Here’s a track by Gary Indiana’s first family of song The Jackson 5, featuring little Michael Jackson singing lead with their 1971 hit “Maybe Tomorrow”, the title track to the album Maybe Tomorrow. This was the group’s fourth album in two years, quite a long haul for a group of kids under 18. Lead singer Michael was 13 years old when he recorded this.
The Jackson 5 have higher profile tunes, of course. But, there’s something about this one I love, making me wonder why it isn’t among their most prominent hits. It pulls in all kinds of musical influences starting from standard Motown soul-pop, yet also with the sumptuous strings of Philly Soul too. It could be that this tune isn’t as chirpy as “ABC” or “I Want You Back”. It seems to delve a bit deeper, for a pop tune at least.
The lyrics and the general feel of this song is melancholy to the extreme, making me wonder who thought it was a good idea for little Michael Jackson to sing it. This song is about being in love, losing it, and deluding oneself that it will return. The material calls for such world-weariness, that if I were the producer who didn’t know who I was working with, I’m not sure I’d have recommended it for a bunch of kids to sing.
But, by 1971 this group had proven its worth at getting nearly any song over without distracting an audience with the incongruity of a pre-teen singing convincingly about losing a lover. Of course it helped that falsetto singing was very much in style by then by way of Curtis Mayfield and The Stylistics, among others. And the group know enough about presenting the material in such a way that you forget the performers. In fact, this is their key genius as a group. And it would prove to be something of a testing ground for scores of kid groups who would come after them, from the Osmonds, to Musical Youth, to Hanson, to the Jonas Brothers.
There’s been a lot of discussion over the childhood of Michael Jackson, and how it may have contributed to his current troubles as an adult. It’s impossible for me to comment on that one way or another. In looking at the track record of this group with so many number ones in such a short period of time, it’s easy to forget how young they were. And by 1971, they had been signed to a major label – Motown – for three years. They were veterans.
Further, they were veterans with a lot of expectations on them to keep the hits coming. That’s an awful lot of pressure for a little kid to manage, particularly coming from the modest background that the Jacksons did. Imagine the pressure to keep the hit machine rolling, possibly for fear of having to return to an old life of financial uncertainty, with a Dad who allegedly viewed you as little more than a cash cow.
But the slow-down eventually happened by the mid-70, and the Jacksons had had their day, having outgrown their image which was not updated with them. Although they remained active intermittently after their heyday, by the end of the 70s, Michael Jackson had overshadowed them . And of course, the craziness was just beginning for Michael, when his 1982 Thriller album changed the rules for everyone.