“I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5

The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” is one of those kinds of songs that if you were to listen to it only once, you’d still be able to gather a solid idea of what’s going on. Apparently it was designed as such intentionally, i.e. to be sung by a child, Michael Jackson, who was prepubescent at the time.

Of course being familiar with other tracks from MJ’s early days, we know that even back then he often dealt with what can be deemed adult-level romantic topics (i.e. the J5 track that preceded this one being entitled “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21 (To Fall in Love)”). 

And even this song is honestly a bit mature-minded for a preteen. But once Michael gets to blowing on the chorus, it is firmly established that the addressee is a romantic interest whom he is entreating to come back to him. Indeed in his mind, all the vocalist needs is “one more chance” to convincingly prove his love to her.

The Key Sentiment

But what delving into the actual verses reveals is that the sentiment isn’t premised on the vocalist mistreating the addressee per se but rather him neglecting and taking her presence for granted. But then lo and behold, another dude recognizes her value and makes his move accordingly. 

Selfsame dude would be the one she is dating at the moment. And now Michael seeing her with another man has cast him into his feelings. Indeed it is one of those situations where, even though he doesn’t come off as someone who’s been dumped, the vocalist now finds himself “sleepless”, i.e. unable to take his mind off the fact that his sweetheart is now with another guy. In fact it is later implied or stated even that he’s rather the one who ‘let her go’. But apparently at that time, the narrator didn’t take into consideration how he would feel upon seeing her “in [someone else’s] arms”.

And yes, this is a topic/disposition we often come across in song. When Michael Jackson sang it, he was actually at the age where he was more interested in pranking than romance.  But he still does a convincing job of illustrating how a guy may feel when he’s faced with a similar predicament, i.e. not realizing how much he loves a woman until their relationship has already expired.

The Jackson 5, "I Want You Back" Lyrics

When was “I Want You Back” released?

“I Want You Back” was actually the first single The Jackson 5 put out under a major label, that of course being Motown Records. For the record, the J5 had actually come out with a couple of singles in 1968, prior to Motown, via a lesser-known, local entity called Steeltown Records. 

However, soon thereafter they were discovered by Diana Ross, lead vocalist of The Supremes, i.e. Motown’s premiere act of the day. And that is why the album this song is derived from is actually entitled “Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5”. In reality Miss Ross was not the first Motown artist to pick up on the J5, but she was officially credited as so for marketing purposes.

The official release date of this song was on 7 October 1969. And for the record Michael Jackson (1958-2009), who was the lead singer and undeniable star of The Jackson 5, was on the verge of turning 11 years old at the time.

The first time The Jackson 5 appeared on television was on a variety show known as The Hollywood Palace. This occurred on 18 October 1969, and during that outing they performed “I Want You Back”.  About a month later, on 14 December, they performed it again on a more notable program, The Ed Sullivan Show, and with the latter lending to putting the J5 on the map).

On the B-side of “I Want You Back” lies The Jackson 5’s rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” (1960). This is a track which is an even more impressive display of the vocal abilities Michael Jackson possessed in his youth.

Success!!! Success!!!

“I Want You Back” proved to be the type of major-label debut musicians dream of. And that is to top the Billboard Hot 100 and its counterpart of that day, the US Cash Box Top 100. This is exactly what this song achieved! Furthermore, it peaked at the 2nd position on the UK Singles Chart. Moreover, it’s been certified platinum stateside and double-platinum across the pond.

This J5 hit also held down a place on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All-Time” list, just missing the top 100 as of the 2021 edition of the ranking.

What The Jackson 5's Jermaine Jackson said of  "I Want You Back"

Covers, Samples and Notable Usage

Interestingly, amongst the artists who have covered this song is the female K-pop act Twice, who did so to notable success (particularly in Japan) in 2018. And to note Taylor Swift also did so, as featured on her Speak Now World Tour – Live (2011) album.

This song has also been heavily sampled by the likes of hip-hop and R&B artists. Perhaps the most notable in that regard is on the 2001 Jay-Z hit “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)“. But other hip-hoppers who have made use of the tune to drop signature songs include:

  • Kris Kross in 1992 (on “Jump“)
  • The Notorious B.I.G. a couple of years later, in 1994 (“One More Chance“).

Additionally this track was featured on the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is a movie which successfully made use of a number of tunes from yesteryear (with said soundtrack topping the Billboard 200).

This song also remained a regular part of the King of Pop’s playlist throughout the years. Michael even intended to use it during his famous This Is It tour. This was the series of London-based concerts he was preparing for at the time he passed away in 2009.

I Want You Back

More Facts about “I Want You Back”

The working title of this track was “I Wanna Be Free”, as originally intended for Gladys Knight & the Pips and subsequently Diana Ross herself. 

It was produced by The Corporation, a group of behind-the-scenes’ musicians who went on to pen a number of Jackson 5 hits. As such the four individuals who made up that crew are also credited as writers of this track. They are:

  • Berry Gordy
  • Fonce Mizell (1943-2011)
  • Freddie Perren (1943-2004)
  • Dennis Lussier (aka Deke Richards, 1944-2013)

It was Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder, who rather insisted that “I Wanna Be Free” be reworked into “I Want You Back”. This was so that The Jackson 5, a group he heavily promoted, could sing it. And as a side note, this was actually the first song The Corporation put together as a unit.

Besides Michael Jackson, the other members of The Jackson 5 when this track came out, in order of age, were MJ’s older brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon. In fact those four individuals are still holding down the J5 brand to this day. To note Michael’s younger brother, Marlon, also got down with the crew later in the mid-1970s, though left in the late 1980s.

Even though at times some of Michael’s aforementioned brothers acted as instrumentalists, for the most part they served as his backup singers. Motown opted to use more experienced musicians on “I Want You Back” for instance.   

Said instrumental responsibilities were most held down by a group of popular session musicians known as The Funk Brothers. And interesting to note is that Sandra Crouch, twin sister of gospel singer Andraé Crouch, was down with The Funk Brothers and served as the percussionist on this track.

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