TheUrbanDaily’s Guide To Michael Jackson’s Albums

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jackson-5-2The Urban Daily sat and listened to Michael Jackson’s entire discography.

In order to keep ourselves from going crazy, we decided to leave out the multitudes of greatest hits compilations, box sets, remix albums, and anything else primarily consisting of previously released material.  We also decided to stick to just widely released albums, so you won’t find any of the group’s pre-Motown material here. Maybe next year.

What you will find below are reviews of the twelve albums released as The Jackson 5, five albums released as The Jacksons, eleven solo albums by Michael Jackson, and five compilations of previously unreleased material by either the Jackson 5 or Michael Jackson.

diana-ross-presents-the-jackson-5Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5
Released December 18, 1969

By the time The Jackson 5′s debut album was released, the general public had already been captivated by Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, Tito, and Jackie’s first national single, “I Want You Back,” which had been released two months earlier and had gone to #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the pop chart. Though in the album’s liner notes, Diana Ross writes that Michael was 10 years old, he was 11 at the album’s release.  That takes nothing away from the fact that Michael storms through this album with the conviction of a singer three times his age.

Recommended Tracks: “I Want You Back,” “Who’s Lovin’ You,” and Jermaine’s excellent lead on “My Cherie Amour.”

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abcABC
Released May 1970

Any album that starts off with a classic like “The Love You Save” can not be bad.  On ABC’s 12 songs, the kiddie act is played up more than on their debut with songs like “2-4-6-8,” “One More Chance,” and the album’s undeniable title track. Michael’s voice again is the star of the album as he tackles songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t Know Why I Love You” with such ease.

Recommended tracks: “The Love You Save,” “One More Chance,” “ABC”, “2-4-6-8,” “Don’t Know Why I Love You,” “I’ll Bet You”

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Third AlbumThird Album
Released September 1970

The boys previewed their appropriately titled third album in less than a year with their first ballad ever released as a single.  “I’ll Be There” has rightfully become a Jackson 5 classic, and was famously covered by Mariah Carey in 1992. Third Album shows a funkier side to the group as they stomp and clap through jams like “How Funky Is Your Chicken” and “Goin’ Back To Indiana.”  The smooth “Can I See You In The Morning” features Michael’s voice double tracked for the first time.  He’d use this studio technique on his voice to great effect on his debut solo album, which would come a year later.

Recommended Tracks: “I’ll Be There,” “Ready Or Not (Here I Come),” “Can I See You In The Morning,” “How Funky Is Your Chicken,” “Mama’s Pearl,” “Darling Dear”

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christmasThe Jackson 5 Christmas Album
Released October 15, 1970

Even though the boys were raised as Jehovah’s Witness’, that didn’t stop them from releasing a Christmas album, as was standard for most of Motown’s hit making acts.  An expanded version of this album was released in 2009 with 10 bonus tracks!

Recommended Tracks: “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Give Love On Christmas Day”

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maybe tomorrowMaybe Tomorrow
Released April 1971

With the confidence they received from the success of their first ballad released as a single, “I’ll Be There” reaching #1 on the pop and R&B charts, The Jackson 5 kicked off their fourth album with the absolutely sublime “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Unfortunately The Jackson 5′s perfect record of Top 10 singles was briefly interrupted by the album’s title track a song that leaves me puzzled as to why it stalled at #20 on the pop charts. While it’s not as strong as the albums that preceded it, Maybe Tomorrow would prove to be the source of a couple of hip-hop classics, as the title track was sampled for Ghostface Killah’s “All That I Got Is You”, and “It’s Great To Be Here” reached a whole new generation of listeners as the sample used during The Notorious B.I.G.’s verse on “It’s All About The Benjamins.”

Recommended Tracks: “Maybe Tomorrow,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “It’s Great To Be Here,” “Honey Chile,” “I Will Find A Way”

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album cover_going back to indianaGoin’ Back To Indiana
Released September 1971

The Jackson 5′s “Goin’ Back to Indiana” television special aired on September 19, 1971. The show featured appearances from Bill Cosby as a news reporter, Tommy Smothers, Diana Ross, Rosey Grier, and many other celebrities. The accompanying soundtrack album also featured several songs recorded live at the group’s homecoming concert in Gary, IN on May 29, 1971. It’s these live tracks that highlight the album. Kicking off with the group covering Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand!” and “I Want To Take You Higher” (songs of which Michael Jackson would eventually own the publishing rights), the hometown crowd is immediately electrified.

Recommended Tracks: “Medley: Walk On / The Love You Save,” “Stand!,” “Feelin’ Alright”

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got to be thereGot To Be There
Released January 25, 1972

Michael Jackson’s solo debut gets off to an amazing start with 13-year-old Michael’s rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” leaving you to wonder how it’s possible that a boy so young can emote such adult sentiments so effectively. Notable is Michael’s straight-up rapped verse on “Girl Don’t Take Your Love From Me.”

Recommended Tracks: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” “Girl Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” “Got To Be There,” “Rockin’ Robin,” “Maria (You Were The Only One), “You’ve Got A Friend”

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lookin-through-the-windowsLookin’ Through The Windows
Released May 1972

On Lookin’ Through The Windows, Michael’s voice noticeably started to change, but not in a devastating way.  Those soaring high notes were still well within his reach, but Michael found comfort in his lower register as well. Because of the effects puberty was having on Michael’s voice, it’s interesting to hear more lead parts given to older brother Jermaine. The album marked the beginning in a shift in the group’s sound.

Recommended Tracks: “Lookin’ Through The Windows,” “Doctor My Eyes,” “Little Bitty Pretty One,” “Don’t Want To See You Tomorrow”

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benBen
Released August 4, 1972

Michael’s second solo album is often overshadowed by that song about the rat.  While “Ben,” written for the film of the same name, is an excellent song, there are far better songs on the album.  Michael’s cover of The Stylistics’ “People Make The World Go ‘Round” nearly trumps the original.  Of all of his Motown-era solo albums, Ben is one of the best.

Recommended Tracks: “Ben,” “Greatest Show On Earth,” “People Make The World Go ‘Round,” “We’ve Got A Good Thing Going,” “What Goes Around Comes Around”

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skywriterSkywriter
Released March 1973

Eight albums into their career, The Jackson 5 found their popularity waning a bit.  The guys were getting older and the sound of music in general is starting to shift away from the bubblegum pop sound that brought them to fame.  The album was their lowest charting to date, reaching #15 on the R&B chart and #44 on the pop chart.

Recommended Tracks: “Touch,” “Corner Of The Sky,” “I Can’t Quit Your Love,” “Uppermost”

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music  meMusic & Me
Released April 13, 1973

At 14, Michael’s third solo album attempted to paint a mellower image.  Michael sings accompanied by just an orchestra on “Too Young.” He appears on the album’s cover strumming an acoustic guitar, though he doesn’t play a single instrument on the album.  The album failed to do well, though it sold four million copies worldwide.

Recommended Tracks: “With A Child’s Heart,” “Doggin’ Around,” “Johnny Raven,” “Morning Glow,” “Music And Me”

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J5-in-japanIn Japan!
Released 1973

Recorded at the Jackson 5′s April 30th tour stop in Japan, this album was initially only released overseas.  It didn’t see release in the United States until 2004 when it was pressed in a very limited and very sold-out run of 5,000 copies.  The brothers Jackson rip through several of their hits.  Jermaine and Michael both get a chance to perform material from their solo records, though Michael seems to have a bit of struggle through portions of “Got To Be There” as his voice had significantly changed. The real treat on this album is an incredibly funky rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

Recommended Tracks: “Superstition,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “I Wanna Be Where You Are.”

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get it togetherG.I.T. – Get It Together
Released September 1973

Experimenting with a much funkier sound than before, G.I.T. – Get It Together showcases the Jackson 5 as a group of young men.  Michael’s no longer hitting the high notes.  The songs have a bit more grit and edge to them sonically.  Despite this change, the group, minus Jermaine, was still unhappy with the direction that Motown was pushing them in.  They didn’t let it show on this album. The 8-minute “Hum Along & Dance” shows The Jackson 5 at their funkiest.

Recommended Tracks: “Get It Together,” “Don’t Say Good Bye Again,” “Hum Along & Dance,” “It’s Too Late To Change The Time,” “Dancing Machine”

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dancing machineDancing Machine
Released September 1974

Re-invigorated by the success of the single “Dancing Machine” taken from their G.I.T. – Get It Together album, Motown remixed the song and included it as the title track to their follow-up album.  The epic 7-and-a-half minute “I Am Love” which showcased Jermaine’s incredible maturing vocals, would be the group’s last top 20 pop single for Motown. Funkier than it’s predecessor, songs from this album still can pack a dancefloor!

Recommended Tracks: “I Am Love,” “Whatever You Got, I Want,” “Dancing Machine,” “The Life Of The Party,” “What You Don’t Know,” “The Mirrors Of My Mind”

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forever michaelForever, Michael
Released January 16, 1975

Michael’s last solo album under the Motown umbrella was his least successful on the pop charts, peaking at #101. That doesn’t mean that the album is without merit. The album’s lead single “We’re Almost There” remains a favorite amongst die-hard Michael Jackson fans.

Recommended Tracks: “We’re Almost There,” “Take Me Back,” “Dapper Dan,” “Dear Michael”

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moving violationMoving Violation
Released May 1975

For their last album under Motown, The Jackson 5 teamed up with Brian Holland of Motown’s legendary songwriting and producing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who handled over half of the album’s tracks including the dancefloor stomper “Forever Came Today,” a song originally performed by Diana Ross & The Supremes. Released as a single, the song was a top 10 smash on the R&B charts, and its b-side, the ballad “All I Do Is Think of You” is one of the most beloved songs on the Jackson 5 discography.

Recommended Tracks: “Forever Came Today,” “All I Do Is Think Of You,” “Breezy,”  “(You Were Made) Especially For Me,” “Body Language (Do The Love Dance)”

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joyful jukebox musicJoyful Jukebox Music
Released October 26, 1976

Now that The Jackson 5 had successfully gotten themselves out of their Motown contract and signed a new deal with CBS, Motown quickly scrambled to put out a new album before their first album on their new label.  Mostly built around leftovers from the recording sessions for the Skywriter and G.I.T. – Get It Together albums, Joyful Jukebox Music is a rather unremarkable album, with few bright spots.  It was briefly reissued on CD, packaged with another Motown compilation of unreleased songs, 1979′s Boogie.

Recommended Tracks: “Pride And Joy,”  “Love Is The Thing You Need,” “Make Tonight All Mine”

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jacksonsThe Jacksons
Released November 27, 1976

With Motown retaining the rights to the name “The Jackson 5,” as well as Jermaine Jackson who stayed behind at Motown, the newly christened The Jacksons moved over to CBS records, replaced Jermaine with Randy, and holed themselves up in the studio with Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff of Philadelphia International.  The Jacksons marks the first time in their career that the group were allowed to contribute their own songs to an album (“Style Of Life” and “Blues Away”).  The album kicks off with the dance classic “Enjoy Yourself” which became the group’s first top 10 hit in 2 years.

Recommended Listening: “Enjoy Yourself,” “Good Times,” “Keep On Dancing,” “Show You The Way To Go,” “Living Together,” “Style Of Life”

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goin placesGoin’ Places
Released October 18, 1977

Although it’s the second lowest selling non-compilation album in their catalog — the group’s 1988 release sans Michael, 2300 Jackson Street, owns that dubious honor — Goin’ Places is by no means a bad album.  Though there are no instantly recognizable classics on the album, it’s a solid record that dares you to sit still.

Recommended Listening: “Music’s Takin’ Over,” “Different Kind Of Lady,” “Man Of War,” “Do What You Wanna”

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destinyDestiny
Released December 17, 1978

Encouraged by the success of “Different Kind Of Lady” from their Goin’ Places album, The Jacksons broke from the Gamble/Huff team for Destiny, the first album that the group would write and produce by themselves, with the exception of the classic “Blame It On The Boogie,” which was actually a cover of a song by unrelated UK singer Mick Jackson. Destiny would return the group to top-selling status, and rightfully so. It’s one of their best albums.

Recommended Listening: “Blame It On The Boogie,” “That’s What You Get (For Being Polite),” “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground),” “Push Me Away,”

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Reviews continue after the gallery!

off the wallOff The Wall
Released August 10, 1979

While most people pronounce Thriller as Michael Jackson’s best album, I have to disagree and shove a copy of Off The Wall in their faces.  Flawless from the spoken intro of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” to the funky fade out of “Burn This Disco Out,” Off The Wall showcases Michael making music for one primary purpose: dancing.  Even the mellower cuts, save the maudlin “She’s Out Of My Life,” are good for a two-step.  With Quincy Jones in the producer’s chair, a who’s who of late 70′s session musicians, and 10 amazing songs, Michael was right to be disappointed when he received only one Grammy award for the album, a best male R&B vocal award for “Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough.”

Recommended Listening: The whole thing.

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boogieBoogie
Released 1979

To capitalize off of the success of Off The Wall, Motown rushed out another compilation of Jackson 5 outtakes and released it on the short-lived Natural Resources label.  The songs on Boogie were recorded throughout their time at Motown and include alternate versions of Jackson 5 classics such as “ABC,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and “Dancing Machine.”

Recommended Tracks: “I Was Made To Love Her,” “One Day I’ll Marry You”

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triumphTriumph
Released July 3, 1980

Triumph shows The Jacksons at their finest.  Michael was fresh off the success of Off The Wall and the rest of the group contribute some great songs to the album.  From the opening fanfare of the march-like “Can You Feel It,” keep hitting home run after home run. The album brought the group back to the top of the R&B album charts for the first time since 1971′s Maybe Tomorrow.

Recommended Listening: “Can You Feel It,” “Lovely One,” “Everybody,” “This Place Hotel,” “Give It Up,” “Your Ways,” “Walk Right Now”

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jacksons liveThe Jacksons Live!
Released November 1981

Edited together using recordings made from The Jackson’s stops on their Triumph Tour in four different cities, The Jacksons Live! is a stunning album that features the brothers tearing through singles from their years as The Jackson 5, their new life as The Jacksons, and songs from Michael’s Off The Wall album.  One listen to this album will make you wish for a time machine so you can go back and see the tour in person.

Recommended Listening: “Can You Feel It,” “Rock With You,” “Workin’ Day And Night,” “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Shake Your Body Down To The Ground”

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thrillerThriller
Released November 30, 1982

Michael’s sixth solo album almost never came out.  During the recording of Thriller, Michael and producer Quincy Jones fought about what songs should make the album.  Quincy thought “Billie Jean” wasn’t strong enough to make the album. Michael demanded it be kept and threatened to cancel the album altogether. The entire world can thank God that Michael’s threat was idle.  I don’t think I’d want to live in a world where an album as well crafted as Thriller does not exist. An album that spawned so many culturally significant moments (the “Thriller” video, Michael’s performance of “Billie Jean” at Motown 25, the integration of MTV), we may never see an album this important again. There is something for everyone on this album, which is why it’s estimated to have sold up to 110 million copies worldwide.

Recommended tracks: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Baby Be Mine,” “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” “The Lady In My Life,” “Thriller”

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farewell my summer loveFarewell My Summer Love
Released May 1984

Motown again looked to cash in on Michael Jackson’s success by releasing this compilation of unreleased songs from Michael’s Motown-era solo albums.  The songs were updated with added drum machines and synthesizers, but left Michael’s original vocals in tact.  The title track  managed to reach #7 on the R&B chart, and cracked the Top 40 on the pop charts.  The original mixes of these songs were included on the limited edition 2009 3-disc box set Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection.  It’s those original mixes that we recommend, and not these versions updated for 1984!

Recommended Tracks: “Call On Me,” “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Farewell My Summer Love”

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victoryVictory
Released July 6, 1984

The Jacksons’ first album in four years feels less like a group album and more like a collection of solo songs by each of the six Jackson brothers.  That isn’t to say that the album, which sounds incredibly dated 16 years after release, is all bad.  There are a few gems to be unearthed, particularly Randy’s incredible “One More Chance,” which little sister Janet would cover 10 years later.

Recommended Tracks: “Torture,” “One More Chance,” “Be Not Always,” “State Of Shock (feat. Mick Jagger),” “Body”

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MJ-Looking-Back-to-YesterdayLooking Back To Yesterday: Never-Before-Released-Masters
Released February 11, 1986

Motown raided their vaults again for this 1986 compilation of unreleased songs.  One listen to the album and it’s easy to see why a lot of these songs were not used in the 1970s.  That’s not to say that it’s a bad album.  It’s just a collection of mediocre performances and songs.

Recommended Tracks: “Give Me Half A Chance,” “Love’s Gone Bad,” “Lonely Teardrops,”  “I Was Made To Love Her”

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badBad
Released August 31, 1987

Following up a monstrous album like Thriller is an unenviable task.  However, Michael managed to craft a very respectable follow-up in Bad.  The album is not without its flaws.  “Just Good Friends,” a duet with Stevie Wonder, is pretty embarassing considering that it’s sandwiched between songs as great as “Liberian Girl” and “Another Part Of Me.”  The title track was originally conceived as a duet between Michael and his friendly rival Prince, who didn’t want to sing the lyric “You’re butt is mine” to Michael or have Michael sing it to him. In 2010, the album sounds very much of its time, but the songs still shine through the glossy ’80s production.

Recommended Tracks: “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Speed Demon,” “Liberian Girl,” “Another Part Of Me,” “Man In The Mirror,” “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Dirty Diana,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Leave Me Alone”

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dangerousDangerous
Released November 26, 1991

For 1991′s Dangerous album, Michael broke his ties with his longtime producer Quincy Jones and enlisted Teddy Riley to produce half of the album. Dangerous finds Michael surrounded by rougher sounding beats.  Michael’s vocal performance is markedly different on the album as his already percussive voice gets even more so, and adds a bit of a growl in places.  Despite the harder sound, Dangerous was an instant success, and several of its tunes are bonafide classics.

Recommended Tracks: “Jam,” “Why You Wanna Trip On Me,” “In The Closet,” “She Drives Me Wild,” “Remember The Time,” “Can’t Let Her Get Away,” “Heal The World,” “Who Is It,” “Will You Be There,” “Keep The Faith,” “Dangerous”

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historyHIStory: Past Present & Future (Book 1)
Released June 16, 1995

Packaged as a 2-cd set, HIStory was one-part greatest hits package, one part brand new studio album.  Michael teamed up with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Dallas Austin to produce tracks on the album.  Michael produced a sizable chunk of the album himself.  The album is full of songs rooted in Michael’s own politics, paranoia, and weariness of his own celebrity and probably reveal more about himself than any other album he’s ever recorded.  It’s this insight into Michael’s psyche that make HIStory a fascinating listen.

Recommended Tracks: “Scream (with Janet Jackson),” “They Don’t Care About Us,” “Stranger In Moscow,” “This Time Around (with The Notorious B.I.G.), ” “2 Bad,” “Money,” “You Are Not Alone,” “Tabloid Junkie,” “Little Susie,” “Smile”

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blood_on_the_dance_floorBlood On The Dance Floor
Released May 20, 1997

Half remix-album, half brand-new studio EP, Blood On The Dance Floor is probably one of the least essential items in Michael’s catalog.  None of the new material really leaves much of a lasting impression, aside from the song “Morphine” where Michael sings about a person with an addiction to prescription drugs.

Recommended Tracks: “Blood On The Dance Floor,” “Morphine,” “Ghosts,” “Is It Scary”

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invincibleInvincible
Released October 30, 2001

Michael’s final solo album was produced largely by Rodney Jerkins, which is its main downfall.  Jerkins’ desire to make his productions sound futuristic falls flat.  It’s the songs where producers like Dr. Freeze (“Break Of Dawn”), Teddy Riley (“Heaven Can Wait”, “Whatever Happens”) and Dre of Dre & Vidal fame (“Butterflies”) keep it simple and smooth that excel the most.

Recommended Listening: “Break Of Dawn,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “You Rock My World,” “Whatever Happens,” “Butterflies”

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unreleased-mastersI Want You Back! Unreleased Masters
Released November 10, 2009

A few months after Michael’s death, Universal Music Group, which owns the Motown catalog, released a compilation of unreleased material from the Jackson 5.  Among these songs include the much rumored about “Buttercup,” written by Stevie Wonder.   The album is padded with alternate versions of songs like “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and “Dancing Machine.”  The previously unheard songs are what makes this compilation worthwhile.  Michael’s version of the Curtis Mayfield penned “Man’s Temptation” is nothing short of amazing.

Recommended Listening: “Man’s Temptation,” “Love Call,” “Buttercup”

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What’s your favorite Michael Jackson/The Jackson 5/The Jacksons album??

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