Michael Jackson Hated Being Told The Jackson 5 Were the ‘Black Beatles’

The Beatles' Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson in black-and-white

Music

When artists are compared to The Beatles, it’s usually meant as a compliment. However, Michael Jackson was upset when someone said The Jackson 5 were “the Black Beatles.”

When artists are compared to The Beatles, it’s usually meant as a compliment. However, Michael Jackson was upset when someone said The Jackson 5 were “the Black Beatles.” He had a point! On top of that, The Beatles and The Jackson 5 left behind very different legacies.

The Beatles and The Jackson 5 both inspired Saturday morning cartoons

Jermaine Jackson was a member of The Jackson 5. In his 2011 book You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother’s Eyes, Jermaine revealed that Motown had Fred Rice, the same marketing genius who helped The Beatles take over the world, merchandise The Jackson 5. The group inspired toys, clothing, and hair care products.

“He even started talking to New York animators Rankin/Bass, the makers of ABC’s The King Kong Show, about turning us into cartoon characters,” Jermaine wrote. “‘I’m going to have your faces everywhere,’ he said. ‘You’re the Black Beatles.’” For context, The Beatles had previously inspired a cheap Saturday morning cartoon as well as a lot of merchandise. 

The Jackson 5 knocked the Fab Four from the top spot

Jermaine and his brother, Michael, were not happy with Rice’s words. “In our hotel room, Michael and I always expressed our dislike of that comparison,” he said. “Why did everything white and great need a Black equivalent? We were not the Black Beatles, we were the Black Jackson 5. 

“Outwardly, when the press made the same comparison, we smiled graciously and took the compliment but this comparison ignored one fact: two of our songs —’I’ll Be There’ and ‘ABC’ — had knocked Britain’s finest from the No. 1 spot and that felt as good as anything to us,” he added. “That was how fiercely proud we were, carrying forward our competitiveness from the talent contest days. We were winners. We had to be the best. And the talent of others always forced us to raise our bar the highest.”

The Beatles wrote their own songs

This raises the question: Should The Jackson 5 be considered comparable to The Beatles? In the early 1970s, The Jackson 5 probably seemed popular enough to be the new Fab Four. Today, the public primarily remembers The Jackson 5 for three singles: “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “I’ll Be There.” The Beatles are remembered for far more than three songs! On top of that, The Beatles wrote almost all of their hits (“Twist and Shout” being the notable exception), while The Jackson 5 performed songs written by others, including Motown founder Berry Gordy. The Jackson 5 were a boy band, which means they were playing a different ball game.

On the other hand, one member of The Jackson 5 went on to become the King of Pop. Michael could be considered a one-man Fab Four. He wrote and produced many great and widely remembered songs, and he was successful for a long time. Notably, Jackson’s greatest hits album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I includes a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together!” It’s probably fair to say The Beatles and Jackson are both legends, but framing any artist as a white singer’s Black equivalent is problematic.

Comparisons aside, The Beatles and The Jackson 5 both gave us timeless hits.

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