and quite rightly so. But let’s not upset the bun just yet.

    If you asked me to catalogue Jacksons hits (as a collective), this would probably be one of the last I could name. It’s perfectly nice, it’s perfectly forgettable, and frankly I’m a bit surprised it was a number one (because I don’t remember it being, not because I don’t think it worthy.)

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    Dan R on 17 Jun 2008 #

    this hasn’t hung around in popular memory like the earlier Jackson 5 Motown singles but in its way it’s one of the most momentous singles of the seventies. It’s the second (and last?) Gamble & Huff production to hit the UK top spot. Despite its high reputation, Philly Soul never bothered the charts all that much – with the O’Jays regular in the top 20 but rarely in the top 10. And this is clearly a step on from their earlier outing with The Three Degrees. All the usual Philly motifs (or clichés about them) – lushness, expansiveness, expensiveness – or done with after the opening 30 seconds. After that, the orchestration is subdued, less sheeny, holding back to give the singer his space.

    Because it’s Michael Jackson who leaps into our attention here. And it’s a major transformation from the cheerily precocious singalong of Rockin’ Robin et al. This single delivers him up pretty well fully-formed in the vocal incarnation who will dominate the next decade. We hear that swiftly deployed range of vocal textures – falsetto, raw soul, balladeer, punctuated by the gasps and grunts that are bewitchingly both effete and raw.

    The production offers MJ a moderate funk in the softest feather-bedding. He perhaps doesn’t have the supreme vocal control we’ll be admiring later. He hits a couple if false notes and the falsetto’s strained in places. He also runs out of improvisational ideas a minute or so before the fadeout. It’s probably best seen as a sign if things to come more than a fully satisfying achievement in itself.

    Do I like the song? Not very much. It’s a trite sentiment, unfolded rather repetitively. The lyrics are so frictionless they’re actually hard to pay sustained attention to. Your ear is always diverted by something else. Fortunately there is much else there.

    Anyone ever heard Dannii Minogue’s version of this? Unspeakable.

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    LondonLee on 17 Jun 2008 #

    Even middling Gamble & Huff is better than most but it is MJs vocal that really makes this (and his brothers harmonies), though I’m one of those who thinks he was a more soulful singer before his voice broke and he developed all those squeaks and yelps.

    Lovely, a 7 from me at least, though they’d produce better records on their own a year later.

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    Martin Skidmore on 17 Jun 2008 #

    I think this is a rather lovely record, and even if you have to have room for higher marks for him, I’d have gone a little higher than you.

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    Waldo on 18 Jun 2008 #

    This was released a year or so after the brothers’ philoprogenitive father took them away from Motown because he felt that he could cut a better deal with Epic, which he presumably did. Goodbye Jackson Five, hello Jacksons. Didn’t matter. Same old, same old. Not that this was a criticism necessarily, as SYTWTG, lightweight though it was, was perfectly passable fare at a period of what was unchallenged mediocrity in the UK singles chart, unlike in the States, where the bestsellers were such pieces of class as “Dreams” and “Got To Give It Up”, for example. Waldo, the fake punk, meanwhile, was now wired into Peely, championing punk bands and other wonderful stuff, as well, it must be said, as some pieces of complete toilet (geezers from Laos playing flutes and glockenspiels under water and such), which I recognised as rubbish but was terrified of doing an “Emperor’s New Clothes” bit to, which a lot of this ethnic bollocks richly deserved, lest I was uncovered as a “poppy twat” by my peers and labelled as a reactionary by some operatically-built moose from The Observer.

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    rosie on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Waldo, you should have stuck with your Laotian subaquatics, you anticipated Late Junction by thirty years!

    Not that I recognise that sort of thing as rubbish. It’s the staple of my late nights.

    Not a million miles from that sort of thing: I was twice enthralled in the first half of the 70s by performances by Stomu Yamash’ta (there’s an apostrophe in there somewhere but I’m blowed if I can remember exactly where it goes.) My fiftieth birthday treat was to be taken to a day at the Proms (lunchtime and evening) including Evelyn Glennie’s performance of Tan Dun’s Water Concerto. I was similarly enthralled. I kind of imagine it falling flat on the radio; you really did have to be that. Percussion is performance art as much as anything.

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    when small i remember this friend of my parents raving abt a proms performance of hans werne henze’s “we come to the river”, which was half (radical) opera (it’s based on a play by edward bond i think) and half assault-course for percussionist — forget the name of the ltter, but our informant wz lit up by how this chap had to run about very fast to get to all his different percussion instruments in time

    it sounded kinda awesome (she died in 2000 and we all miss her)

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    DJ Punctum on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Seven years after the number one smash they should have had, the Jackson family finally made it to the top in Britain, having defected from Motown to Philly in frustration (the only high profile Motown-to-Philly defection unless you count the Motown/Detroit Spinners, who in any case went to Atlantic); in the eyes of Berry Gordy they had committed the unpardonable crimes of (a) growing up; and (b) wanting to have more say in the music they made. Gordy was not keen on the prospect of having to deal with half-a-dozen more Little Stevie Wonders when they came of age; after 1974’s “Dancing Machine” they became a low priority act for Motown – lower by the day – so all of them, bar Jermaine who had married into the Gordy family and stayed/was kept behind, fled into the welcoming arms of Gamble and Huff.

    This period of the Jacksons’ career has tended to attract the least attention from observers, who see it as a relatively bland patch coming between their explosive early Motown work and their unassailably classic run of hits on Epic which really began in earnest with “Blame It On The Boogie” in 1978. And on “Show You The Way To Go,” a single which only made #28 in the States, they do sound relatively subdued. Philly Int. seemed to have developed a sudden taste for message sounds around the mid-‘70s; see also Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ “Wake Up Everybody,” the Philly All Stars’ “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto” and Billy Paul’s startling reclamation of McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In” (not to mention MFSB’s “Love Is The Message”). The lyrics might have sounded clichéd if sung by anyone else – “Come together and think like one,” “We can help each other to overcome” etc. (overcome what?) – but the arrangement and groove here are so silky and liquid you can almost believe what they’re singing.

    The record’s inevitable main interest is to provide us with an example of 17-year-old Michael clearly in a state of transition. There’s still that vulnerability from the days of “Ben” but already he is inserting those between-stanzas whoops, lubricating himself up. With his triumphant ululatory motif at the fadeout – so seamless it nearly sounds sampled – he’s obviously limbering up for the cataclysm to come in ’79.

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    Billy Smart on 18 Jun 2008 #

    I always think, whenever and wherever I hear this, that there’s a sort of ‘fluff on the needle’ distortion effect inherent to its quiveringness. It sounds kind of vulnerable and hesitant, but not interesting enough as a song to support this emotional mood. It’s okay, but it tends to make me think of other – more dynamic – Jacksons records that I’d rather be hearing.

    I think that I’m right in saying Edward Bond’s libretto for ‘We Come To The River’ was specially commissioned, and the work counts as an original collaboration between Bond and Henze.

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    wichita lineman on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Seems like I’m on my own here, I’ve always loved it… the smoothness of its Philly shimmer certainly doesn’t bug me at all- structurally and sonically it’s very close to Deniece Williams’ Free – and the fact it was an out of the blue hit for a largely forgotten group (Dancing Machine never charting in the UK, their last top tenner was four years earlier) meant this sounded fresh and surprising at the time. Not knowing what was round the corner we weren’t to know it was a transition period.

    The lead vocal pleads, quietly sobs, and finally soars with that bizarre coda (not sure if that isn’t some technical trickery!). I think it’s one of Michael’s most affecting performances – compare it to the staginess of She’s Out Of My Life just along the way – with the ticks yet to become cliches.

    In the wake of their escape from Detroit, curling up in the soft, soft featherbed of Gamble/Huff, the whole group sound liberated, relieved, and relaxed. Which, as I exit middle-youth, sounds like just where I want to be.

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    DJ Punctum on 18 Jun 2008 #

    The crying on “She’s Out Of My Life” wasn’t staged; Quincy Jones has attested to the fact that MJ couldn’t get through any takes of the song without bursting into tears.

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    vinylscot on 18 Jun 2008 #

    To me, this was a real surprise #1. Yes it was more “Philly” and polished, but was it as good as the previous single “Enjoy Yourself”, which struggled to #42 a couple of months earlier? I don’t think so – EY was , as the title suggests a joyous little ditty, with a nod to the previous year’s mini ’40s revival, and some great MJ ad-libs and squeaks.

    SYTWTG to me was fine, but unremarkable, a pleasant enough number with an obviously well-polished performance to go with it. I think it was a stepping stone towards MJ’s second career, probably all part of the master plan.

    The Jacksons were rather starved of decent material; there was nothing else on their “Jacksons” album to follow this up with – the mediocre “Dreamer” failing to hit the top twenty. Much the same happened with their next album “Going Places”, with only the title track being of a suitable standard and even that failing to dent the 20.

    It was the album after that, “Destiny” which revealed the cunning plan of promoting Michael and demoting the rest down to his backing band. That album, with the two big hits “Blame It On The Boogie” and “Shake Your Body” was a proof of concept for the record company; their idea of pushing Michael was a goer, and the rest is history.

    The Jacksons became an irrelevance; they tried to rein in Michael on the “Triumph” album and show they were still a group, but really nobody was interested in them any more. The singles sold because of Michael’s involvement, and that was the story for the rest of their careers – if they involved Michael (or if Michael agreed to be involved) they got hits – if not, they bombed.

    They were never going to be able to compete with Michael’s solo career, but I always thought they were never realy given a chance (or decent material) by the record company – they got their golden egg, and didn’t need the goose that laid it any more!

    It will be interesting to see if the proposed family tour actually comes off in the next couple of years. I understand they have decamped to Devon or somewhere similar to regroup and plan their next move. Somehow I don’t think world domination will be on the menu this time!

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    Waldo on 18 Jun 2008 #

    # 11 – *The crying on “She’s Out Of My Life” wasn’t staged; Quincy Jones has attested to the fact that MJ couldn’t get through any takes of the song without bursting into tears.*

    Yes, I think this refers to the period of time when Minnie Mouse wasn’t talking to him. But I stand to be corrected.

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    wichita lineman on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Ha! Well, I wasn’t saying it was staged, just stagey. The Cryin’ Shames’ Please Stay has an exquisitely choked vocal because Joe Meek screamed at and hit the singer until he was in tears. Now, that’s a producer who knows how to get the best out of a recording session.


    If Michael couldn’t get through She’s Out Of My Life without sobbing that puts it closer to the level of Norman Wisdom’s Don’t Laugh At Me. Quincy should have told him to be more professional and grow up – could’ve saved a lot of aggro in the future.

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    DJ Punctum on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Yes, and then Jacko might have made lots of tasteful solo albums like Freddie Jackson or Eugene Wilde to which Robbie Vincent would have urged us to open the freezer door and light the Woolworth’s candles.

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    Lena on 18 Jun 2008 #

    #5 Operatically-built moose would probably write better than anyone at the Observer these days.

    I don’t know this song at all, not a big hit over here and totally overshadowed by the upcoming avalanche of another family of brothers…

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    Waldo on 18 Jun 2008 #

    #14 – Michael Jackson: *Quincy should have told him to be more professional and grow up…*

    An eternally fruitless task, alas.

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    fourier, loyola, de sade, lee “scratch” perry <— someone shd write an essay on S&M lunacy as the best possible in-studio psychodrama dynamic: viz spector/meek pistol-brandishing and manipulative tantrums as the only possible vector to emotional truth!!

    (from years ago i recall that — while recordin ‘heroes’? — eno’s OBLIQUE STRATEGIES required bowie and everyone else present a. to eat a v.v.v.hot curry and immediately after b. to PUT STICKING PLASTER OVER THEIR MOUTHS while laying down all of the next session’s tracks)

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    Billy Smart on 18 Jun 2008 #

    And then there’s the (possibly apocryphal) tale of Lou Reed achieving a suitably harrowing effect of crying children for ‘The Kids’ on ‘Berlin’ by telling the engineer’s two young sons that their mother had killed herself because they hadn’t loved her enough!

    Its a hard song to take, even before you hear that story.

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    wichita lineman on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Strange studio situations that sway the sound of a record. These are self-inclicted…

    Neil Young and Crazy Horse in totally pissed, wake mode on Tonight’s The Night. Very good (even if Danny Baker thinks it’s the most over-rated album ever made).

    Julian Cope singing Tiny Children in total darkness? It beats Julian Cope singing World Shut Your Mouth naked on top of a stepladder. Both seem to prove something, but I’m not sure what.

    RE She’s Out Of My Life, maybe Quincy Jones told Michael his brothers had all killed themselves because he was going to reduce them to bit-players with his splendid new album.

    As for him turning into Eugene Wilde, at least it would’ve made for a slightly more seductive listen than Dirty Diana. Least sexy song ever recorded?

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    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jun 2008 #

    why were the engineer’s children IN the studio? given that it was a LOU REED session this seems a bit lacking in forethought!

    actually i just did a review for s&s of the recent concert documentary of berlin — sources say whizzkid producer bob ezrin had some kind of a nervous breakdown at the time, so gruelling was the process

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    Erithian on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Philly-type sounds can go either way for me – they can be smooth yet soar and carry you along with them, or they can be a bit ho-hum. This one, I’m afraid, is on the “ho-hum” side of the ledger. Doesn’t do much for me, and if Michael is running out of improvisational ideas a minute before the fadeout as Dan R suggests, it’s an admission that they’re padding out the song already and not very well.

    We’re no doubt going to have cross words about Michael Jackson in due course. For the moment I’ll just say that “She’s Out Of My Life” is one of the very few songs of his that I’m convinced by, and the aforementioned vocal tics drive me up, not off, the wall.

    As others have said, it’s a pity the Jackson Five’s effervescent pop wasn’t rewarded with an early-70s number one – right up until “Skywriter”, which should have been a lot bigger, they were producing winners. Didn’t they have a cartoon version of the family’s adventures at one point, a kind of sub-Hanna-Barbera production with the J5 “heart” logo prominent? It was forever turning up on pre-Swap Shop Saturday morning TV, alongside the cartoons of the Harlem Globetrotters and even the Beatles. (Do they still do cartoon versions of bands these days? The continuing wacky adventures of the Arctic Monkeys, that kind of thing…)

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    wichita lineman on 18 Jun 2008 #

    J5 cartoon first cropped up in the UK same time as the Osmonds’ cartoon, around 72/73 having ABC and One Bad Apple (never a UK hit) as their respective theme tunes. Osmonds were in chart ascendancy at that point (some 2 years after the cartoons aired in the US), J5 very much in decline.

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    DJ Punctum on 18 Jun 2008 #

    re. #18: Seeing as how this is ’77 it would be remiss of me not to mention Spector brandishing his unsexy pistol at Leonard Cohen throughout recording of Death Of A Ladies’ Man which nobody (including LC) likes except me.

  25. 25
    rosie on 18 Jun 2008 #

    Just don’t go home with your hard-on, Marcello. That’s all I have to say. ;)

    Except that, yes, I agree with Lennie, that a veil is best drawn over Death of a Ladies Man.

    (It’s rather like Raymond Chandler’s last novel, Playback. If any other crime writer had written it, it would be pretty good, but as it’s Chandler, it’s clearly the desperate product of his final illness (and the only one of his books written during one of his binges.))

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    LondonLee on 18 Jun 2008 #

    God help me I still remember the intro of the Osmonds cartoon

    Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny… aaaaaaannnnnnnd Jimmy!

    But for some reason I remember nothing about the J5 one though they were a favourite band of mine.

    Re:#22 “Looking Through The Windows”>>>>>”Skywriter”

    (that means “is miles better than” right? I’m not up on all this internet shorthand)

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    wichita lineman on 18 Jun 2008 #

    I think they’re on a par myself, both quite great. And sat between the two was the (slightly) ironically titled Doctor My Eyes.

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    Erithian on 19 Jun 2008 #

    Wow yes, I hadn’t given that one a thought for the best part of 30 years, and the moment I saw the title I could replay the verse and chorus in an instant. Another good ‘un.

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    mike on 19 Jun 2008 #

    Another victim of my bunker mentality at the time, so I YouTubed it last night in hope of another “Free”-style revelation… but no, sorry, much as I love Gamble & Huff and the Philly sound, it just sounds awfully middling. Good to unearth a surprisingly raggedy sounding live TOTP clip, though, featuring Michael’s emerging vocal ticks in full effect – and I thought that “Rockin’ Robin” had been their only in-studio appearance?

    Anyhow, here’s a pleasingly tortuous second-hand name drop for you: Kenny Gamble’s future missus (Dee Dee Sharpe) once dated my late step-mother’s third husband. Yes, I thought you’d be impressed.

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    DJ Punctum on 19 Jun 2008 #

    Here’s a question to chew over; how many other incidences are there of full bands coming on TOTP to perform what are ostensibly solo singles by their frontperson?

    The Jacksons – “Rockin’ Robin”
    The Faces – “Maggie May”


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