First Hit #1: October 17, 1970
As one might recall, I wasn’t terribly enamored with the last Jackson 5 hit, which I thought was a lesser work that just went with what made the group a hit the first time, but in a way that wasn’t particularly interesting. That’s usually an indication that a group needs to release a song that shows they can do other things. Cue the sensitive ballad, I’ll Be There, which is a touch saccharine, but still a song I have a fondness for.
One of the big surprises of the song is that Michael is the weaker link in the vocals. He tries his best, and his enthusiastic yelps are as welcome as ever, but when his brother Jermaine takes lead, the song gets significantly better. A more mature voice is better able to capture the nuance and feeling that the song needs, and while Michael’s enthusiasm and untrained vigor elevate something upbeat and funky, he was not quite mature enough to handle sensitive balladry. If anything, Jermaine should have shouldered the majority of the track, since he has the maturity to carry the song. Michael just can’t do the heavy lifting – not an insult, 11 year olds are notoriously bad at heavy lifting – and the song does suffer a bit for giving the breakout star work that he can’t quite handle. That’s not to say I don’t like it, just that the balance is a bit wrong.