The year was 1980, and Jermaine Jackson was floundering. At the dawn of the previous decade, the singer/bassist was a superstar. As part of bubblegum soul group The Jackson 5, Jermaine and his brothers Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Michael racked up four #1 pop hits in a row and were a constant presence on the charts for a half-decade. As the group’s resident heartthrob, Jermaine was a pinup favorite (and very likely got more trim in the early J5 days than any other brother.) However, his brothers left Motown for the greener pastures of Epic Records in 1975, and Jermaine stayed behind. While publicly, Jermaine mentioned loyalty to Motown as the main reason behind his departure from the group, it was more likely that his marriage to Hazel Gordy, daughter of Motown President Berry Gordy, played a big part in that decision.
By the end of the Seventies, it appeared that Jermaine’s decision was a bad one. None of the three albums he’d released for Motown were successful. At Epic, his brothers were back at the top of the pops with hits like “Enjoy Yourself” and “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground.)” Lead singer/former child prodigy Michael had also made his mark with a successful solo singing/acting career. Jermaine needed a hit, and wound up getting one, although it would take the assistance of Motown’s biggest star to return Jermaine to chart glory.
Stevie Wonder and the Jackson family had enjoyed a relationship for a decade. Only a couple of years removed from his magnum opus, Songs In The Key of Life, Stevie contributed in a major fashion to Let’s Get Serious, which was released in March 1980. The combination clicked. The album sold over half a million copies, becoming Jermaine’s first Gold seller, while the title track, which was written and produced by Stevie as well as featuring him prominently on vocals, spent two months at #1 on the Soul Singles chart and earned Jermaine his first Grammy nomination. At year’s end, Billboard ranked “Let’s Get Serious” as the #1 Soul Single of 1980. It was a pretty stellar year for Jacksons-right behind it at #2 was Michael’s smash “Rock With You.”
Overall, the 7-track set represents a pretty sharp uptick in quality for Jermaine’s previous three albums. Stevie contributed three tracks to the album. While the driving title track (one of the great dance/funk grooves of all time) is by far the superior track, “Where Are You Now” and “You’re Supposed To Keep Your Love For Me” are no slouches, either. The two latter tracks are slower and more atmospheric, right in line with Jermaine’s typical crooning style. Jermaine, who’d spread his writing and production wings progressively over the previous couple of years, contributed the remaining four songs, with three of the four featuring co-writer credits from his wife, Hazel. The best of the bunch is “Burnin’ Hot,” a sizzling dance jam which proves that Jermaine didn’t need Stevie to create a party atmosphere. It’s a near-perfect crystallization of L.A. funk and disco. It’s certainly a step above “Little Girl Don’t You Worry,” a song that has a heavier disco element and thus was already passé at the time of its release. “Feelin’ Free” is a midtempo track that includes some African chanting at the beginning, presaging Michael’s “Wanna Be Startin Somethin’.” Of course, the split with his brothers was still a topic of discussion when Jermaine was interviewed, and one of the songs that Jermaine poured his heart into is “We Can Put It Back Together.” Although the song is ostensibly about a romantic relationship gone sour, Jermaine later admitted that he originally wrote the lyrics about his relationship with his brothers, and changed them before release.
Let’s Get Serious was easily Jermaine’s best Motown album. It stands as the second biggest seller of his career (behind 1984’s self-titled album, released in the wake of Thriller) and is still worth a listen three decades later. While no longer available on CD, Serious is available digitally and at any used record store. If you’re a fan of funk, ’80s soul, or the Jackson family, it’s worth the pickup.