I Want You Back

Album: Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969)
Charted: 2 1

Songfacts®:

  • This was the first Jackson 5 single released by Motown Records (they released a single on a local label in Gary, Indiana, in 1968). It launched their career and went to #1 in the US, as did their next three releases: "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There."
  • The Jackson 5 were a family group from Gary, Indiana, that were auditioned to exhaustion by their father, Joe, before signing with Motown Records in 1968. Joe made sure the youngest brother, Michael, was out front - his voice, dance moves and stage presence were the star of the show. When "I Want You Back" was released in October 1969, Michael was just 11 years old, but by that point he had so much training he could handle the promotional appearances and rigorous schedule. The entire group was media trained by Motown, and for a while they were ordered to tell a story about how Diana Ross discovered the group. For the most part, they came off as a regular family, with Michael citing basketball and catching lizards as hobbies. They described their sound as "bubblegum soul," a term that explains their appeal to both black and white audiences.
  • This song tells a tried-and-true story about a guy who took his girl for granted and now desperately wants her back now that she's left him. Making it work from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy took some doing, but the upbeat track takes the weight off, so it sounds more like a schoolyard crush. There are also lots of answer lines in the lyric ("Let you go, baby...") that give the other members of the group a chance to chime in.
  • Motown had set up offices in Los Angeles, which is where the Jackson 5 relocated and where this song was written and recorded. The top songwriting/production team at Motown, Holland-Dozier-Holland, had left the label to get better terms, so there was a huge void that many Motown writers were trying to fill.

    "I Want You Back" started as a song Freddie Perren, Fonce Mizell, and Deke Richards wrote for Gladys Knight & The Pips called "I Want To Be Free." Perren and Mizell were childhood friends from New Jersey who moved to Los Angeles and teamed up with Deke Richards, a producer at Motown. When Berry Gordy heard the song, he decided it could be a good fit for the Jackson 5 if it got a rewrite. Michael Jackson reminded Gordy of Frankie Lymon, another teenage star, Gordy suggested they write it as if it were for Lymon. They reworked the song, changing the storyline so it's about a young kid trying to get his girl back, and they fashioned a lively track to underline it.

    When the song took off, Perren, Mizell, Richards and Gordy became the songwriting/production team that powered the Jackson 5. Stung by the loss of his marquee team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gordy branded this new team "The Corporation," which is how the songwriting credit was listed. This kept the writers' names off the record, ensuring they would remain anonymous. They became the first West Coast songwriting team to make a big impact at Motown.
  • The musicians who played on most of the '60s Motown hits were members of their Detroit house band, the Funk Brothers. The Jackson 5 recorded in Los Angeles with a new group of session players. On "I Want You Back," they included Louis Shelton and David Walker on guitars, Wilton Felder on bass, and Gene Pello on drums.
  • This song opens with an ear-catching piano glissando that was played by two of the song's writers, Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell.
  • Berry Gordy went out of his way to make this a hit, using all his resources at Motown to do so. With the '60s coming to a close and Motown moving west, Gordy wanted to mint new stars at the label, and he knew he had a winner in the Jackson 5. One of his ploys was to claim the group was discovered by Diana Ross, and have her showcase the group for industry bigwigs. Ross was also in transition, having recently left The Supremes and launched her solo career. This bit about Ross finding the group proved a solid talking point and was propagated for decades. Nobody seemed to care that it was a ruse - there was a lot more to talk about concerning the Jackson 5 and their precocious lead singer.
  • When this topped the Hot 100 on January 31, 1970, the 11-year-old Michael Jackson became the youngest person to feature on a #1 on that tally. It also opened the door for family groups with young lead singers, notably the Osmonds and the DeFranco Family.
  • Two popular songs sampled this in 2001: Jay Z used it on "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and it was also used on Lil' Romeo's "My Baby." In 1992, it was sampled on the Kris Kross hit "Jump."
  • The sci-fi soul singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe covered this as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of her The Electric Lady album. She explained to A.V.Club that she chose this particular tune as it resonated with her. "There are so many amazing Michael Jackson songs from different stages of his career," she said, "and that happened to be one of my favorite stages. It makes people happy, and I love the tone, and musically, it has a lot of places to go for our orchestra. It has a lot of odd instrumentation."

    "The version I did does not sound like the Jackson 5 original recording," Monáe continued. "I wanted to interpret it my way and record it differently, while continuing to pay homage to him, but I saw it in a different light. I'm really excited to let you guys hear it because you'll get a chance to hear that song from my perspective. I had a dream about it and how I wanted it to be recorded."
  • This song appears in the films Now and Then (1995), Drumline (2002), Daddy Day Care (2003) and Friends with Benefits (2011). It also plays under the end credits of the 2014 movie Guardians Of The Galaxy and is included on the soundtrack, which was a #1 hit in America for two weeks.

Comments: 16

  • Punkanelly from Lake CharlesThanks Al. You're the only person who's ever been able to explain that lyric to me. It makes sense to me now
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyExactly fifty years ago today on January 25th, 1970 "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5 peaked at #1* on Billboard's Top 100 chart, it remained at #1 for one week...
    The rest of the Top 10 on January 25th, 1970:
    At #2. "Venus" by The Shocking Blue
    #3. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" by B.J. Thomas {The #1 record the previous four weeks}...
    #4. "Whole Lotta Love"/"Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)" by Led Zeppelin
    #5. "Without Love (There Is Nothing)" by Tom Jones
    #6. "Don't Cry Daddy"/"Rubberneckin'" by Elvis Presley
    #7. "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" by Dionne Warwick
    #8. "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"/"Everybody Is A Star" by Sly and the Family Stone
    #9. "Someday We'll Be Together" by Diana Ross and the Supremes
    #10. "Leaving On A Jet Plane" by Peter, Paul and Mary
    * The week after "I Want You Back" peaked at #1 on the Top 100, it reached #1 {for 4 weeks} on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 21st 1970, the Jackson 5 performed "I Want You Back" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #4 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and just under a month earlier on January 25th, 1970 it peaked at #1 for one week {See post below}...
    Though they didn't perform it on this 'Bandstand show, their next release, "ABC", would entered the Top 100 fifteen days later on March 8th at position #41.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 14th 1969, the Jackson 5 performed "I Want You Back" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    At the time the song was at #17 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on January 25th, 1970 it peaked at #1 {See next post below}...
    And on January 4th, 1970 it also reached #1 {for 4 weeks} on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    * On the Top 100 it replaced "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" by B.J. Thomas at #1; "Raindrops" had been in the top spot for four weeks.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 18th 1969, the Jackson 5 performed "I Want You Back" on the ABC-TV program 'Hollywood Palace' {it was their U.S. national television debut}...
    Twenty-two days later on November 9th, 1969 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 at position #90; eleven weeks later on January 25th, 1970 it peaked at #1 {for 1 week} and spent 19 weeks on the Top 100...
    As stated above in Fact #1 the quintet's next three releases also reached #1 on the Top 100, and then their next two records both peaked at #2, "Mama's Pearl" for 2 weeks and "Never Can Say Goodbye" for 3 weeks.
  • Heilige Bimbam from London, United KingdomDominick, where did you hear that Michael got injections to stop his voice breaking? Please give us the exact evidence, since you seem to believe it.These rumours were never substanciated, and his most comprehensive biographers found no evidence, after the most thorough research. Besides it would have amounted to medical malpractice, as well as grievous bodily harm, assault, and child abuse.Criminal charges would have been brought, believe me. So let us hear the source of your information.
  • Erin from Boston, Massachusetts, MaIt's impossible to NOT move as you listen to this song. I miss Michael. RIP MJ 7/3/09
  • Talya from Manchester, United KingdomJust to answer to Punkanelly's comment, I think this song basicly says that he used to be with a girl, and did not apreciate her very much( he says: "Following the girl
    I didn't even want around")
    and used to call her ugly and what not. And then when she realised she was being mis-treated she left him. He is now realising how much he misses her when she goes off with another man.
  • Dominick from New York, NyIn the song, "I'll Be There," he makes a mistake when he sings, "Just look over your shoulders, honey," but they kept it in. The mistake is he was supposed to sing "shoulder" not "shoulders." You can't look over both shoulders at the same time. So maybe the "pretty faces" line was a mistake, too.

    Also, the Jackson 5 patterned themselves after Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Lymon was also a child singing sensation. When he reached puberty, his voice got deeper and his career was over. I believe he died in his early 20s from a heroine overdose.

    That's the reason Michael Jackson starting getting doctor's injections so his voice wouldn't change as he got older. Now, he's turned into a full-fledged weirdo.
  • Al from New York, NyThis is for punk, cause those lyrics bothered me for a while as well. What the lyrics means is that the girl in this song is not that pretty, so when she was in a crowd of pretty girls she stood out because she was less attractive. Then another man saw her true beauty.

    Considering that this is the single greatest song ever recorded, it bears mentioning.
  • Punkanelly from Lake Charles, LaWell I viewed the lyrics. I'm 42 years old and to this day I still don't understand what's meant by the line "those pretty faces always made you, stand out in a crowd". It makes no sense. Shouldn't they have written the song to say: Your pretty face it always made you, stand out in a crowd? Doesn't that sound more the they way the writers probably intended it to sound? Did something get confused during the studio recording process. Did Michael sing it the wrong way or did Berry Gordy make one of his last minute in-studio changes? I'd like to know the story behind the writing of that strange line in this song. If there is a story.
  • Anne from Dodge City, KsIf a guy ever told me that those pretty faces always made me stand out in a crowd... I think I would have to pass at taking him back. However I do love this song.
  • Caitlin from Upper Township, Njthis was my jazz dance in a recital when i was 6. i love it! its one of my favorite old songs
  • Nathan from From The Country Of, Canadavery catchy song classic jackson 5 song
  • Bill from Boston, United Statescheck out the Grahm Parker version STUNNING
  • Taal from Brisbane, AustraliaThe music for the song was also used by Rappin 4Tay in the song "Message for your Mind" which featured in the Dangerous Minds soundtrack.
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