I’m consistently surprised by the number of Michael Jackson fans who haven’t fully explored the entire discography of The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons. There are many “best of” compilations to choose from, but fans owe it to themselves to delve a little deeper if they haven’t already. The Jackson 5 released nine studio albums at Motown before dropping the “5,” parting ways with Jermaine, and continuing on with half a dozen albums with Epic Records (the final two of which Jermaine was back for). With the exception of Victory (1984) and 2300 Jackson Street (1989), the vast majority of the material features Michael on lead vocals.
These albums, while wildly varying in quality and often loaded with formulaic filler, present a tremendous opportunity to track the maturation of Michael Jackson’s singing voice from childhood to adulthood. The switch to Epic saw the loosening of creative controls imposed during their extraordinarily successful Motown run. The Jacksons was their 1976 debut for the new label, co-released by Philadelphia International Records. Produced by Philly soul legends Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, the album was something of a comeback hit after a couple years of significantly diminishing returns as J5. Goin’ Places basically served as a sequel in 1977, with the same production team on board and, just like its predecessor, two tracks written by the group.
For whatever reasons, lightning didn’t strike twice and Goin’ Places more or less tanked (the atrocious cover art couldn’t have helped sales). The title track found modest success in the R&B charts, but nothing like the crossover smash “Enjoy Yourself” from the previous album. As such, the album is unfortunately overlooked despite the presence of some real pleasures. With Jermaine long gone from the lineup at this point, the lead vocals are handled almost exclusively by Michael. “Man of War” is the one real group track on which the brothers are prominently featured, but even then Michael is spotlighted. Tito gets a brief spoken word section on the ballad “Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl,” but otherwise this is Michael’s show.
Five of the nine songs were composed by producers Gamble and Huff, but two key tracks are Jacksons originals. The better of the two is the funky “Different Kind of Lady.” The other, “Do What You Wanna,” is certainly danceable but it’s also over-arranged. When those opening horns kick in, you practically expect someone to say, “Tell them what they’ve won, Don Pardo!” But that’s just indicative of the problem with this album (and its predecessor). The Jacksons weren’t a Philly soul band, no matter how hard Gamble and Huff tried. Goin’ Places catches the group in a true transitional phase. The next year would see the release of their first self-produced album, Destiny—arguably their finest statement.
This isn’t the first place to go is you’re new to Michael Jackson’s pre-adult recordings. But if you’ve heard the better known releases, Goin’ Places shouldn’t be ignored as it presents Michael on the cusp of his mature vocal style. Most of the material is rather generic and the backing is too slick and lacking in character. Nonetheless, Michael puts his all into tracks like “Music’s Takin’ Over” and the group harmonies are as sweet as ever.