Be honest: when Michael Jackson died, you probably expected a lazy river of material from the catalogue labels that govern his catalogue – both Legacy Recordings, which control Jackson’s adult recordings on Epic, and Universal Music Enterprises, the executors of the Motown library. By and large, we’ve experienced just that. 2009 saw the expanded re-release of The Jackson 5’s Christmas album; I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters, a 11-track compilation of outtakes; and Epic’s This is It documentary film and accompanying soundtrack (with a small fistful of vault material). The next year, two live J5 shows were released by Hip-O Select, while Epic released the Cirque du Soleil Immortal remix album.
By comparison, 2012 has seen that river flow a little heavier, first with Legacy’s Bad 25 box set and then, almost simultaneously, a double-disc set of Jackson 5 outtakes, Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls (Hip-O Select/Motown B0017148-02). Almost immediately, even a discerning fan has to start speculating as to why 32 tracks are coming our way at once. Is Select trying to beat Legacy’s lavish Bad box? Will there be fewer offerings from the fabled Motown vaults than we’d previously imagined?
Whatever the reasons behind the sudden generosity, it’s probably better to sit back and immerse yourself in Come and Get It for what it is – and, just as interestingly, what it isn’t.
Grouped in mostly chronological order, there’s a lot of quirky fun to be had on Come and Get It. A proliferation of cover songs underlines the fun characteristics of the J5’s bubblegum-funk production and arrangement, all howling guitars and lush strings. And it’s not just Motown stars and soul pioneers these outtakes genuflect before (“Since I Lost My Baby,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Up on the Roof”), but bands like Traffic (their take on “Feelin’ Alright” coaxes the song’s soulful underpinnings out to the front) or Three Dog Night. (The group’s run-through of the Randy Newman-penned “Mama Told Me Not to Come” may have edged out the psych-soul cover of The Temptations’ “Hum Along and Dance” as the oddest track in the Jackson 5 discography.)
And while originals like “If the Shoe Don’t Fit,” “Come and Get It (Love’s on the Fire),” “Iddinit” and “Makin’ Life a Little Easier for You” (to name the four main tracks on the set penned by Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and Fonce Mizell, better known as “The Corporation” behind the J5’s early chart smashes) certainly pale next to the brilliance of the formula that gave us “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save,” they are, like most of the tracks on this set, fun little romps that might conjure up fun visions of the idealized Jacksonmania of the time: mature pop-funk sung by a group of kids who (particularly their pint-sized lead singer), given their kid-friendly pedigree, had no business sounding as good as they did. Michael sounds, as always, excited and confident to sing tunes like “After You Leave Girl” or “I’m Your Sunny One” – no small feat considering how intense these sessions must have been. (Adding nearly three dozen songs to a catalogue consisting of eight albums in about seven years is a daunting consideration.)
Intriguingly, the best thing about Come and Get It may be what it doesn’t have much of: pure revelation from the vault. There is no alternate-universe No. 1 on this package, outside of perhaps “That’s How Love Is,” released three years ago on I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters and presented here as a slightly longer take. And outside of the oft-bootlegged demo “Guess Who’s Makin’ Whoopee,” which with a total lyrical rewrite became hit single “Mama’s Pearl,” there isn’t any 2001-esque obelisk brilliantly predicting Michael Jackson’s ascendancy. And that’s OK.
Because for all the lavishness of this package – two CDs and a vinyl single, each in individual glossy inserts and packed with a sharply-colored booklet in a sharply-colored, lidded box – this set eschews the Jackson hero worship some might have feared for a rather simple thesis. The Jackson 5 may have had four consecutive No. 1 hits with their first four singles, and Michael may have been a so-good-it’s’-almost-frightening raw talent, but at the end of the day they were a really good soul-pop band. All the rest of the mythology came later; Come and Get It just happens to capture that in-the-momentness en large.
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