THE JACKSONS-GOIN’ PLACES.

THE JACKSONS-GOIN’ PLACES.

Just eleven months after The Jacksons had released the most successful album of their career thus far, 1976s The Jacksons, they released the followup album Goin’ Places. This was the second album of a joint venture between where Epic Records and Philadelphia International Records, with Gamble and Huff in charge of the post-Motown Jacksons. Given the success of The Jacksons, everyone assumed that the followup Goin’ Places would enjoy the same critical acclaim and commercial success. Like their previous album, The Jacksons, much of Goin’ Places was written and produced by Gamble and Huff, who by 1977, were going through the hottest period of their career. Everything you’d expect, was in place for Goin’ Places to build on the success of The Jacksons. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case, as you’ll discover, when I tell you about the story behind Goin’ Places and the music on the album.

There were many similarities between The Jacksons and its followup Goin’ Places. Gamble and Huff again cowrote and produced five tracks. Similarly, the songwriting  teams of Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen cowrote and produced Music’s Takin’ Over. Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs cowrote Jump For Joy. However, while Michael Jackson wrote and cowrote one track with Tito Jackson for their previous album The Jacksons, Goin’ Places saw The Jacksons cowrite two tracks. These nine tracks would be recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philly.

Recording took place between December 1976 and August 1977, with M.F.S.B. accompanying The Jacksons. Among the personnel were guitarists Dennis Harris and Roland Chambers, drummer Charles Collins, percussionist Larry Washington and Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel who played keyboards and piano. Arranging the nine tracks on the album were Dexter Wansel, plus Jack Faith one of Philadelphia International’s most talented arrangers. Together with M.F.S.B. accompanying The Jacksons, producers Gamble and Huff, Dexter Wansel and Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen the nine tracks were recorded. Would Goin’ Places match the success of The Jacksons?

On the release of Goin’ Places on 18th October 1977, the album failed to match the success of its predecessor The Jacksons. Instead, it reached just number sixty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts. This was a long way from gold certified The Jacksons. Only in the UK did the Goin’ Places fare better than The Jacksons, reaching number forty-five, while The Jacksons reached just fifty-four. Five singles were released from Goin’ Places, with the title-track Goin’ Places faring best, reaching number fifty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. After that, Even Though You’re Gone, Different Kind of Lady and Music’s Takin’ Over all failed to chart. The final single Find Me A Girl reached number thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts. With three singles failing to chart, two others only enjoying moderate success and the album Goin’ Places becoming one of The Jacksons’ lowest-selling albums, this lead to the joint-venture between Epic Records and Philadelphia International Records ending. However, why did Goin’ Places sell so badly, or twenty-five years after its release is this album something of a sleeper or hidden gem? 

Opening Goin’ Places is Music’s Takin’ Over written, arranged and produced by Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen. Immediately, you notice the track has a tougher, funkier sound, with M.F.S.B.’s rhythm section and guitars combining before blazing horns enter. A brief pause, signals the entrance of Michael’s vocal, with horns serenading his vocal. Then the rest of The Jacksons add joyous harmonies, before quickly dropping out. Dramatic pauses, funky driving beat  complete with crashing cymbals is augmented by horns, add to the track’s tougher, but catchy sound. Although quite different from some of the tracks on The Jacksons, this is The Jacksons sound evolving, rather than stagnating or standing still. Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen produced a hook-laden track, while Michael gives a joyful, impassioned performance.

The title-track Goin’ Places is one of five written and produced by Gamble and Huff. From the opening bars, this is a track that has The Jacksons name written all over it. Gamble and Huff have written a track with them in mine. With the flourish of piano, rasping horns and driving, dramatic rhythm and keyboards, everything is in place for Michael’s vocal. He delivers his vocal quickly, his voice full of energy, while his brothers add harmonies. Braying horns punctuate the arrangement, while M.F.S.B. provide a backdrop that matches the energy and enthusiasm of Michael’s vocal. It’s good-time, complete with flourishes of piano, handclaps and sound-effects. There’s no message from Gamble and Huff here, like Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto, Ship Ahoy or The Air I Breath. Instead, it’s a track with a feel-good, good-time sound. However, maybe The Jacksons had outgrown this on The Jacksons?

Different Kind of Lady written by The Jacksons, takes its inspiration from many of their previous tracks. This is what Gamble and Huff did on the previous track Goin’ Places, write a “Jacksons sounding” track. Again there’s a real feel-good sound, with Michael’s vocal driving the track along, while M.F.S.B. provide a musical backdrop. Their playing is the quality you’d expect from M.F.S.B., as is Michael’s vocal and the harmonies. Sadly, the continued use of a vocoder is like a blot on the horizon. Someone should’ve pointed out the maxim less is more. If the song didn’t include the vocoder then it would be a much better song.

Even Though You’re Gone sees Gamble and Huff takeover songwriting and production duties, with Jack Faith arranging his first track on Goin’ Places. This is like Philadelphia International’s A-Team. They don’t disappoint, resulting in the most Philly sounding track so far. Michael’s vocal is tender, but still tinged with sadness. His vocal is delivered against a slow arrangement, where keyboards, lush strings and piano combine with percussion. Subtle rasping horns, brief flourishes of harp play their part in the arrangement’s beautiful sound. Here, Michael’s vocal is impassioned, accompanied by subtle, tender harmonies. Together with Jack Faith’s arrangement and Gamble and Huff’s production, the result is a beautiful track, the best on the album.

During their time at Philadelphia International, Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs cowrote dozens of great songs. Jump For Joy is one of them. Arranger and producer Dexter Wansel throws a curveball as the track opens. The arrangement has a tough, funky sound, with the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards responsible for this. Then when Michael’s vocal enters, it’s joyous, full of energy and enthusiasm. Punchy harmonies augment his vocal, while M.F.S.B. take diversions into funk, while jazz-tinged guitars add to the song’s uplifting, feel-good sound. Later, The Jacksons revel in the uplifting, feel-good sound, sounding as they’re enjoying themselves, which the listener surely will.

Tito Jackson takes over the lead vocal on Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl, penned and produced by Gamble and Huff. Jack Faith’s arrangement is perfect for what is a quite beautiful love song. It’s something Jack Faith does so well. The arrangement meanders into being, lush strings, guitars and keyboards accompanying Tito’s vocal, while his brothers add tender, complimentary harmonies. His vocal is heartfelt, full of emotion, with guitars, percussion and swathes of strings floating above his vocal. They add to the beauty and tenderness of the song. Later, the vocal is half-spoken, giving way to the equally tender and heartfelt harmonies. This is the clincher, resulting in a song that’s not just beautiful and tender, but heartfelt too. It seems that the Gamble and Huff along with Jack Faith triumph again, producing a track that’s almost as good as Even Though You’re Gone.

After the success of the production and arrangement team of Gamble and Huff and Jack Faith, they’re reunited on Man Of War. This is what Gamble and Huff do so well, write songs with an important social message. It’s a song that questions the wisdom and folly of war, offering alternatives to it. Marlon Jackson takes charge of the lead vocal, delivering his tender, sincere vocal against a slow arrangement. Gentle rasping horns, layers of strings, piano and percussion are key to the arrangement. The Jacksons add heartfelt harmonies, before Tito takes over the lead. Later, bursts of horns punctuate the arrangement, before the vocal changes hands again. As the arrangement grows, The Jacksons deliver Gamble and Huff’s message, which isn’t just questioning and criticizing, but offering alternatives and wisdom in equal amounts. This is something similar inferior songs fail to do. One good example of this is the dirge-like Give Peace A Chance.

Do What You Wanna written by The Jacksons, sees them revisit a familiar Jacksons’ sound. It’s reminiscent of their previous songs, but given a Philly makeover by Dexter Wansel that’s key to the track’s success. Chiming guitars, booming drums, blazing horns and flourishes of strings help this joyous sounding track explode. Michael accompanied by handclaps and tight, sweet harmonies gives one of his best vocals. The track also features some of the best guitar playing on the album, augmented by flourishes of strings and piano. All this plays its part in the track’s joyous, dance-floor friendly feel-good sound.

Closing Goin’ Places is the last Gamble and Huff penned and produced track Find Me A Girl, which Jack Faith arranges. Not only does it allow The Jacksons to demonstrate just how good they were at singing harmonies, but shows just how talented a vocalist he is. His vocal is needy, full of emotion, while tender harmonies accompany him. They’re augmented by rasping horns, lush strings and a rhythm section that play slowly, in a way that reflects the emotion in Michael’s vocal. There’s a real old-style, vintage jazzy sound to the arrangement, that’s perfect for the song. The longer the track progresses, the better The Jacksons and M.F.S.B. are. This is the perfect way to close Goin’ Places, on a genuine high, with producers Gamble and Huff and arranger Jack Faith seeing to this.

Although Goin’ Places wasn’t the commercial success of its predecessor, the gold certified The Jacksons, it’s still an album that’s stood the test of time well. Apart from  Different Kind of Lady, and its vocoder heavy sound, the rest of Goin’ Places is a really good, listenable album. Maybe with the title-track Goin’ Places, Gamble and Huff were trying too hard to write a “Jacksons’ sounding” track when they’d outgrown that sound. Having said that, I really like the track. With Do What You Wanna, written by The Jacksons, Dexter Wansel saves the day. If it hadn’t been for his Philly makeover, then the song would’ve had a similar  “Jacksons’ sound” as so many of there previous tracks. Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen’s Music’s Takin’ Over tried to evolve their sound, give it a tougher, grownup sound. Similarly, the Gamble and Huff penned and produced tracks 

Even Though You’re Gone, Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl, Man of War and Find Me A Girl, all arranged by Jack Faith succeed in evolving The Jacksons’ sound. They were no longer the group they were on Motown. Instead, they’d grown up and they couldn’t sing throwaway pop like ABC. Gamble and Huff succeeded in changing their sound, making it fit for the new, grownup Jacksons. Maybe the problems was that many of their fans, who were used to their Motown fare, didn’t understand or appreciate this grown up sound. After all, there were ballads, songs about the folly of war on Goin’ Places, real grownup music on Goin’ Places. This was as far from ABC as XYZ as you could get. Maybe, that twenty-five years after its release, then The Jacksons’ fans who didn’t “get” Goin’ Places will somewhat belatedly, understand, enjoy and cherish its nine tracks and its mixture beautiful ballads, dance-floor friendly tracks. Standout Tracks: Even Though You’re Gone, Heaven Knows I Love You, Girl, Man of War and Find Me A Girl.

THE JACKSONS-GOIN’ PLACES.

 

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