February 1970: When the Jackson 5 Ruled No. 1 with "I Want You Back"

Jackson Five
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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Three weeks after Billboard launched its first ever Hot 100 chart in 1958, Michael Jackson was born.

With the release of "I Want You Back" 11 years later, the smash hit single of the Jackson 5's Motown debut, Michael held the unique bragging rights of being the first singer - born after the chart's invention - to top the charts. 

Tito recalls their beginnings, "We’d just been asked to appear on David Frost's TV show, which was national, so when we had to cancel that to audition for Motown, I didn’t want to go. Berry [Gordy] still wasn’t that interested either because he already had Little Stevie Wonder and didn’t want to deal with more kids, but we stunned him so much he walked over and said: “I’m gonna get you guys three No. 1s in a row.”

Gordy proved himself a man above and beyond his word, working with the brothers to deliver their first four singles that, just as he promised, topped the heights of the charts. Instrumental to that process, the song's songwriting and instrumental was masterfully polished from the start, with their first single "I Want You Back," written by the Corporation, a hit-churning songwriting team that included Deke Richards, Freddie Perren, Alphonso Mizell and Gordy, paired reportedly with Jazz Crusader's Wilton Felder on the bass.

“This jewel was cut before the Jacksons got into the studio,” writer David Ritz describes. “The Jacksons of course had to put the gleam on the jewel, but it is very much a producer-driven vehicle.”

But 20 seconds into the instrumental intro, the legendary bassline, the happy-go-lucky piano keys, the purest, soaring voice brings the song to life. Those youthful, exuberant vocal pipes belong to Michael, of course, who details a darker story of a lover begging for a second chance with incredible lightness. 

The dazzling alchemy of this song becomes the kid's magical ability to flex his radiating voice "All I want! All I neeeeed!" to an uncharted caliber. There's something ridiculously entrancing about a baby passionately screaming, "Oh baaby!

Their single hit No. 1 on the charts on January 31, 1970 for only a week, ending its reign on Feb 6, 1970, but it would set the tone for the Jacksons brothers' rise to superstardom. 

 

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