Remembering MJ: “Body Language.”

Jackson 5 with Vicki Lawrence, The Carol Burnett Show

From MEDIA ASSASSIN, December 23, 2008.—HA

I may like nothing less than any film or video where Black people teach white people how to dance, or to otherwise be cool.

That said, I can kind of bear the otherwise talented Vicki Lawrence (Mama’s Family) in this clip from The Carol Burnett Show, above, because there’s just not a lot of high-quality footage around of the Jackson 5 performing their hot, often-less-heralded semi-single, “Body Language (Do the Love Dance).”

Moving Violation album cover, Jackson 5“Body Language” was part of Moving Violation, right, which was released in May 1975. It was J5′s final album for Motown, and, as it inadvertently turned out, it was aptly named: Motown slapped the brothers with a lawsuit when the label suddenly found out that father / manager Joe Jackson was taking his sons off of Mo’, and on to CBS Records (known today as Sony/BMG).

The musicians won that battle in court, but not without seriously damaging their vehicle: Motown kept the Jackson 5 name, which the company had trademarked, resulting in the act’s change to The Jacksons. Also, the quintet left behind oldest brother Jermaine, who stayed with Berry Gordy’s label having married the boss’s daughter, Hazel. Youngest brother Randy was then recruited as an official Jacksons member, turning the short-lived Jackson 4 back into 5.

Caught in the midst of this legal mess was “Body Language.” It had been planned as Moving Violation‘s second single, to be released in September 1975 following “Forever Came Today” / b/w “All I Do Is Think Of You.” Of course, by that time, the Jacksons had pulled their “Shawshank Redemption,” and Motown, perhaps for legal reasons, perhaps out of spite, didn’t put “Body Language” out on its own.

Too bad. Sinuous and funky, lit by Michael’s happy, liquid tenor and Marlon’s gruff demands (“Express yourself!”), “Body Language” drives popping congas; rapidly shifting vocal arrangements; speckled lead guitar notes; an assertive, beckoning bass line; and turntable cuttin’-like backing vocals (“Come on! Come on!”), all which continuously infuse the composition with an uptempo, light-headed whirl.

Michael Jackson, Jackson 5 Variety hour, “Body Language”Though “Body Language” never made it to market as a single release, the buying public clearly voted with their feet on the identity of Moving Violation‘s hottest joint, as this brilliant come-dance-with-us! performance from the Jacksons’ mostly forgotten variety show, right, proves almost scientifically.

Of course, Michael Jackson would go on to validate himself, post-Motown, in an almost indescribably huge way, earning now-legendary successes with solo albums for Sony/BMG subsidiary Epic (Off the Wall, Thriller, et al).

As the saying goes, “He, who laughs last, laughs best.” If that’s true, then, after they left Motown, at least one of the Jacksons was soon rolling on the floor, clutching his sides, trying to keep from peeing on himself. In other words, kinda what I do watching Vicki Lawrence, here, but not for the usual reasons.

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