Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be 50 fantastic first solo albums recorded by artists who departed—or simply took a temporary hiatus from—their respective groups, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
MICHAEL JACKSON | Got to Be There
Selected by Andy Healy
When people think of “Michael Jackson solo artist” they tend to assume his solo career began with his landmark 1979 album Off the Wall. But in reality, Jackson’s first solo album was seven years prior as a 13-year-old with the 1972 release of Got to Be There. As wunderkind of The Jackson Five, Michael already had five studio albums under his belt before the powers at Motown realized there were more ways to milk the Jackson cow by presenting Michael as a bona fide solo artist. And while you may be forgiven for thinking that it would be a gimmicky throwaway of an album, Got to Be There is remarkably good.
Jackson holds his own in the soul stakes as he covers Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” with the same passion and heartache as his adult counterpart. Other covers like The Supremes’ “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” offered a glimpse into young Jackson’s ability to sing the hell out of anything you gave him.
But where the album shines is in the songs written specifically for him. Take the joyous aching in “I Wanna Be Where You Are” and just listen to how Michael’s vocals soar to touch the heavens. Likewise with the title track, Jackson’s voice seems to float through the speakers as he grabs you and commands attention. And the longevity of a track like “Maria (You Were The Only One)” lives on in the recent sampling by Christina Aguilera for her 2018 track “Maria.”
The biggest hit off the album, the fun and free cover of Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robbin,” might have been the obvious choice of song for a teen with its boppy kid friendly lyrics. But where the album, and Michael, comes into its own is when he is challenged emotionally with more adult themes. In those instances, Jackson shines and envisages the kind of power his growing voice would deliver as a solo artist moving forward.