The Jackson Five...and Johnny

During what must be an intensely difficult jury selection process, I offer my tribute to Michael Jackson...

One night last year, my friends and I are out "being sketchy" ("being sketchy" = pre-bar drinking in my friend’s SUV to avoid dropping a paycheck on overpriced LA drinks), waiting to pick another friend up from a concert we couldn’t infiltrate without 20 bucks, and I’m in the backseat, probably already buzzed, silly, and for some reason I'm on the hunt to bestow something, anything, with more humor than it actually deserves. Bingo. A CD. And not just any CD. A rare, diamond in the rough. A mint-condition edition of non other than The Jackson Five…and Johnny.

After popping this in the CD player, laughing, blacking out, and waking up hungover but still laughing the next day, I wrote the following review, which is actually still published on, under the reviews for The Jackson Five Ultimate Collection (since Johnny collaboration is predictably missing from Amazon’s limited inventory). While you're reading this, imagine you're a baby boomer or teeny bopper and you're thinking about maybe, you know, buying the J5's Ultimate Collection, and so you scroll down and read a few listener reviews (people really do read these) about this particular hits collection, and all of a sudden, you come across this review:


Here Comes Johnny, May 22, 2004
Reviewer: Delia True from Los Angeles, CA

It is a little-known fact that there was once a sixth member of the Jackson 5. His name was "Johnny." His stint lasted from 1968-1969, just before the 5 made it big. Whether or not he was actually a Jackson remains a mystery, but my theory is that he was the lead singer virtuoso of the group--that is, until little Michael's intense envy caught up with him. Either that, or Big Joe, in his notoriously paranoid, abusive father kind of way, suspected that Johnny was always on acid and plotting to sabotage the group, forging them in a direction that would be problematic for their impending popularity...probably in the form of cover versions of the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and the Velvet Underground's "Black Angel's Death Song." Perhaps Joe's suspicion stemmed from Johnny's blatant overuse of the carnival synthesizer--to the point where the Doors' organ on "Light My Fire" sounds almost clean and sober in comparison.

Progressive musicianship aside, Johnny was a force of charisma. He could do a mean acapella and somehow rallied the group to try a groovy rendition of "My Girl." His short-lived contributions can be found on the ultra-rare recording The Jackson 5...and Johnny, which unfortunately does not carry. If you can get past the archaic recording techniques—which make Johnny sound like he's in the middle of a rainstorm with a million watts of feedback filtering through the mic--you'll notice that Johnny's departure from the Jackson 5 left a void that could only be filled with straight-A bubble gum pop.

So where's Johnny? If I had more time and money on my hands, I would be formulating theories and drawing up a book and TV movie proposal for The Jackson Six: the Untold Story. I can't even offer any assistance in acquiring a copy of this rare Johnny recording. I discovered it last night by accident on the floor of my friend's car, we gave it a spin, and as my ears inhaled the first few magical notes, I knew it was my duty as a Jackson 5 fan to inform other Jackson 5 fans of Johnny's existence, even though I'm sure that to you diehards this is probably old news. You probably even saw Johnny in concert. Lucky you.

Amazingly enough, the Jackson 5 made it without Johnny, and this collection of hits is proof. If you want to really try to figure out the point when MJ lost his marbles, decided he wanted to pull a Peter Pan and remain forever a little boy, you can. There's enough masked pain here to consume a year's worth of psychoanalysis. Listen closely, and you can hear the perils of child stardom in his voice, especially when it wavers and sounds disturbingly feminine for a little boy, and it's like some unnamed force is giving him an imaginary lashing. Just like when I ponder the Beatles' breakup and Jodeci's untimely dissolve, I can't help wondering in "what if" mode. Had Johnny stayed with the group, would the King of Pop have learned to grow up somewhere in his childhood? We all might have lost something (well, almost...those little boys probably would still have their innocence).


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