“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson (1971)

“Got To Be There” announced the arrival of Michael Jackson, solo artist. While it certainly set a precedent, MJ and J5 records would remain virtually interchangeable for another eight years. So there’s nothing here that portended Michael’s mastery of pop music with one big exception: that voice.

Michael hadn’t hit puberty yet, so “Got To Be There” still features MJ’s winning “I Want You Back” kid voice. However, the lyrics of this song aren’t exactly “ABC/123”. Generally, if you’re giving a kid material with adult lyrics, it sounds weird. Somehow, though, they don’t sound weird coming out of 13 year old Michael Jackson’s voice. This is a testament to the fact that the kid had the interpretive powers of someone twice his age.

And he sings his ass off. “Got To Be There” is not a sing-by-numbers kind of song. There are quite a few vocal twists and turns. Michael’s alternately whispering and belting, and this was recorded long before technology was able to make any old kid sound polished. Technique/skill plus feeling is a winning equation, and Michael was in possession of both before most of us were able to properly wash our asses. “Got To Be There” is an early, but effective, example.

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