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THE ABC OF THE JACKSONS; The Five are one again for first time in 20 years.

Byline: KATRINA TWEEDIE

HIS whole life has been a plot from Neverland, enacted before a world which watched, first with bedazzlement then with amused voyeurism.

This weekend marks the latest chapter in the Michael Jackson saga, which began when a cherubic child became a star then grew into an outcast.

Now, for the first time in almost 20 years, the King of Pop has appeared on stage with the siblings who made up the Jackson Five.

After a show-stealing surprise guest appearance with 'N Sync at the MTV Awards on Thursday, Jacko's long- awaited comeback took place with his 30th anniversary concert in Madison Square Gardens last night, followed by an aftershow party with a glittering celebrity throng.

But while some fans gladly paid up to pounds 1700 for a ticket, Jackson's own finances are said to be in a mess.

There are claims that the superstar can't even afford to pay his own staff and may have to sell off the rights he owns to the Beatles' music to make ends meet.

Jackson will earn pounds 10 million from his two New York concerts, but most of that money could go towards the reputed pounds 175million loan which he is said to be struggling to pay off. And there are also

rumours that his much delayed and long-awaited new album, Invincible, is not going to live up to its reputation as the most expensive ever made.

The album has cost pounds 25million to record, but the first track taken from it, Rock My World, has so far only received lukewarm reviews from the critics.

One music industry insider said: "If this album and the concerts don't do well, then Michael is in trouble."

So it was against this backdrop of impending financial doom, that the star's genuine fans and the gawpers turned at up Madison Square Garden last night eager for a glimpse of the broken icon, now a gaunt and frail Moonwalker infected by the sickness of his own stardom.

This 43-year-old man-child, remodelled to such extremes that the lines between fantasy and reality have blurred, could be a nightmare from the

imagination of a young boy born into poverty with an unique voice.

Weaned on the music of soul legends James Brown and Jackie Wilson, Michael began singing at the age of five after his mother Katherine saw him practising dance steps in front of a mirror.

He was then commanded, rather than encouraged, by his father Joseph, a failed blues singer who worked as a heavy machine operator, to join his siblings in a band.

By 1964, just before Michael's sixth birthday, he and brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, had become the Jackson Five.

With Michael as lead singer, his highly exuberant treble vocal delivery defining their appeal, they won a succession of talent shows until their first non-contest performance, at the opening of a supermarket.

They were not an overnight success, despite arduous hours of rehearsal forced upon them by their bullying father, who was later denounced by daughter LaToya as violent and abusive.

They were playing local halls and gigs in the American Midwest when Gladys Knight happened to catch their act.

She was so impressed by what she saw that she persuaded Motown records supremo Berry Gordy to sign them.

And no sooner was the ink dry on their recording contract than the family moved west to Los Angeles.

Despite being the youngest member of the band, Michael was always the group's lead vocalist and front man.

He projected a self-confident image which belies the private personality he shows today.

Driven by the obsessive Joseph, any chance of a normal childhood with school and friends was abandoned.

The ruthlessly ambitious Joe forced his gifted sons to perform like mere puppets.

They became Motown's biggest hit-making machine in the early Seventies. And from the beginning Michael was undoubtedly the star, propelling the band towards four No.1 hits in 1970.

Though his brothers were undoubtedly talented, none had Michael's spark and he soon became the world's pop star, easily sweeping aside the challenge of the clean-cut Osmond clan.

It was Michael's precocious wail that electrified their hits, I Want You Back, I'll Be There and ABC.

Despite being very young to be singing about emotions he had yet to experience, Jacko managed to make their ballads into completely credible chart-toppers.

The price to be paid however, was very high. It cost Michael his childhood. Prevented from enjoying a normal life, both by his phenomenal star status and the demands of the career-only upbringing insisted upon by Joseph, Michael would subsequently recall his adolescence as extremely "lonely".

"There is a lot of sadness in my past life," Michael told Oprah Winfrey in 1993.

"My father beat me. It was difficult to take being beaten and then going on-stage. He was strict, very hard and stern."

It was an experience which contributed to his penchant for spending much of his time with other former child stars - notably actresses Brooke Shields and Elizabeth Taylor - to latter day child stars and animals.

Not content with Michael's musical talent, Joe constantly criticised his son's looks, often berating him for being ugly.

That helps to explain the singer's later obsession with transforming his face. Michael said later: "I didn't have any friends growing up. I'd wash my face in the dark and my father would tease me."

In the early days of Jacko's career, Joseph was very much in charge.

Yet from the beginning, much to the chagrin of his siblings, Michael was always the main focus of the band.

As a cute child singing sentimental but catchy ballads, he was a hit and, in 1972, his first solo release the ballad Got To Be There, followed quickly by Rockin' Robin and Ben, confirmed his star status.

By the mid-Seventies though, the fortunes of the Jackson Five began to slip as disco overtook the all-singing smiling family band, resulting in Michael's solo career being put on hold.

Joseph became disillusioned with Motown management and believed his sons could cover every aspect of the business themselves.

In 1976, he forced his boys to break with Motown after a lengthy dispute over artistic control and, after the record label sued, the band lost its name re-emerging as The Jacksons.

To herald their new name, a CBS TV series, The Jacksons, premiered.

But just a year later, in 1977, the show was was pulled after ratings hit rock bottom.

The same year, The Jacksons took part in the Queen's silver jubilee celebrations, playing at the King's Theatre in Glasgow.

Yet despite the fading fortunes of his brothers, Michael remained hugely popular with the public.

The extent of his public appeal was starkly highlighted when he was forced to escape on to the roof of a Woolco store in Memphis after 10,000 fans showed up for an album-signing session.

By now, unknown to his brothers, Michael was becoming increasingly eager to break away and go it alone. The opportunity to begin the final severing of his ties also came that year when Michael was chosen for the Broadway musical, The Wiz.

It was during his stint playing the scarecrow, opposite Diana Ross' Dorothy and Richard Prior's Wiz, that rumours began of his slightly odd behaviour.

Michael was said to be seeking solace in the Scarecrow role and going home at night with his make-up still on.

But Michael also worked on the Wiz soundtrack album with legendary producer Quincy Jones and it was a fateful collaboration that marked the beginning of the end for The Jacksons.

In a flash, Jones became a father figure to Michael and the architect of his first solo success, Don't Stop (Til You Get Enough).

Under Jones' tutelage, the music press enthused, emerged an entirely new Michael Jackson with a dramatic, sophisticated singing style. Throughout most of the Seventies, the Jackson brothers produced as astounding amount of music, pumping out several singles a year.

Yet not only were these a mere fraction of the tracks recorded by Motown, but Michael was also pursuing his own punishing solo portfolio.

Jackson and Jones worked again in 1979 to make Off The Wall, the singer's first solo album. This record - and Michael's highly distinctive "whoo-hoo" squeal - announced his arrival as a true adult solo star.

It was also the first album to produce four straight solo single hits - although this was an achievement that Michael would letter better.

But the strain of pursuing two careers - the family band and his solo work - became too much for Michael and that punishing schedule began to take its toll. In 1981, Michael collapsed from exhaustion in New Orleans during The Jacksons' Triumph tour.

Realising that they were becoming increasingly irrelevant to their younger brother, the other members of the group began voicing their grievances in the press.

It gave Michael the excuse he needed and, as a result, he stated that he would not be working with his brothers in the future.

The Jacksons struggled to come to terms with Michael's departure and it was five years before their next project was complete.

But finally free from the constraints of his family - and especially from his father - Michael's extraordinary talent started to flourish.

Publicly, he relished all the fame and adoration of fans. But privately, demons were beginning to gnaw away at his insides.

Used to a life lived entirely in the spotlight the public continued to watch with fascination as the independent Michael began to try to capture the youth he never had the chance to enjoy.

As his solo success grew, the star's eccentricities became increasingly bizarre as he surrounded himself with animals, toys and children.

By the beginning of the Eighties, he was also starting his physical transformation.

Once a fresh faced, fuzzy-haired kid from Gary, Indiana, he was developing a drastic obsession with changing his appearance.

In the years that followed, Michael's extraordinary talent would lead to superstardom, but it would also tear him apart - and lead to his very public downfall.

THE JACKSON FIVE:

UK HIT SINGLES

I Want You Back (No.2, 1970)

ABC (No.8, 1970)

The Love You Save (No 7, 1970)

I'll Be There (No.4, 1970)

Lookin' Through the Windows (No.9, 1972)

Doctor My Eyes (No.9, 1973)

I Want You Back Re-mix (No.8, 1988)

THE JACKSONS:

UK HIT SINGLES

Show You The Way to Go (No.1, 1977)

Blame It On The Boogie (No.8, 1978)

Shake Your Body (No.4, 1979)

Can You Feel It (No.6, 1981)

Walk Right Now (No.7, 1981)

MICHAEL JACKSON:

(UK Solo Hits Before Split from Jacksons)

Got To Be There (No.5,1972)

Rockin' Robin (No.3, 1972)

Ain't No Sunshine (No.8, 1972)

Ben (No.7,1972)

Don't Stop Til You Get Enough (No.3, 1979)

Off the Wall (No.7, 1979)

Rock With You (No.7, 1980)

She's Out of My Life (No.3,1980)

CHANGING FACE OF MICHAEL

1971: Success hasn't changed Michael, despite a string of hits

1978: The boyish looks have gone as he breaks into his 20s

1982: Thriller's success transforms his bank account and his looks

1988: Jacko's nose, chin, cheeks and skin colour have all changed

2001: He is now unrecognisable from the photo taken in 1971
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 8, 2001
Words:1883
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