February 21, 2015



(ABC, September 11, 1971-September 1, 1973)

Rankin/Bass Productions, Motown Productions, Halas and Bachelor, Topcraft

            If four boys from Liverpool took America by storm in the 60s, the 70s belonged to five brothers from Gary, Indiana.

From top: Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael.

            The Jackson brothers Tito, Jermaine and Jackie showed an interest in singing in the early 60s and formed a musical group, dubbed “The Jackson Brothers” by their father, Joe. 6-year-old Michael played congas for the group while childhood friends Reynaud Jones and Milford Hite played keyboard and drums. 7-year-old Marlon would join in on the tambourine. In 1965, Evelyn LaHaie suggested the group rename themselves The Jackson Five Singing Group, which would become shortened to The Jackson Five.

The Jackson Five emerge victorious.

            From 1966-67, Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer replaced Jones and Hite as the group went on to win several talent competitions around the state. Joe booked the group in several respected music venues including the Regal Theater in Chicago and the Apollo Theater in New York. After winning the competition at the Apollo, singer Gladys Knight sent the group’s demo tape to Motown Records. Motown ultimately rejected the demo and the group ended up signing with Steeltown Records where they recorded and released their first two singles. 

Diana Ross and the Jacksons in the recording studio.

            In 1968, the group spent a week as the opening act for Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers and so impressed Taylor that he helped them with their next Motown audition. After seeing a tape of the audition, Motown CEO Berry Gordy requested that the group be signed and they officially joined Motown Records in 1969. They soon released their first single written by Motown team The Corporation, “I Want You Back,” and their first album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, dropped in December. Ross introduced the group to television audiences during the October 18th, 1969 episode of The Hollywood Palace variety show and provided liner notes for the album. Earlier that August, the group had opened for Ross' former group The Supremes.

Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Michael in animated form.

            As 1970 hit, the Jacksons released three more singles; all of which topped the Billboard Hot 100 making them the first act to do so consecutively. Soon, the Jacksons surpassed The Supremes as Motown’s best-selling group and became Motown’s main marketing focus. With Jacksonmania in full swing, the time was ripe to bring their music to the Saturday morning audience.

Diana Ross model sheet.

            Motown Productions teamed up with Rankin/Bass Productions to bring the animated series to life, with characters designed by Jack Davis. Playing on Gordy’s public relations story that Diana Ross had “discovered” the Jacksons (hence her name appearing on their first album), the series opened with the Jacksons encountering Ross (the only character played by their actual real-life counterpart in the series) and impressed her enough with their talent to merit an invite to her record label to audition. After a disastrous first attempt, Gordy (Paul Frees) finally heard the Jacksons play and signed them on the spot, becoming their manager. 

Animation cel featuring Berry Gordy's cartoon counterpart.

            Similarly to The Beatles cartoon several years prior, the series primarily served as a showcase for the Jacksons’ music from their albums Diana Ross Presents, ABCMaybe Tomorrow and Third Album. Each story was made to set-up the two Jackson Five songs featured each episode, using their studio recordings against an animated music video-like montage. The songs were the only time that the Jacksons’ voices were heard on the series, as a busy touring and recording schedule prevented them from being involved with the show. They did, however, pose for promotional pictures and their images could be seen during the opening sequence morphing into their animated counterparts. Occasionally, stylized footage of one of their concerts would be worked into the musical numbers. Animation was handled by the London studios of Halas and Batchelor, with some support from Estudios Moro in Spain. The entire series was directed by Spanish-American Robert Balser.

Rosy, Ray and Charles.

The Jackson 5ive debuted on ABC on September 7, 1971, and followed the wacky misadventures of the Jacksons. As the group’s lead singer, the action tended to focus mostly on Michael (Donald Fullilove). Joining the brothers were three pets of Michael’s: a pink snake with different colored eyes named Rosy and two mice named Ray and Charles, after musician Ray Charles. Despite their fame, the Jacksons traveled around in Jermaine’s beat-up old roadster. The series was written by Hal Hackady, William J. Keenan, Susan Milburn, Romeo Muller and Lou Silverstone, with additional music by Maury Laws.

The series’ theme was a special mix of four of their #1 hits: “I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save,” “ABC,” and “Mamma’s Pearl,” all written by The Corporation. While utilizing story title cards like most other cartoons of the time, in an unusual fashion the title card was made part of the intro; altered each episode with the new title. The show was renewed for an abbreviated second season and was renamed The New Jackson 5ive Show. Little else was different from the first season besides a slightly altered intro and theme song to accommodate the new title. That season took the majority of its songs from Michael’s solo album Got to Be There with others being taken from the Jacksons’ album Lookin’ Through the Windows. The rest of the second season was composed of reruns of earlier episodes.  

Jack Davis concept art of the Jacksons and their jalopy.

To avoid paying large fees to Charley Douglass, who edited laugh tracks onto the majority of network programming at the time, Rankin/Bass followed Hanna-Barbera’s example and composed their own laugh track for the series. However, their track contained a wide selection of laughs and wasn’t properly balanced, resulting in mild chuckles becoming booming laughter. Because of that, many jokes received a larger laugh than intended, and sometimes occurred off-cue. Rankin/Bass stopped using their laugh track once the series ended.

Ad for The Jackson 5ive.

In the meantime, 1972 saw the Jacksons’ sales begin to decline; particularly when The Corporation broke up in 1973 and the Jacksons no longer had their songs to perform. Growing disillusioned with Motown’s handling of their careers and in an effort for more creative control and royalties, the Jacksons, excluding Jermaine, opted out of recording anything more for Motown and signed with Epic Records in 1975. Randy replaced Jermaine, and Motown, after initially suing them for breach of contract, allowed the group to record for Epic as long as they changed their name, which Motown owned. The group became simply The Jacksons.  

In 1976, the entire Jackson family, except Jermaine, starred in a weekly variety series and released their first album for Epic. Although it went gold, it failed to generate the same sales as their Motown efforts. They continued to produce records for Epic, while Michael continued the solo career started by Motown in 1971 as to help generate more sales for the Jackson brand. In 1983, Jermaine rejoined his brothers for Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever and recorded their sixth Epic album with them. After the friction-filled and disastrous Victory Tour in 1984, Michael left the group to focus on his solo career, with Marlon pursuing his own the following year (ultimately leading to his leaving show business for real estate). As Michael’s popularity began to rise, Worldvision Enterprises rebroadcast The Jackson 5ive in syndication during the 1984-85 season on Saturday Morning.

After the failed release of 2300 Jackson Street and a brief promotional tour, the remaining Jacksons called it quits in 1989. 17 years later, the Jacksons reunited for two performances at Madison Square Garden as part of the 30th anniversary celebration for Michael’s solo career. In 2009, Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and Tito joined together to film a reality series, The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty, as an effort to reunite the band for their 40th anniversary. Initially planned as an hour-long special, it was expanded to a series following Michael’s death that June. In tribute, the Jacksons provided background vocals for the unreleased demo “This is It.” The Jacksons reunited again in 2012 for a the Unity Tour, and continued to perform occasionally afterward.

Jackson 5ive Action Game.

            In 1974, a year after the series had ended, Shindana Toys released the Jackson 5ive Action Game; a card game using the cartoon versions of the group. In 2013, DreamWorks Classics released The Jackson 5ive: the Complete Animated Series on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Season 1:
“It All Started With…” (9/11/71) – The origin of the Jackson 5ive.

“Pinestock U.S.A.” (9/18/71) – The Jacksons participate in a concert sponsored by a logging camp that will level the forest they’re in right after the show.

“Drafted” (9/25/71) – Marlon and Michael are mistaken for new recruits at Fort Paratrooper where they’ve come to perform.
Songs: I Want You Back, 2-4-6-8

“Mistaken Identity” (10/2/71) – The Jacksons detour to an Old West town on their way to Vegas and get mistaken for a gang of bandit brothers.

“Bongo, Baby, Bongo” (10/9/71) – A clown kidnaps a baby gorilla for his circus act, causing the mother to use Michael as its replacement.

“The Winner’s Circle” (10/16/71) – Michael is tricked into buying a seemingly lazy racehorse until the Jacksons discover he runs like lightning when hearing their music.
Songs: The Love You Save, How Funky Is Your Chicken?

“Cinder Jackson” (10/23/71) – Michael meets his Hairy Godfather who helps him go to a ball to meet a major star despite his being sick.

“The Wizard of Soul” (10/30/71) – Michael wanders into the Land of Soul where Wizard of Oz characters resemble his brothers and journey with him to meet the Wizard of Soul.

“The Tiny Five” (11/6/71) – The Jacksons end up shrunken.

“The Groovatron” (11/13/71) – Marlon invents a musical robot to allow the Jacksons to rest for a while, but it ends up stolen and used to replace and outsell the Jacksons.

“Ray & Charles: Superstars” (11/20/71) – Ray and Charles get discovered and become superstars.

“Farmer Jacksons” (11/27/71) – Jackie decides they need a break and enters a bet to run a farm.

“Jackson Island” (12/4/71) – The Jacksons end up stranded on an island where Michael hits his head and encounters evil fictional pirates.

“The Michael Look” (12/11/71) – Two Pearly Kings find their chance to discredit Michael when he loses his stage clothing and convince him to wear shabby replacements.

“Jackson Street, USA” (12/18/71) – The Jacksons plan to attend a street dedication ceremony in a hot air balloon, but end up soaring right out of the city.
Songs: PetalsShe’s Good

“Rasho-Jackson” (1/8/72) – A car mishap leads to an argument that causes the Jacksons to split up and go solo.

“A Rare Pearl” (1/15/72) – The Jacksons all fall for a flight attendant who wants nothing to do with them.
Songs: Never Can Say Goodbye, Mama’s Pearl

Season 2:
“Who’s Hoozis?” (9/9/72) – Michael works to save the nest of a talking “blues bird” from an eccentric developer.

“Michael White” (9/16/72) – Michael hits his head in a biking accident and dreams that he’s the male version of Snow White.

“Groove to the Chief” (9/23/72) – The Hairy Godfather returns to grant Michael’s wish to be the Mayor of Los Angeles.

“Michael in Wonderland” (9/30/72) – Michael goes unconscious while testing a new roller coaster and dreams he’s in a soul and funk version of Wonderland.

“Jackson and the Beanstalk” (10/7/72) – Michael discovers magic beans outside their Indiana apartment and climbs up the beanstalk they produce.

“The Opening Act” (10/14/72) – The Jacksons are on a heavy radio tour and need an opening act for their upcoming concert.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.

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