Happy 45th Anniversary to Michael Jackson’s third studio album Music & Me, originally released April 13, 1973.
When most people think about Michael Jackson they tend to recall the heyday of Thriller (1982) with an artist at his prime dazzling the world with his single white glove. In fact, many tend to think that Off The Wall was Jackson’s first solo album, however during his tenure at Motown Records as lead singer of The Jackson 5, Jackson released four solo albums to varying commercial and critical success.
Music & Me was Michael’s third solo album during this period, originally released this week in 1973. Preceded by his debut Got To Be There and follow up Ben (both released in 1972), Music & Me finds young Michael transitioning from wunderkind with the sweet angelic voice to a child struggling with the onset of puberty. At the tender age of 14, he was already a studio and touring veteran amassing a slew of hit albums and singles as both a member of The Jackson 5 and in his own right.
Recorded in between tour dates and sessions with The Jackson 5, the collection of songs on Music & Me cover an eight month period, with Jackson shuttled into the studio when a song arose. This unfocussed approach can’t help but manifest itself in the grooves of the album, with the overall sequencing feeling off.
But that isn’t to say that Music & Me isn’t without its must-hear moments.
Take album opener, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “With a Child’s Heart” that has Jackson’s vocals floating effortlessly over the music box melody. Here he’s laid back in his delivery, offering a cool sweetness that beckons you near.
Similarly, tracks like “Up Again” and “Happy” (Love Theme from Lady Sings The Blues) present Jackson as an artist in transition from young child to burgeoning teen and make for entertaining listening.
And that’s part of the difficulty this album represents. It seems the powers that be were stuck between a desire to preserve Jackson as the too-cute kid and the pressure to present him as a growing artist. This is best contrasted with the forgettable “Euphoria” (which feels like it’s been lifted from Sesame Street) juxtaposed with the schmaltzy “Too Young” (a cover of the Nat King Cole standard) and the stronger bluesy funk of tracks like “All the Things You Are” and “Doggin’ Around.”
Adding to the unbalanced nature are songs like “Johnny Raven” and “Morning Glow,” which sound like Jackson 5 castoffs and are instantly forgettable.
But the titular album closer “Music and Me” is the gem of the album and prophetically details Jackson’s lifelong relationship with the art form. It’s a beautiful, haunting ballad with Jackson softly singing, “We’ve been together for such a long time / Music and Me.” There’s a joy and optimism present in Jackson’s voice that is lacking in the majority of the album and you get a sense that for once he really connects with what he is singing. Listen to the song now—in the shadow of Jackson’s passing in 2009—and “Music and Me” takes on a gravitas all its own and tugs at the heart strings.
Overall though, Music & Me feels uneven, and ultimately uninspired. While there are moments of pure pop joy and perhaps even a glimpse of the creative trajectory Jackson was destined for, the outtake of the album is a by-the-numbers affair pumped out by the Motown machine with little attention paid to song and production consistency and quality. Whilst Jackson does his best with the material at hand, his talents deserved better. Thankfully, as history has shown, Jackson would continue to grow as an artist under the tutelage of the Motown system and flourish on his own with a change of record company in the following years.