Poor Jermaine. Always over shadowed by his little brother and sister. Even in death Micheal’s legacy looms large over Jermaine and all the other Jacksons for that matter. While it is true that Jermaine has remained in the shadows of his more popular siblings, he has been more musically challenging than either Janet or Michael. He is also a much better musician than anyone gives him credit to be.
After leaving the Jackson 5 but staying with Motown, he released a string of funky and often surprising singles. For instance the hit “Bass Odyssey” from 1976 was a curious fusion of jazz and R&B. Throughout the years an occasional Jermaine Jackson song would reach the top of the R&B and sometimes pop charts.
It may not be a fair assertion, but Jermaine seemed more independent musically while “other Jacksons” leaned on producers to craft a particular sound for them. This independence streak has resulted in some unusual pairings that on the surface seemed improbable, but resulted in brilliant music or mashups that we take for granted today.
Take 1982’s “Let Me Tickle Your Fancy” for instance. It merged the Jackson sound to Devo’s brand of nerd jam to create a new kind of funk. Jackson had been interested in modern electronic music for some time and was seeking a gateway into the genre at about the same time his brother Michael was. The race was on with Jermaine releasing the first salvo five months before Thriller would overshadow everything.
Let Me Tickle Your Fancy was a huge hit for Jermaine Jackson and the only single from the album of the same name. It’s odd that this surprisingly diverse album did not yield any more major hit singles. Jermaine’s diversity as a musician (he played bass, keyboards and drums) could be heard in the range of styles that made his last Motown album an interesting summary of transitional musical styles.
Far more daring than most Jackson family albums, Let Me Tickle Your Fancy showcased the past and previewed the future by splitting funk into retro and contemporary modes. “Running” was typical of the late ‘70s funk of The Brothers Johnson while the title song was R&B’s take on new wave. While prince had done it years before, Jermaine’s soul wave via Devo was popular enough to create a sonic template for early ‘80s mainstream electrofunk.
There was of course the classic Jacksonesque funk of “There a Better Way” and “This Time”. Adult contemporary, then a popular genre is represented with “You Belong To Me” and the one cheesy tear jerker “You Moved a Mountain” was a sad as Micheal’s “Ben”.
In all Jackson had managed to modernize his sound while drawing on his past legacy of experimentation. The bold departure from whatever the normal Jackson sound was at the time was clearly distinctive if not blockbuster making. Not to be deterred, Jermaine would try again with perhaps his best all-around album Jermaine Jackson (or Dynamite) in 1986.