The Greatest Jacksons Album Was by the Sisters, Not the Brothers
The stories of 4 albums that all faded into obscurity as quickly as they were released, before going on to be hailed retrospectively as lost classics of their time.
Jackson Sister — Jackson Sisters (1976)
A classic album that was never actually released, the Jackson Sisters produced a blisteringly tight set of soul cuts between 1973 and 1975 that weren’t released together until after their split a year later.
The 5 teenage sisters never saw the fruits of their recording sessions apart from a short-lived moment in the limelight. They spent their two years working with Johnny Bristol and Albert Hammond in the early ’70s before being passed up by Berry Gordy in their shot at the Motown label.
In those 2 fleeting years, the Jackson Sisters scraped the bottom of the R&B charts with “I Believe in Miracles” before quickly fading back into obscurity. Eldest sister Jacqui had already burnt out and the quintet went back to their daily lives or school and work.
A year after their split, Polydor would buy their recordings and issue a rerelease of “I Believe in Miracles” that again failed to make an impact. They weren’t the only record label that year to attempt to bring back the Jackson Sisters however as the mob-affiliated music mogul, Morris Levy, released the album on his obscure (and some argue tax-dodging enterprise) label, Tiger Lily. He would quickly withdraw the album before official release with just a few promo copies pressed.
15 years later, those promo copies would become the “holy grail” of funk and soul record collections.
In 1988, across the Atlantic in the UK, while the sisters were busy living their lives across Detroit, the “rare grooves” scene was about to bring their record to a new audience. The scene championed, obviously, obscure records that had never got the attention they deserved and the promos would sell for thousands of dollars and become one of the most notoriously boot-legged albums around.
It’s easy to see why the album achieved this status and difficult to see why it didn’t the first time around. It’s a breathless album at times with few spaces to pause. When it does slow down, however, it doesn’t lose any of the feeling. “Maybe” and “Why Can’t We Be More Than Just Friends” are still finger clickers.
“I Believe in Miracles” is clearly a stone-cold classic. Sampled by Public Enemy on their track “Can’t Do Nuttin For Ya’ Man”, that machine-gun-like intro has become a recognisable staple across funk and soul compilations.
Other highlights are “Boy You’re Dynamite” which starts the second side of the album at a pace and the super-charged version of Aretha Franklin’s “Rocksteady”. It’s hard to beat the up-and-down groove of “Day in the Blue” though as the track builds and builds for over half the song before slowing down and dropping down into a deep, dreamy groove chorus before kicking back out of it.
Failing that, check out that cover. How can that not be a classic?
Donnie & Joe Emerson — Dreamin’ Wild (1979)
One of the most unlikely classic albums on this list. Two farm boys recording 70 tracks in their homemade studio inside a barn in the late ’70s is not the usual classic album route.
Growing up in rural farmlands with little access to the music they were about to emulate, two teenagers, Donnie & Joe Emerson, produced a seminal album in 1979 that wouldn’t become seminal for another 30 or more years.
Showing an interest in music from an early age, the father of the two boys wanted to encourage them where he could. Without much musical knowledge, he built the brothers a studio in a barn for $100k and set them off on a mammoth recording stretch.
Over the next few years, the boys would gig at local events and schools whilst relentlessly recording in their barn studio. They would put down over 70 tracks in this time, picking 8 to become Dreamin’ Wild.
Despite their ambition, they never got past the local star stage and the brief period of creativity would be an albatross around the entire family’s neck. Bankrolling both the studio and the pressing of the album with minimal returns set off a series of financials hit on the Emerson family which resulted in their farmland being reduced from 1600 acres to just 65.
Don Emerson Sr, quite literally bet the farm on the boys and it would take 30 years for that bet to come in.
Jack Fleischer, record collector extraordinaire, would be the one that would push the album up into the limelight, after finding a sealed copy lying on its own in an antique shop. After championing the record on his blog, it became the underground album of choice, rattling around different blogs before landing the standout track, “Baby”, with a cover version by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti.
The Emerson brothers despite their lack of success and financial issues did produce a classic with those 8 tracks though. The boys, 17 and 19 at the time, say that they only heard limited music coming through the radio and nothing else, the tractor radio no less. Encouraged to write and record their own material by their father, they never actively sought influences but found them in artists like Smokey Robinson as well as the blue-eyed soul acts of the day.
“Baby” is the famous track and rightly so but the opener, “Good Time” is exactly what it claims to be. A head-nodding, toe-tapping, fuzz-rocking good time. Tracks like “Feels Like the Sun” tread the thin line of genius and nonsense. The jagged beat at times can trip you up and it feels experimental for the sake of it but it’s hard not to be impressed by their ambition.
After renewed interest in the album in 2012, the Emerson brothers finally stepped into the limelight as Light in the Attic issued a rerelease with the duo going on tour to promote.
All that time in the studio barn was not lost after all as they had a back catalogue of over 70 tracks to choose from for their follow up album, Still Dreamin’ Wild, which was released in 2014, 35 years after their debut.
Another honourable mention goes to the album cover. It’s the kind of album cover you’d expect from two teenage boys living the dream. Sporting high-collared, open-chested white jumpsuits, it’s not hard to imagine what jumped out to Jack Fleischer in that antiques store in 2008. Luckily, the brothers had kept the jumpsuits all those years and pulled them back out for their second album cover.
Lee Moses — Time and Place (1971)
Releasing a funk and soul album in 1971 was a difficult task.
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Bill Wither’s Just As I Am, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and Donny Hathaway’s self-titled album have all created lasting legacies of both the LP and the artist.
Lee Moses’ Time and Place, released at the time same time, did nothing for either the business or reputation of its artist, until now.
Little is known of Moses’ life but his achingly deep soul album has finally been given the plaudits it deserves and sits with the Gayes and Hathaways of 1971.
Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Moses spent the 60s gigging hard and moving unintentionally past fame and fortune as his talent evaded Gladys Knight, who wanted him for the Pips, and Jimi Hendrix, who came up through the club scene with Moses.
Time and Place was intended to be Moses’ breakthrough. Backed by his own band and members of the Ohio Players, which can be heard in the crisp funk guitars underpinning the album, Moses lets loose across his own material and the now legendary covers of “California” “Dreaming” and “Hey Joe”.
Moses’ aching vocals predicted the tragedy he would go through as the album failed to hit and he returned to Atlanta bitter about the way he was treated by the music industry.
Moses never lived to see his work get the recognition he knew it deserved.
He died aged 56 from lung cancer in 1998.
It was 2007 before the album got a reissue on the British label, Castle records, after a slow-burning interest from record collectors and crate diggers.
The ironically titled Time and Place joins a heady list of lost and found classics.
The Equatics — Doin It!!!! (1972)
If the four exclamation marks in the title didn’t convince you that this album is a classic then hopefully discovering that it was created by the high school champions of Pepsi’s “New Sounds Of 1972” challenge will.
It’s hard to believe that these slow, deep soul ballads were created by a group of high school students with an average age of just 17.
It would be cheap to say that some of the interest in this now cult album comes from that fact as the tracks here stand up to anything around at the same time in 1972.
Most of us can’t, or won’t, remember what we were doing at the age of 17 but the chances are it didn’t involve putting down unique and delicate cuts of classics such as “Walk On By” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”.
It was the band’s bassist Benjamin Crawford that pulled the youngsters together around his funk, soul and prog-rock influences. But it was the Pepsi competition that brought about this album as they entered a jingle-writing competition and the Pepsi-drinking public voted their jingle the winner (by sending in bottle tops through the mail). The prize was the chance to record an album at the cost of Pepsi.
The band were chaperoned and managed by their football coach, Frank Johnson, who actually provided the vocals himself for “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the album standout “Merry Go Round”.
The boys carried on with their lives, never stopping to think that 38 years later, the album would be a mainstay of the genre and the time.
That’s where the story ends with this one, unfortunately. The members never recorded again and would go on to lead separate lives with the split being blamed on Crawford and Johnson’s differences.
Much like the other albums in this list, it would be record collectors and crate diggers which would pull this album, rightly, back to the top. With the original pressings lost to Pepsi’s history, Doin It!!!! got its re-release finally in 2010 by Now Again Records.
It’s now rightly hailed as a classic of its time.