In 1984, it paid to be a Jackson-literally and figuratively.

Katherine and Joe’s nine kids were in their glory around this time-riding high on the success of Michael’s Thriller album. In that year alone, the six brothers recorded and released the Victory album and sold out arenas across the nation on tour. Youngest sister Janet released her second album, Dream Street, and won a supporting role on the television series “Fame.” Even middle sister La Toya scored her highest charting single with “Heart Don’t Lie” that year. However, one of the bigger successes in the clan came from a sibling that seemingly materialized out of nowhere-Rebbie.

Rebbie-born Maureen Jackson-was actually the oldest Jackson sibling, born in 1950. A talented singer, she nonetheless left the roost before the Jackson 5 became popular, getting married in her teens and heading toward Kentucky. Show business beckoned briefly in the mid Seventies, when Rebbie became part of the family’s Vegas act, but otherwise, she was pretty quiet for the first decade and change of Jackson-mania. That all changed with her debut 1984 album Centipede and its’ smoking title track-penned and produced by her little brother, The Gloved One himself-Michael Jackson.

The dance track-nonsensical as it was-became the first Top 40 pop track by a Jackson sister and gained some MTV traction as well. The album also performed well, going Gold. Rebbie established herself as the most traditionally “good” singer of the Jackson girls with ballads like a cover of the obscure Miracles track “A Fork In The Road,” while her brothers helped out with dance jams like “Come Alive, It’s Saturday Night” (penned by Marlon, Jackie, Tito and Randy) and “Hey Boy” (which Tito composed with the help of his wife Dee Dee and Jacksons tour bassist Mike McKinney.) One thing that strikes me as curious about this album is that it contains a cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You.” Why is this interesting? Well, because shortly before the release of Centipede, Chaka Khan released her cover of “I Feel For You” and rendered all other versions (including the original) redundant. Also interesting to note, La Toya’s release from the same year (Heart Don’t Lie) also contained a cover of a Prince album track-“Private Joy.” The Jacksons were famously not crazy about Prince (at least Michael wasn’t) but they apparently had no problem singing the man’s songs!

The label Funkytowngrooves (which is doing more than it’s part to keep some of the ’80s best R&B classics in circulation) just gave Centipede a remastering and re-release, enhancing the set with two tracks that didn’t appear on the original album, as well as several 12″ versions and instrumentals. It’s a solid slice of pop/soul that deserves a more involved listen than the average fan would tend to give to a Jackson album not released by Michael or Janet (or the brothers as a group.) Maybe one day, Rebbie can actually explain what the hell “Centipede”‘s title track was about!

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