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"I'll Be There"
The Jackson Five
Motown 1171
Oct. 1970
Billboard: #1    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

The Jackson Fivefter three number one singles in uptempo, "soul bubblegum" groove, it was a bold move for Berry Gordy, Jr., to allow his young charges from Gary, Indiana, to record a ballad. But producer Hal Davis had found the right song, and Berry passed over an early version of "Mama's Pearl" written by Freddie Ferren and the rest of the Corporation (see "I Want You Back") in favor of "I'll Be There."

Gordy's judgement was flawless. "I'll Be There" entered the Billboard Hot 100 on September 19, 1970, at number 40. Four weeks later it went to number one and stayed there for five weeks, making it the most successful Jackson Five single of all time.

'Third Album' - The Jackson Five
Debuting in the Billboard Top 40 on Sept. 19, 1970, "I'll Be There" was the Jackson Five's fourth single and their fourth straight No. 1, as well as the biggest selling Motown single to date. The single, which sat at No. 1 for five weeks, was from the Gary, Indiana group's third album, simply titled Third Album. The LP entered the Billboard Hot 200 album chart on Sept. 26, 1970, and rose to No. 4. It remained on the charts for 50 weeks.
Although it hadn't been apparent until now, there were two factions at Motown competing to write for and produce the Jackson Five. Freddie Ferren and Fonce Mizell were part of the Corporation, and they seemed to be winning the "battle" by coming up with the first three Jackson singles -- chart toppers all. But writer/producer Hal Davis was a contender, too. In the early '60s, Davis met Berry Gordy at a West Coast record conference. Gordy was interested in opening a Hollywood branch office for his Detroit record corporation, and hired Davis and Marc Gordon, the man who would one day manage the Fifth Dimension, to run an office. Based in the 6290 Sunset Boulevard building at the corner of Sunset and Vine, Davis signed the company's first Los Angeles-based artist, Brenda Holloway ("Every Little Bit Hurts," "When I'm Gone"). After she became successful, Davis wrote and produced for Detroit-based artists, starting with Stevie Wonder.

Davis met the Jackson Five as soon as they signed with Motown. As head of the West Coast office, he picked them up at the airport when they arrived in Los Angeles for a year of intense rehearsals before recording their first record and going on the road.

Soon after the Jacksons came to Motown, Davis received a song written by a friend of his, Bob West. The song had also gone to Motown's A&R department, but they hadn't shown much interest -- especially since it was unlikely the Jackson Five would be recording ballads for their singles.

But Davis felt differently. "Very few tunes have come along in my lifetime that I knew were just natural. This particular tune was natural. I first heard it on just the keyboards. I loved the melody -- the title was already 'I'll Be There,' and I thought it needed some lyric help."

With Willie Hutch, Davis and West re-wrote the song and took a chance on recording the instrumental track. They hadn't completely resolved the problem of new lyrics when they played it for Gordy. "Berry liked it instantly," Davis remembers. Gordy started writing lyrics and helped finish the song. "The next thing you know, we're in the studio with Michael and the kids," Davis laughs.

"I'll Be There" became the biggest-selling Motown single to date. When it went to number one, it gave the Jackson Five the unique distinction of being the only group in the history of the Hot 100 to have their first four entries go to number one.

The Jacksons were not to have another number one single as a group. Perren and Mizell re-wrote "Mama's Pearl," and it followed "I'll Be There," peaking at number two for two weeks. A Clifton Davis song, "Never Can Say Goodbye," came next, and peaked at number two for three weeks. "Maybe Tomorrow" broke the run of Top 10 singles, but just temporarily. "Sugar Daddy" was net, and hat went to 10.

There was only one more Motown Top 10 single for the group: Davis' "Dancing Machine" in 1974. In 1975, the Jackson Five left Motown for Epic Records. Jermaine Jackson, who married Berry Gordy Jr.'s daughter, Hazel, did not leave -- yet. He stayed with Motown until 1984, when he signed with Arista.

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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