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Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

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Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

Post by Admin on Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:58 pm

Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot
By Stephen McMillian

12/9/13

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A decade before the King of Pop Michael Jackson did his eye-popping Moonwalk on the Motown 25 television special, he became famous for another dance move: the Robot.

The date was October 27, 1973 when, on a Soul Train appearance by The Jackson 5 to promote their new album Get it Together, Michael Jackson moved like a motorized robot during the instrumental break on their performance of “Dancing Machine,” which at this time was a popular album track not yet released as a single.

By 1972, Soul Train was seen in 25 major television markets across the United States. People everywhere tuned in not only to see the recording artists, but to see the Soul Train Gang and the dances they were going to do. The Jackson family was among those who watched Soul Train when their busy schedules permitted. They were all fascinated by the Soul Train Gang’s splits, tumbles, pop-locking and freestyle dance moves. Michael in particular was intrigued.

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Ever since the mid-sixties–when The Jackson 5 was performing in and around their hometown of Gary, Indiana and eventually in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, before they were signed to Motown Records and made it big–Michael carefully studied all of the artists that he and the group opened for, everyone from Joe Tex to the Temptations to the Emotions, the Ojays, Jackie Wilson and James Brown. It was James Brown and Jackie Wilson whom Michael studied immensely to form his own style of dancing. In a tearful, heartfelt speech during the 2003 BET Awards’ tribute to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, Michael told the audience, “No one influenced me more than this man here,” as James stood next to him.

Watching other young black people in their teens and early twenties “get their groove on” on television every Saturday was a big thrill for Michael, since he lived a sheltered life as a result of being a busy child star and could not be as free as other teens. He could watch Soul Train and, for one hour, pretend he was one of the Soul Train Gang doing their various dance styles. Hence, he and his brothers could not wait for the opportunity to appear on the program.

By 1972, Soul Train had had all of the big name R&B stars on the program, but to have a superstar group like the Jackson 5 on the program could open a lot of doors for the program. Indeed, after the group first appeared in 1972, other superstars like the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Aretha Franklin appeared on the show. The program’s ratings boosted and it began to air in other major markets in the U.S. Soul Train host and creator Don Cornelius stated that “The Jackson 5 were the first group that ever consented to do Soul Train.” Unlike other groups that Don literally had to beg to do his show, The Jackson 5 eagerly wanted to do the show and requested to do so once their busy schedules permitted.

It was at that first Soul Train appearance that they wanted to meet the popular regulars on the show such as Jimmy “Scoo B Doo” Foster, Damita Jo Freeman and Patricia Davis. Eventually, the Jackson family became friends with the Soul Train Gang and they would invite the dancers to their home in Encino, California for parties and gatherings. In a Right On! Magazine interview, LaToya Jackson recalled how the Soul Train Gang and she and members of her family would do Soul Train lines in their living room. One of the Soul Train Gang dance moves Michael would watch with intense fascination was the Robot.

The first time the Jackson 5 did the Robot in public was in concert in March 1973 during a performance of the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” They would do this routine during the song in other concerts. However, during the recording sessions for their Get It Together album in the late spring of 1973, Michael particularly loved “Dancing Machine” and, as he recalled in his Moonwalk autobiography, wanted to do a dance move that would “enhance the song and make it more exciting to perform and, I hoped, more exciting to watch.” He felt the Robot would be the perfect dance move to do when performing the song.

When The Jackson 5 performed “Dancing Machine” for the first time on television on the Bob Hope Special in September 1973, Michael took what he learned from watching the Soul Train Gang and debuted the Robot during the song’s instrumental break. However, only the studio audience present at the taping of the performance saw Michael’s mechanical maneuvers since, for some strange reason, the cameraman did a close-up on youngest brother Randy playing the congas during the instrumental section instead of focusing on Michael doing the Robot. The cameraman only caught the brief tail-end of Michael doing the Robot before he joined his brothers in doing a lockstep routine in which they “roboted” behind each other like wind-up dolls.

When the Bob Hope Special aired on September 26, 1973, Michael was disappointed that his Robot move was not captured properly since he wanted it to have more impact. He always realized the importance of dance being filmed properly for television. When he was younger, he would get mad when the cameramen would only show close ups of his idol James Brown during television performances instead of showing his feet and whole body, since he wanted to watch and study him. He took note of this for future television performances, notably his legendary Motown 25 performance when he worked with the director for every shot and angle of that performance so the television audience would get the full effect.

When The Jackson 5 was booked to tape Soul Train on October 13, 1973, Michael was determined that this time his Robot dance step would be captured the right way for television. Since Don Cornelius was longtime friends with the Jackson family, it had been said that Michael spoke with Don before the taping, asking that the cameraman focus on him as he was doing the Robot. However, since Soul Train was a dance show (unlike the Bob Hope Special), the cameramen had no problem filming dance moves, as evidenced when James Brown came to the show months earlier. The cameramen captured all of Brown’s splits and camel walks tightly, and of course the Soul Train Gang’s energetic dance moves were always excellently filmed.

This time around, the cameraman focused precisely on Michael during the instrumental break of “Dancing Machine,” as he stepped away from his brothers and executed some automatic, robotic moves while donning a trance like glare. The cameraman even did an extreme close-up of Michael’s face as he joined his brothers to do their lockstep routine much to Michael’s–who had a huge grin on his face after the whole routine was done–satisfaction.

Michael didn’t know what he started when he did that step. Following the airing of that Soul Train broadcast, kids across the country were doing the Robot . Although it was not a new step, since kids had been doing this dance in inner-city neighborhoods since the late sixties and early seventies, a big star like Michael Jackson enhanced this move when he did it on Soul Train and helped to make it popular in the mainstream. “It seemed like every kid in the United States was doing the Robot,” Michael recalled in his Moonwalk autobiography. “I had never seen anything like it.”

Michael wanted to perfect the dance move, so two popular regulars from Soul Train whom he was friends with, Patricia Davis and Gary Keys, would go to the Jackson family’s home to work mainly with Michael and his brother Marlon in their living room to practice various ways of doing the Robot. Michael loved how animated Patricia Davis would be when she did the Robot on the program, and he wanted his robot performances to have the same effect. She remembered that they “were kind of stiff at first,” but that they eventually were able to do the move more fluidly.

Patricia and Gary’s work with Michael became evident in his future concert performances, as well as on future television performances of “Dancing Machine” on programs such as Sonny & Cher and Carol Burnett.

Many people would ask Michael to show them how to do the Robot. For instance, at a party for Al Green in 1974, rock star David Bowie wanted to learn how to do the Robot so Michael, accompanied by Patricia Davis, Little Joe Chism (another popular regular from Soul Train) and Al Green himself, tried to demonstrate to David how to do the Robot. Bowie could not get his joints to move the right way and the demonstration soon became laughable.

Michael’s robot performances were also inspired by mime Marcel Marceau, who was a huge influence on his dance moves. Years later, Michael worked closely with another Soul Train dancer and member of the Shalamar singing group, Jeffrey Daniels, for concert performances and in music videos such as “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal.” Michael was intrigued by Jeffrey Daniels’ and Jody Watley’s robotic dance moves on Soul Train in the mid- to late seventies, so he was eager to work with Jeffrey to continue to hone and sharpen his dance moves.

In its heyday, Soul Train was the definitive program to showcase and promote dance, fashion and music. Michael Jackson took note of this and realized how important the power of television was and utilized Soul Train as a vehicle to make his dance step popular. Indeed, his classic Soul Train performance of the Robot illustrated that the future King of Pop was an iconic master of dance long before he moonwalked into the orbit of superstardom.

Michael Jackson - Burn This Disco Out (Robot Style)

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Re: Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

Post by Admin on Wed Dec 11, 2013 11:02 pm

This YT video is a MUST SEE and SEE over and over again-now that is how it is DONE people! awwoooohoooo!

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Re: Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

Post by ljmissmj on Thu Dec 12, 2013 3:21 pm

I watched Soul Train every Saturday morning it was the Hippest Trip in America. MJ did an excellent robot. And the J5 had the best afro's ever. Thanks, Admin and LOVE PEACE and SOOOOUL TRAIN. I believe the episodes are available on DVD.
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Re: Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

Post by Capricious Anomaly on Thu Dec 12, 2013 4:42 pm

Watching Michael dancing is always such a treat. I miss him so much everyday then to see this video with him dancing his amazing moves -all the pop and lock and the robot is just so bittersweet. I am just beyond happy that all of his music and dancing having been captured forever on the short films and videos and that we can always keep him close and all the generations to come as well will know him to be the BEST ever KING!!!! of POP!!!!

      

LOVE YOU MICHAEL!!!
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Re: Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

Post by May Michael Jackson on Thu Dec 12, 2013 5:14 pm

AWWWWWW THAT IS SO ADORABLE! MICHAEL IS AWESOME. Smile 
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Re: Soul Train History Book Presents: Michael Jackson Debuts the Robot

Post by ijustcan'tstoplovinguMJ on Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:32 pm

This is soon cool. I wish I could have experienced that. I love reading all of you guys' experiences
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