Friday, February 20, 2009

Collecting The Jacksons Music - pt. 2: The 80s

Ah…the 80s. Well, here is where things really got complicated from a collecting stand point.

Jermaine left Motown for Arista. Michael releases Thriller. Janet, LaToya and Rebbie begin their respective recording careers. The Jacksons reunite for the Victory album and tour. Then fracture and go their separate ways for five years. Jackie releases his second solo album. Marlon releases his first solo album. Randy soon follows suit. However, there was nothing coming from Tito. Bless him. Soundtrack albums, duets, B-side recordings and Motown dips into the vaults to release more previously unreleased material. The whole mess just gave me a headache. Not to mention a very large financial hit to my wallet. There were times that I just wanted to throw my hands in the air and call it quits. I just might have if Tito had released a solo album. Just keeping up with Jermaine became a full time job. Everywhere I turned he was popping up on some album or another.

One thing that I should have included in the first part of this blog was that LaToya Jackson released her first album, LaToya in 1980 on Polydore records. Since I don’t believe the album sold all that well, the chances of finding an original release copy should be pretty easy. I base this also on the fact that it took me a very long time to find a copy of the album. If the album had went through more than one printing it should have been much easier to find than it was.

So, let’s dive into the murky waters of the years 1981-90.

Over at CBS, The Jacksons were riding high on the success of their late 1980 release Triumph. Michael Jackson had just come off his success with the 1979 album. So, in 1981 The Jacksons launched their biggest concert tour at the time. The tour would visit 39 US cities from July – September of 81. The tour was captured on record with the 1981 double album release of The Jacksons Live. The album sold extremely well. To track down an original release copy of this album, be sure to make sure to check the two inner sleeves. Both contained pictures from the tour. Additionally the album itself was a gatefold album.

After the Triumph tour, things would be relatively quite on the group front for a few years. What happened next was truly spectacular to behold.

Over at Polydore Records, LaToya released her second album, My Special Love. Once again, not a chart topper and my knowledge of this record is very limited. Not to mention the limited number of copies that seem to be floating around out there. I was fortunate to find a still sealed copy at a small used record store in Chicago. How to tell an original release copy from a reprint (again, if there were any reprints ever done in the first place), I couldn’t tell you.

In late 1982 Michael Jackson unleashed Thriller on an unsuspecting world. No one could have predicted what was to follow. Ironically, this album was not the spark that lit the fuse to my obsessive collecting of Jacksons music. That would come a little later. There have been numerous articles written to attempt to explain why Thriller became the record breaking success that it was. I happen to believe that two major factors contributed to this phenomenal success. First, the music industry was changing in the way albums and singles were being promoted. Radio airplay of the latest single was a small factor, but what really could make a single fly up the charts was having a video. MTV went on the air in August 1981 and the entire landscape of record promotion changed. These little promotional films that originally had been produced on low budgets (and were rarely seen by most of the record buying public) suddenly became a big money making enterprise. Now, to put things in a bit more perspective, music videos (or promotional films as they were originally called) had been around for a number of years. ABBA used these films from as far back as 1974. There are a few groups that produced promotional films even as early as the mid 60s. The Beatles used (at the time a live performance) of the song All You Need Is Love. This song and performance could almost be called the very first genuine ‘music video’. These so called ‘promotional films’ were mainly used in place of an actual live performance by a group or artist on TV where the group or artist was unable to appear in person. Later, mainly in the 70s, these promotional films were used on TV adds for compilation album companies like K-Tel. As the 70s progressed, the promotional films became a bit more sophisticated and sleek. Shows like The Midnight Special aired them right along side the live performances. In fact, in 1979 The Jacksons hosted The Midnight Special and their video for Blame It On The Boogie was shown. Anyway, the advent of MTV helped to promote Thriller in a way that had never been seen before. The sleek and sophisticated approach Michael Jackson used in producing the videos from Thriller was a level that had never been seen before. These little ‘promotional films’ began to reach an audience that simple radio air play could not. Then in 1983, Motown celebrated its 25 anniversary with a spectacular TV special that reached millions. I believe that it was this one single performance by Michael that is what caused Thriller to finally go on to be the all-time best selling record in history. Strangely, even though I’d seen the video for Billie Jean and was pretty familiar with the Thriller album, it was the Motown 25 special that was the spark that lit the fuse for me. Not Michael’s solo performance. No. It was seeing The Jackson 5 together again that did it for me. After that, I would spend close to the next 10 years totally obsessed with collecting all of the Jacksons music I could get my hands on.

So, how out of the 109 million copies do you find an original release copy of Thriller? Good luck with that. The best bet would be to find a promo copy of Thriller, but again good luck with that. The earliest copy that I have is the copy my sister got for Christmas in 1983. That was a full year after the album had been released and was already considered a smash hit. I also bought a copy of the album but not until the summer of 1984. So, I did contribute to the initial 40 million copies that got the album in the Guinness Book of World Records. What I eventually opted for as the definitive copy for my collection was the half-speed master version. I explained in my previous blog, my reasons for doing this. This is quite simply the cleanest sounding version of Thriller on vinyl that I’ve ever heard.

Also, there was a picture disc version of the Thriller album released and a nine singles pack. The singles pack consisted of the four singles from Off The Wall and five singles from Thriller all pressed on red vinyl with picture sleeves. The picture sleeves, while not always the original picture sleeves for the singels are made of a sturdy paper. All in all, quite a nice little collectible.

One small note. The Thriller and Billie Jean singles had a song on the B-side called You Can’t Get Outta The Rain. This song was not available on any Michael Jackson album. However, this is simply You Can’t Win, part 2. If you have the 12” single for You Can’t Win, then you don’t need to try and find a copy of the 45s that it appeared on. Kind of odd but thought I’d better mention it.

Anyway, moving on.

Also in 83, Michael did his second duet with Paul McCartney. The song Say, Say, Say appears on Paul’s 1983 album Pipes of Peace along with another Paul/Michael duet called The Man.

Rockwell released the album Somebody’s Watchin’ Me in 1983 and Michael can be heard singing backup on the title song. Jermaine apparently appears on the album as well, but I’ve never been able to find exactly where.

I think that it should also be noted that around this time, 12” singles began to be much more commercially available. During the height of the Disco era, 12” singles came into prominence and were the preferred method for DJs in the Disco to play songs. Radio DJ also made use of them, but to a lesser degree. With the demise of Disco in the early 80s, 12” singles looked to be on the way out. Once dance music had shook off the stigma (I hate using that word since I happen to like Disco) of Disco, the 12” single began to make a slight comeback. While they still were not available at places like Musicland or Sam Goody in your local mall, larger record stores (like Tower) did start to carry them. As I stated in the first part of this blog, 12” singles are not really all that important to me. If I find them, I find them. For a short time in the late 80s, I did actively seek them out, but they just started to become a real pain in my ass so I dropped them. Just keeping up with the album releases and checking the singles for non album B-side songs (along with just trying to collect the entire back catalog of Jackson music) was more than enough to keep me occupied.

So, during the height of the gluttony of success that was Thriller, The Jacksons announced that they would reunite for an album and tour. This would be the first time that Jermaine would be apart of the group since 1976. Now this was a plan that I could really get behind. In fact, I did. Whole heartedly. Hook line and sinker. The fuse had been lit and I was on fire.

Additionally, it was around this time that I discovered a little store in my hometown called J&L Records. As far as I could tell, this was the very first used record store in our town. In less than a year, there would be three such stores. Before J&L opened, for me to find old records I usually had to shop thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales. The main draw back to this was most of the records were, to put it kindly, trashed. Scratched records (looking like a cat had dragged its claws over the record), severely worn and torn covers. Not the kind of records that I wanted in my collection. At J&L, here were records that were in great shape (and in some cases pristine condition) and even promo copies of albums. Promo copies were a new thing to me. Finding a promo copy of a Jackson 5 album guaranteed that I had an original release copy. Even though at this early stage of my collecting, having an original release copy wasn’t all that important to me. This would come later as I got more sophisticated and specialized in my collecting.

So, while the reunited Jacksons were preparing their album and tour things were really happening on a different front. In fact a few different fronts.

First, in 1984 shortly after the Motown 25 special, Jermaine left Motown for Arista. Jermaine’s final two albums for Motown were minor successes. The 1981 album I Like Your Style had something that was a bit of a departure for Motown. I Like Your Style contained an inner sleeve. This inner sleeve, I believe had the song lyrics, writing credits, liner notes and production credits for the album. A definite first for a Jackson/Motown album. However, this would be a short lived thing. Jermaine’s next album, Let Me Tickle Your Fancy (1982) had just a standard plain white inner sleeve. Total bummer. So, the only way to tell an original release copy of I Like Your Style is by the inner sleeve. As for Let Me Tickle Your Fancy…well…if you can find a promo copy that would be the best way. Other than that, I’d say just look for the best copy that you can find.

Now, in 1983 over at A&M Records Janet Jackson released her first album. As for how to tell an original release copy of the Janet Jackson album, I really couldn’t tell you. I do recall buying the Janet Jackson album brand new in the stores, but that was a few years after the album had first been released. Since the sisters are not what I focus on, it really doesn’t matter if I have an original release copy or not. Just a copy is enough for me.

In 1984, the Victory album was released and over at Arista Jermaine releases his first album for them. Now, the way to find an original release copy of both of these albums is by making sure that they have the picture inner sleeves. While I don’t think either album had more than one or two printings, the chances of finding original release copies are pretty high. Additionally there was a picture disc version of the Victory album. An interesting item. It has the same picture as the regular album cover, but for some reason there is a dove on Randy’s shoulder on the picture disc and it isn’t on the regular album version.

Also in 1984, Janet Jackson released her second album, Dream Street, LaToya Released her third album, Heart Don’t Lie and Rebbie jumped into the mix with her first album, Centipede. I think it was at this point I was ready to throw in the towel.

I mean, I had just started collecting this music earlier in the summer. While I had already amassed quite a few of the older albums, I still had many more to go. I tried to concentrate the albums released from 1970-80 but the overwhelming amount of new stuff coming really started to discourage me. How was I going to be able to get caught up? It just seemed impossible. It was at this time that I decided to strictly concentrate on the brothers music and leave the sisters to later (if I even cared to begin collecting their music). There was just too much back catalog of Jackson 5, Jacksons, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson that was much more important to me.

Also, I began to notice certain things in the used record stores. The availability of the older titles started to increase. With the announcement of the Victory tour and album, it seems that everyone in my hometown went through their old records and started selling off anything from the Jacksons that they could find. While this was great for me, it also created a problem. When I first started collecting, I could go to say J&L and look at everything they had available and pick one or two (sometimes three if I had the money) albums and feel pretty confident that the rest of the stuff would still be there the next time I went back (usually the nest week after I got paid). Well, suddenly all three of the used record stores began carrying different titles. While J&L might have had, say Jermaine’s Let’s Get Serious album, Tracks up the street suddenly got in a pristine copy of My Name Is Jermaine and I hadn’t seen any copy of that album floating around since I started collecting. So, I had to make a choice. Pick up My Name Is Jermaine instead of Let’s Get Serious. Sometimes it was an easy decision because it depended on the plentiful availability of certain titles versus others. And, I also noticed that I wasn’t the only person in my hometown that was buying these albums. I had some competition. That meant the race was one. Who would get to the new stock at the used record stores first? Me or the other guy? It was at this time I learned my first lesson of collecting. If you happen to find a rather hard to find album in great shape, then buy it right then and there. Never, ever walk away and hope that it will be there the next time you come back. Because, guess what? It won’t be. This happened to me more than once. The time that stands out in my mind the most is when Tracks had two, TWO, pristine copies of the Michael Jackson Ben ‘rat cover’ album and I passed one up in favor of Jermaine’s first two solo albums. When I went back the next week to get a copy of Ben (even though I already had a copy) both of those ‘rat cover’ albums were gone. At the time I was all that upset about it, but just a year or so later I had done further research and discovered that the ‘rat cover’ was the more valuable cover to have.

Anyway, this isn’t about my adventures on collecting Jackson albums. This is supposed to be about the albums themselves. I said at the top of this article that the 80s were a messy period. Starting my collection in this quagmire certainly didn’t help. On the positive side, by 1985 I would have all of Micheal’s albums, The Jackson’s albums, most of Jermaine’s albums, and most of The Jackson 5’s albums. A few albums, Boogie, Jackie’s solo album, Jermaine’s I Like Your Style and Jermaine albums proved elusive but eventually those would get tracked down.

Ok, so in 1985 the Victory tour is over and everything began to quite down. There would be a blessedly peaceful year with nothing, and I do mean nothing new coming out.

Michael did contribute the song, Eaten Alive to Diana Ross’s album Eaten Alive and he even sang background vocals. A really fun song that I just had to have in my collection.

1986 was also another relatively quiet year. Rebbie released her second album, Reaction and Jermaine Released his second Arista album, Precious Moments.

A few things about Jermaine’s Precious Moments album. First, when the album was first released the song listing on the back of the album was incorrect. Either the songs were listed in the wrong order or there were songs listed that were not on the album. I don’t really recall. However, soon after its initial release, the album started appearing with a sticker on the back covering up the incorrect song list. So, to really find an official first release copy of Precious Moments, you will need to track down a copy without the sticker on the back. Good luck with that. I’ve tried for years to find a copy of the few that got away and so far (to this very day) have yet to run across one. I know that this happened because I actually held an original copy in my hands and saw that there was no sticker. I didn’t buy the album but decided to wait until later. It was, after all, a brand new album and it would be around for a while. Boy was I stupid. By the time I picked up the album, just a few months later, the sticker had already began appearing on the albums.

I think it was at this time that Jermaine really started to bug me. Not only had he released his first Arist album in 1984, but he did duets with Pia Zadora, Whitney Houston and appeared on the Perfect motion picture soundtrack. So, not only did I have to get his two Arista albums, I had to pick up Perfect, Whitney Houston’s first album and the single for When The Rain Begins To Fall with Pia Zadora. Also, Jermaine’s single for the song Do You Remember Me? from the Precious Moments album had the song Watcha Doin’? as a B-side song and it wasn’t available on the album. Sheesh. That’s a lot of Jermaine to find.

Things were pretty quiet in 86 (except for Jermaine) and then look out here comes Janet. She had taken Control. Good grief, Miss Jackson. This album just seemed to come out of nowhere. No one was expecting this. I certainly wasn’t. It did make me sit up and take notice. It was also the first of Janet’s albums that I picked up while it was still in stores. Not a first release copy but pretty close to it. In 1987, Janet would appear on the Herb Alpert album Keep Your Eye On Me. The song Diamonds became a huge hit.

In the middle of all of this mess, LaToya released her fourth album, Imagination. It sank like a stone so finding an original release version was no problem later. It has a picture inner sleeve. Once again, since the album was a poor seller, finding an original release shouldn’t be a problem. I used to see them everywhere.

By 1987 I had moved to Indianapolis and started hitting the used record stores there. I was still searching for the ever elusive Jackie Jackson album and the Boogie album. By that time I thought that those were the only two things I was missing from my collection. That changed when Michael’s Bad album was released.

During the Thriller/Victory period I had picked several different biographies on Michael and I hadn’t read any of them. When Bad came out, I started to really delve into those books and discovered a lot more music that was out there that I hadn’t known about before. Some from the 70s and some from the 80s. It was at this point I really started checking the B-sides to singles and watching movie soundtracks for songs.

Ok, things to look for that are of particular interest to collectors from the Bad album. First there was a picture disc version of Bad released. Some copies came with a poster while others didn’t. I picked up my copy in the stores when it first came out and there was no poster in it. So, the rumor of a poster might be false. I don’t know since I’ve never found a copy with the poster.

The 12” single for I Can’t Stop Loving You has a Spanish version of the song on the B-side.

The CD for Bad came with an extra song, Leave Me Alone. This song would be released as a single but not in the US. However, there are promo 12” singles out there.

The song Liberian Girl was released as a single outside of the US and there are 12” singles with a great picture sleeve out there.

Also, Michael did a duet with Stevie Wonder on his Characters album. The song is called, Get It and it’s quite the little groove. Highly recommended.

In 1987, the Jacksons also released a song call, Time Out For The Burglar from the Burglar movie soundtrack. This would be the last Jacksons recording for a couple of years. Jermaine had a song, All Revved Up, on the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack.

In 1988, Rebbie released her third album R U Tuff Enough. Marlon finally released his first solo album, Baby Tonight. The CD for Baby Tonight contained an extra song, Everyday, Everynight that wasn’t available on the vinyl version. Prior to this, Marlon had a song appear on the Golden Child soundtrack in 86. LaToya released her fifth album, La Toya (again it sank like a stone).

In 1989, Michael was being quiet but the rest of the clan wouldn’t shut up. The amount of releases in 89 rivaled the gluttony of releases in 84.

First, The Jacksons released their final album, 2300 Jackson Street. The single for 2300 Jackson Street contained the non album song When I Look At You on the B-side. Now, When I Look At You is perhaps one of my all time favorite Jacksons songs. It bouncy, catchy and just a lot of fun to listen to. I highly recommend tracking this little gem of a song down.

Jermaine released his Don’t Take It Personal album. He also had a song, Clean Up Your Act, on the I’m Gonna Get You Sucka soundtrack. The single for I’d Like to Get to Know You contained the non album song Spare The Rod, Love The Child on the B-side. These would be the final releases from Jermaine in the 80s.

Jackie released his second solo album, Be The One.

Randy released his first solo album, Randy and The Gypsies.

LaToya released her sixth album, Bad Girl.

And Finally, Janet released Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.

I really thought I was going to lose my mind in 1989.

And I haven’t even mentioned what Motown was doing to in the 80s. So, here goes.

During the Thriller and Victory eras, Motown dug back into their vaults and pulled out a few gems. So, in 1984 the album Farewell My Summer Love was released. These were Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 songs that had been recorded from 1973 to 1975 that were never released.

Then in 1985 or 86, another albums worth of previously unreleased material came from Motown. The album Looking Back To Yesterday: Never Before Released Masters. The interesting thing about this album was it contained the song I Was Born To Love Her that had not been released since the 1979 Boogie album.

In 1987, Motown released The Soul of Michael Jackson. The only new song on this album was the never before released 25 Miles. There was also a newly remixed version of Dancing Machine. The promo version of this album came with a press release, an 8x10 black and white glossy of Michael and a post card announcing the upcoming Stevie Wonder Characters album. Quite a nice collectible if you can find one. I got lucky.

Somewhere along the way, in 1981 or 82 I believe, Motown released an album called Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars. The album contained one previously unreleased Jackson 5 song, Ask The Lonely.

So, that now brings us to a few of the off shoot recordings that are out there to be found.

Marlon duets (and produces) with Betty Wright on the song I Promise You from her 1983 album Wright Back At You.

Of course I have to mention the USA For Africa album with We Are The World. What would a list of Jackson recordings from the 80s be without it?

I think, at last, this covers everything from the 80s.

I will probably do a part 3 to cover the 90s but I have to be honest. By 1993 I had pretty much thrown in the towel. The few recordings that I had not been able to track down seemed impossible to find and I didn’t think that I would ever actually find them. It wouldn’t be until the dawn of the Internet that I would revisit my collection and attempt to fill in the missing pieces. By that time, Janet had released a few albums. So had Michael. I just didn’t have the energy to keep up with it all anymore. After almost 10 years of avid collecting, I was running out of steam. I think the final nail in the whole mess were the child molestation charges against Michael. When he settled out of court that first time, I really lost interest. Michael’s History CD was the last thing by him that I bought. I bought a couple more of Janet’s albums after that, but quickly lost interest in her as well. Plus, in 1995, I was 29 years old and had moved to California and my collecting gene focused on other things. Maybe I stopped because The Jacksons as a recording group had finally disbanded. After 2300 Jackson Street, there would be no further new recordings from the brothers as a group and all of them together was what had always been my favorite stuff. The thought of them never recording together again really saddened me. If they were through, then maybe it was time for me to hang it up as well. Who knows? It was perhaps a combination of all of those factors. Whatever the reason, I just stopped.

The more I think about it, I don’t think any of those reasons really apply. I think that it simply boils down to the fact the vinyl was on the way out and I didn’t have a CD player. I mean, in 91 after the release of Michael’s Dangerous album, everything new that came out was on CD and CD only. While had been picking up a few CDs here and there (like Michael’s Bad album and Marlon’s Baby Tonight album) I was still clinging to vinyl. I hate format changes and I fought every step of the way. I just didn’t want to have to convert my entire collection to CD. It had taken me years to collect the library of music that I had. The thought of re-buying everything on CD just didn’t sit well with me. Plus the cost to repurchase everything was, in my opinion, a waste of money since I still had a turntable and could listen to my records. If I wanted to have the music in a more portable format, I simply made cassettes of my records and listened to the tapes. That helped to preserve my records from any further wear and tear. I did finally make the leap to CD, but I did it very grudgingly. Once I decided to invest in CDs, it would only be for the new releases. I would not, and did not duplicate any of my records on CD. Until recently.

I will say, here it is 2009 and I have revisited the Jacksons and their music and discovered how much I still enjoy several of those older albums. Most of the stuff from 1970-80 hold up very well today. Plus, I have also purchased the entire group catalog on CD. Every Jackson 5 and Jacksons albums. I still love many, many of them and I’m glad that I have them on CD. A part 3? Maybe. It would take some serious research to figure out what has been released since 1991.

1 comment:

kelly watson said...

I really enjoyed reading. Thank you for writing this . Whats even more interesting it was done in time before we lost MJ.