Many Michael Jackson fans believe that the King of Pop’s career started when the Jackson 5 signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. But the band of brothers actually had an earlier deal with Steeltown Records, a small-time label in their hometown of Gary, Indiana. In 1968 they cut two singles for the imprint, the first of which being “Big Boy” —a hilarious title when you realize that lead-singer Michael was just 9 years old during the sessions.
The Jacksons played their own instruments and even produced their own sessions, for which they were awarded the not-so-princely sum of 3 cents per record sold. Though it wasn’t a massive chart success, it was a regional hit and sold nearly 10,000 copies in their home state. More importantly, it provided the Jacksons with a treasured family memory when they first heard the song on the radio. “We all laughed and hugged one another,” Michael told biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli. “We felt we had arrived.”
They released their final single for Steeltown, “We Don’t Have To Be Over 21 (To Fall In Love),” but plans for a full-length album were scrapped and they signed to Motown in July ’68. The relentless “I Want You Back” served as their major label debut, kick-starting Michael’s ascension to the pop throne. But in many ways, he always remained that little boy with the old soul and otherworldly talent.