Like a lot of people my age, Michael Jackson was my idol growing up, but I always preferred The Jackson 5 to his solo stuff. My dad recorded a load of Jacksons/Jackson 5 songs to a red c120 cassette for me and I played it over and over again for years until it quite literally snapped. It started with Triumph by The Jacksons (the next “J” album to play), which was followed by a further 90 or so minutes of a lovingly cobbled together greatest hits set. I loved that tape – it would often be the first thing I’d pack for every holiday or trip out – and I was absolutely devastated when it broke (though not as devastated as I would have been if it had happened a couple of years earlier, when I strongly believed that whenever you played a tape or the radio, the person was singing to you live from some unknown studio somewhere, connected to your player by some kind of magic).
I can’t remember exactly when the thing snapped and my whole world fell apart, but once it did I made a promise to myself that I would replace it, song for song, which led me to buying albums like Music and Me (another cassette) and this one. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that they had even more songs than the ones my dad had recorded for me. I couldn’t wait to get home and hear all these new songs for the first time.
This was the first CD I’d ever owned and playing CDs meant you could use the shuffle function on the CD player, so that was naturally the way I listened to this album for the first time. Fortunately, I quite quickly got over that habit, but, as Children Of The Light is a rushed-together budget compilation, it doesn’t really matter what order this is played in. What matters is the quality of the songs.
I’ll start with the only one I’ve never really liked – the cover of “My Cherie Amour” that closes the album. At the time this hatred probably stemmed from the fact that it’s the only song on here not sung by my hero, but listening to it again with older ears just confirms my ten year-old suspicions. It’s limp and insipid, and just proves why lead vocals were almost always given to Michael – his voice across the whole of this collection is absolutely incredible. The title track and “Don’t Want To See Tomorrow” also never impressed me, though I can find a bit more merit in them now than I could, especially in the funky rhythm and horns of the latter track.
It’s really hard to listen to an album like this objectively, as the songs are so completely etched on my brain. When I first got this, my favourites were “Don’t Let Your Baby Catch You”, “I Can Only Give You Love” and “If I Have To Move A Mountain”, probably because they weren’t singles that I’d already heard thousands of times on my precious tape and because I could harmonize with them when I was singing along (yep – I was that boy). While these are all fairly bland songs (especially the last two) and probably wouldn’t impress me if I heard them for the first time today, I still absolutely love them and always will.
Personal favourites aside, there are some undisputed classics on this and listening to them again has made me realise just how weird and out-there some of the singles were. The barbershop funk of “The Love You Save” would never get anywhere near the charts today, and it’s only the chorus of “Lookin’ Through The Windows” that is anywhere near conventional (but what a chorus!). The Fugees would cover “Ready Or Not” years later, but this, at least for me, is the absolute definitive version. I even love “Little Bitty Pretty One”, despite (or because of?) it being one of the most annoyingly catchy songs I’ve ever heard.
“My Cherie Amour” aside, there’s not a bad track on this. It’s a great collection of hits, lost classics and hidden gems, and would be a brilliant introduction to The Jackson 5 for anybody (anybody?) who’s never heard them. It wouldn’t be quite as good as my long-gone tape though.