The Jacksons reminisce on the glory days

It’s like a scene out of a movie. Five brothers, all of whom have grown up performing together in a family band, are sitting at home. 

Suddenly, a song comes on – a bright, sunshine pop song with sweeping strings and a funky backbeat. The brothers are amazed. After all, it’s their song. In case you hadn’t gathered, the song is ‘I Want You Back’, and the brothers in question are the group that was known as The Jackson 5.

We’re on the eve of the song’s 50th anniversary – a song that remains, to this day, one of the most instantly recognisable songs in the history of pop music.

“We were listening out for it, because we’d just been told that the record had been released,” recalls Tito Jackson – the second eldest Jackson brother and third eldest of the 10 siblings.

“All of a sudden, one of our neighbours comes running over to our house. He’s got a transistor radio in his hands, and sure enough a local station is playing the song. We all gather round, and we’re just so proud of it – it sounds so great in that moment. I think all of us knew that we were onto something really special in that moment.”

And so it went. ‘I Want You Back’ was not only the group’s debut single, but the first in a series of number-one hits in the US. What was later dubbed “Jacksonmania” was quickly sweeping the globe – the all-singing, all-dancing troupe were soon to sell out every single show on their world tour at the start of the ‘70s. Jackson looks back on this time fondly, as the bonds between he and his brothers were inextricable – it was a time of peace, love and music. “All of those hits take me back whenever we sing them,” he says.

“It was such an exciting time in my life – in all of our lives. Those songs mean so much to us, whether it’s ‘ABC’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ or it’s ‘Dancing Machine’ and ‘Mama’s Pearl’. All of those songs take me right back to that portion of my life – and we were incredibly lucky that they were all hits, too.”

Of course, the Jackson family went through trying times with label splits and inner-family tension in the ‘80s, leading to the group’s split at the end of the decade. Following the passing of Michael Jackson in 2009, however, the surviving brothers decided to reconvene as a tribute to him.

Although the brothers are in their early-to-mid ‘60s, they still perform with the same amount of energy and passion as they did at their commercial peak in the early ‘70s. When questioned on how they maintain such a presence on stage, Jackson puts it down to both a love of music and a relatively clean lifestyle.

“Even when it was all the rage, the brothers and I were never big partiers,” he says.

“We were never big drinkers, we didn’t party hard – we didn’t even go to the after-parties for our own shows. Most of the time, we’d just go straight back to our hotel room and we’d relax. That’s still more or less the case these days, as well. All four of us work out when we can, and the performance itself is definitely a workout. I think we’ve always made a point of staying as active as we can, as it allows us to give the best performance possible.”

This January will see The Jacksons – Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Marlon – returning to Australia for a series of outdoor shows featuring an ensemble of nostalgic hit-makers. Of course, The Jacksons have been coming to Australia sporadically since the ‘70s, and Tito himself remembers the maiden voyage well.

“We were taken everywhere that time,” he recalls. “We got to see kangaroos and koalas at the zoo, then we were presented with some opals. We even got to go outback, where we met with some of the indigenous communities. They did one of their dances for us, and we were presented with a didgeridoo – I believe one of us might even still have it somewhere.”

The Jacksons join Kool & The Gang, The Pointer Sisters, Village People and more performing at Sidney Myer Music Bowl as part of Summer Series on Wednesday January 16.