Solid Gold Spotlight: I Want You Back

The history of this classic Jackson 5 song

The original 45 of the Jackson 5's
The original 45 of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back". source:

I Want You Back

Written by: The Corporation (tm): Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards, and Alphonzo Mizell
Recorded: September, 1969 (Sound Factory, Los Angeles, CA)
Released: October 7, 1969 (Motown M1157) b/w "Who's Lovin' You"
Length: 3:01
Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Marlon Jackson: lead and background vocals
Tito Jackson: background vocals
David T. Walker, Louis Shelton, Don Peake: rhythm guitar
Joe Sample: piano
Freddie Perren: electric piano
Wilton Felder: bass guitar
Gene Pello: drums
Unknown musicians: strings, percussion
Available on: (CDs in bold)
Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (Motown MS-700; Motown 440 014 380 2)
Highest chart position: #1 Pop (January 31, 1970); #1 Pop (four weeks beginning January 10, 1970)
  • Although Motown head Berry Gordy was still enjoying hits with his famous label, he had two problems as the decade began: finding a way to revitalize his classic "Sound Of Young America" and figuring out to do with his latest acquisition, a family band from Gary, Indiana with a dynamic lead singer who'd just celebrated his eleventh birthday.
  • Having just seen his previous biggest hitmaking songwriters, the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, get too famous to toil on his assembly line, Gordy formed a team of four songwriters, including himself, and hid them behind the trademarked moniker The Corporation. The other three members hit upon the groove for "I Want You Back," then called "I Want To Be Free," while hanging out at Deke Richards' apartment in Los Angeles; they immediately went to the Sound Factory studios nearby and lucked out in finding an hour and a half of free studio time available at the end of another producer's session. They cut the demo and brought it to Gordy.
  • Berry liked the song, which was originally envisioned as a vehicle for Gladys Knight (who'd discovered the group). Yet he saw in it a way to make the Jackson 5 the first real boy band, the spiritual heirs to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. He ordered the trio to rewrite the lyrics around the title "I Want You Back," and, after several tries, the Jackson brothers had their first hit. Thus was born a genre Gordy himself called "bubblegum soul."
    • This was, at the time, the most expensive single ever produced by Motown, proving that Gordy knew what a gamble he was taking, and just how important the Jacksons would be to Motown's success in a new decade. At one point, the Corporation had labored over several takes to get what they thought was a perfect cut, only to have Gordy claim, "Oh, man, you guys are gonna ruin a perfect song." Eventually they produced a version that met with his approval.
    • Though the song is based around Michael's lead, three more of the five brothers get lead lines near the end of the song: Jackie ("Forget what happened then" and "Spare me of this cost"), Marlon ("Let me live again") and Jermaine ("Give me what I lost").
    • "I Want You Back" has long been considered one of the most sampled songs in all of hip-hop; it is also generally considered to have one of the greatest chord progressions in pop history, occurring in the second half of the chorus (Em7/G/Cmaj7/G//Am7/D/G).
    • Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
    Covered by: Frente!, KT Tunstall, Graham Parker, Martha Reeves, David Ruffin, West End Girls, Diana Ross, Harold Mabern, Cleopatra, Nickel Creek, Discovery, Cal Tjader Sampled in: "Jump," Kris Kross; "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," Jay-Z; "My Baby," Lil' Romeo; "Imagination," Tamia; "Doggie Hopp," Willie Puckett; "Fantastic,"