The Jackson 5 were absolutely huge in the 1970s, churning out memorable hits for Motown and serving as a launching pad for Michael Jackson’s career. But with so many songs in their catalog, how do you determine the absolute best Jackson 5 songs of all time?
Well, admittedly, it’s a bit of an impossible task, but I’m up for the job. So please enjoy my favorite Jackson 5 songs that I keep on repeat all year ’round.
The Best Jackson 5 Songs You’ll Love
Let’s begin with the classic track “ABC.”
On this song, The Jackson 5 sing about love–which will no doubt be a common theme throughout this countdown list!
Now “ABC” is one of The Jackson 5’s most beloved and recognized songs in the group’s entire catalog. Their sunny sound on this track, paired with childlike imagery, is a formula the brothers mastered early and well.
I enjoy this song because it is reminiscent of my playground days as a child, where life was simple and all I had to worry about was lunch and recess. This is a song that’ll make you want to get up and dance, even if you have back problems.
I Want You Back
Upon first listening to “I Want You Back,” you know you are in for a treat. The thing that I always feel is so impressive about the Jackson 5, and certainly Michael Jackson’s vocal performances, is he was always able to successfully perform more “grown up” relationship “make-up” and “breakup songs“—despite not even being in high school.
That’s no doubt a testament to his talent (and the talent of the fine people of Motown). And all of this talent is definitely on display on “I Want You Back.” This upbeat bop was the brothers’ first national single to hit No.1 on the Hot 100.
Oh, How Happy
Though he was incredibly young, Michael Jackson often lead his brothers on their most popular records. But here, on “Oh How Happy,” I love how refreshing it is to hear his oldest brother, Jermaine, show up and show out vocally in this mid-tempo song.
Jermaine’s warm tone, coupled with Michael’s younger voice (set against the backdrop of his three other brothers’ harmony), make this record very calming and pleasing to experience.
Who’s Loving You
Get ready to be taken on an emotional journey on this track.
Love songs hit majorly different when they are about loss, especially when paired with instrumentals that are meant to evoke sadness. “Who’s Loving You” opens with a Blues-sound, and Michael holding a long, dramatic, and heartfelt note. Here, Michael is singing with the emotional depth of someone twice his age.
Listening to this song, I think we all hoped that whoever got away from him would make their way back. This is probably my favorite Jackson 5 song, and I love to “sit around with my head hanging down” listening to this jam. It’s a classic.
Whatever You Got, I Want
“Whatever You Got, I Want” comes from the Dancing Machine album. What I enjoy most about this song is that Michael, now a teenager, is working with a voice that has changed. This slight change, paired with the horns and a much funkier beat, is a major win.
This track, coming from the album of the same name, provided listeners with hurt and scorn and what would probably today be amazing lyrics-turned Instagram captions.
You ran a stop sign, moving violation
When you gave him what was mine
The grit in which Michael sang hooked me on this song. This same sound, in fact, characterized much of this album. Furthermore, this album marked the beginning of a transition from the group’s foundational years with Motown to a more Disco sound.
This is a pretty rare sad song by The Jackson 5. Or, at least, it radiates melancholy. On this track, Michael likens his girl to a bird that has flown away, and he’s hoping she’ll return to him someday. Maybe even tomorrow.
Michael also states that this girl is his absolute everything. She’s the book he reads. She’s the song he sings. She’s the four seasons of his life.
“Maybe Tomorrow” is a song full of beautiful imagery, but more than that, once you add Michael’s aching vocals–a performer who sounds genuinely heartbroken on this track–it makes this easily one of the best Jackson 5 songs of all time.
How Funky is Your Chicken
One of the consistent elements across all the Jackson 5’s albums is dancing. The music and beats are too catchy and far too infectious to be contained!
In “How Funky Is Your Chicken,” the brothers sing, ”put yourself in the groove and get ready to move,” as they talk about an all-out dance battle. Fun times.
Joyful Jukebox Music
In this 1976 song, the brothers used this up-tempo track, with references to other iconic artists and pop culture imagery, to express their love for music and allowing the groove to take over your body. On this track, The Jackson 5 namedrop The Rolling Stones and The Beatles—both on the very same verse, in fact.
As mentioned earlier, The Jackson 5 are all about having a good time. They want you to get your back up off the wall and hit the dance floor. For Michael and the gang, if you’re not ready to boogie down to the sweet serenade of an illuminated jukebox, then you’re simply not living life to the fullest.
Blame It on the Boogie
Did I say “boogie down” in my last song breakdown above? I sure did—how aptly timed. It’s almost as if I prepared it that way, or something—crazy.
Another dance classic, and a slight nod at lost love, “Blame it on the Boogie” contains a gripping up-tempo beat that is describing the disco culture and how intoxicating the partying and “the boogie” could be. Michael, in this song, loses his love to the power of the disco.
We spent the night in Frisco
At every kind of disco
From that night I kissed our love goodbye
My uncle wore this record out. He played it at almost every gathering my family hosted and I can still vividly see him moving in his gator-skinned boots effortlessly—or as the song states, the “Spellbound rhythm” got him to his feet.
Oh, and yes I’m aware: this track comes from The Jacksons, not The Jackson 5 (although, to me, this is semantics). This won’t be the last time you find a great track by The Jacksons making this list, either.
Never Can Say Goodbye
Saying goodbye is by far one of the hardest things that anyone will ever do. My appreciation of this song stems from the fact that it has helped me through many sad goodbyes, many lost relationships, and varying other trying times.
“Never Can Say Goodbye” is one of the Jackson 5’s most recognized records and certainly deserves the praise it receives. You can really feel Michael’s aching and yearning in this song, as he doesn’t want to let the love of his life walk away.
The Young Folks
All artists use music to send messages. The Jackson 5 were no exception. Reflective of the years that the brothers were coming to grips with the world around them, the group released “The Young Folks.”
This record was political in nature, with lyrics such as:
We’re marching with signs
We’re standing in lines
Protesting our rights
I both love, and absolutely hate, that this song still resonates today. However, imagine how empowered a young person would feel as one of the most popular, then-contemporary groups sang about the political and social climate of the 1970s. You gotta respect them for a song like this.
The Love You Save
This song contains parallels between a childish game of tag and taking romantic affections slowly, for fear of being labeled “fast.” The word “fast” on this song means overly flirtatious in the minds of kids. But in the mind of an old-school adult, “fast” likely means being downright promiscuous.
We should all heed the brothers’ message: “Stop, the love you save may be your own,” because we really cannot love someone else until we love ourselves.
I’ll Be There
One of the most prominent love songs The Jackson 5 sang also doubles as a song about the importance of unconditional love between friends, as well. Iconic in every way, this track actually returned to the charts in 1992 thanks to an amazing cover by Mariah Carey.
If you made the argument that this is the top Jackson 5 song ever made, well, I wouldn’t hate you for it. It’s that good.
Eventually, Father Time comes for us all. And here, we see The Jackson 5 have aged up a bit, as they transition into being referred to as “The Jacksons.” With a bit more maturity in their voices, The Jacksons were still able to bring that upbeat, infectious vibe The Jackson 5 was known for, but now was coupled with a bit more of a sophisticated sound.
The song “Destiny” is a critique about fame and the fast-paced city life. My favorite take away from this song is Michael and his brothers singing about longing for a simpler life. It is a message that many artists before and after them have stressed, as well.
This song is just so cute. It’s the perfect song to have playing quietly in your room as you listen to the birds chirping and flying outside your window.
Admittedly, this song is very much “what you see is what you get.” There’s not a ton to chew on with this track–it’s about the beauty of nature. But if you love carefree music and really have a passion for birds (or you simply enjoy birdwatching), then this is a track you gotta add to your playlist.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
I mean, come on folks–this song is fantastic. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include Christmas songs on this list, because if I did, I might have had to throw in the entire Jackson 5 Christmas album.
There’s so many great songs to pick from this album, from “Frosty the Snowman” to “Little Drummer Boy” to the fantastic “Give Love on Christmas Day.” However, the amazing and triumphant way that Michael crushes the end of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is something you just don’t hear everyday from a little kid. It’s really that good.
The boys are not only singing in wonderful harmony here, but they’re moving and grooving like cyborgs in need of an oil tuneup on stage. What more could you really ask for?
Easily one of The Jackson 5’s most well known hits, “Dancing Machine” is a probably the biggest reminder than The Jackson 5 came of age during the disco era, where everyone wanted to sweat the work week away on the dance floor.
Can You Feel It
Another song by The Jacksons here makes the list, and it’s probably the one that features the most poignant and uplifting lyrics.
Michael Jackson often made music about people needing to love one another and help one another, so you can almost appreciate this track on the basis of it being a bit of a precursor to songs like “Man in the Mirror” or “Heal the World.”
What’s great about “Can You Feel It” is that both Michael and Randy trade off with hard hitting lyrics, touching on subjects like war, needless violence, poverty, and hate.
Honestly, this is probably one of the sneakiest protest songs ever, or at least one of the sneakiest “message songs” that you’ll hear, because it’s packaged inside of a highly enjoyable dance-friendly beat.
It’s always incredible to me how, when looking back, amazing child singers like Michael Jackson performed songs (and did so earnestly and wonderfully) that featured lyrics clearly intended for adults.
Just the concept of this song alone is something you’d expect Barry White or Teddy Pendergrass to be belting out, but no, we have little Michael singing about wanting to spoil the love of his life by being her sugar daddy (although admittedly in the literal sense, with sugar equating to candy).
Of course, the song is lightened up a bit given Michael’s age, as he discusses doling out kisses and candy. But “Sugar Daddy” ends on a more mature-yet-cute note, with Michael declaring that he’ll let his girl drive his Cadillac in the future when he comes of driving age!
Goin’ Back to Indiana
You just gotta love this upbeat, fun little bop. Definitely one of the best songs about hometowns you’ll find (The Jackson 5 hail from Indiana), what’s interesting about this song is that it’s really all about love.
On this track, Michael sings about appreciating Hollywood–it’s got great movie stars and tons of glitz and glam. But, Michael’s girl is back home in Indiana–that’s where she’s from. So despite all of the wonderful things that fame has brought him, he just wants to go back to Indiana–back where he started from and where his lady now resides.
Despite the bubble gum feel of this track, this is a great song about going back to your roots and re-connecting with the things, and people, that matter most.
Zip A De Do Dah
The Jackson 5’s discography produced records with an array of sounds, including “Zip A De Do Dah” from their earliest album Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5. More than anything, this song is a groove. It is a stream of consciousness the brothers sing out to Mr. Bluebird standing on their shoulder.
I love this song because it is simply about having a good day. Yet, it is so unique when compared to virtually anything else the brothers would make for years to come.
The only negative, and it’s quite big a negative, is that this song is based on the Disney movie “Song of the South,” which, well, has its own major issues. As a result, Disney has attempted to bury the movie—as well as the song.
The Jackson 5’s reign was long, and it was important to the black community, as well as America and the entire world. They sang about key moments in pop culture, adapted their style and sound as they grew older, and ultimately served as representation for young artists and African American singers and bands.
Their smooth vocals, performed together in youthful harmony, made narrowing down the best Jackson 5 songs difficult, to say the least. But hopefully, this article has helped you discover (or re-discover) this amazing group—and perhaps even encouraged you to add some of their songs to your Spotify playlist.
Or, better yet, purchase one of their albums on CD or vinyl!
This article was written by Jordan (with select additions by Michael).
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