A cover of the Jackson 5 by Bobbie Gentry is the latest surprise revelation from the online archive of The Ed Sullivan Show. The charismatic Gentry, a familiar face on TV variety shows of the time before her withdrawal from public life, is seen in the clip from the November 1, 1970 edition remaking the Motown quintet’s debut smash of a year earlier.
The brief performance, which runs only 1’45,” has Gentry in energetic dancing mood on a colorful set. That edition of the long-running TV institution also featured apprearances by soul singer Melba Moore, by then signed to Mercury Records with her debut album I Got Love newly released, which would help her to a Best New Artist nomination at the 1971 Grammys; and country favorite Roy Clark, another familiar TV face by then as the host of the syndicated series Hee Haw.
Gentry had herself won the Best New Artist trophy at the Grammy Awards in 1968, at which she also took the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Performance awards for her signature “Ode To Billie Joe.” The Fancy album of 1970 would lead to another Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance nomination for the title track.
Gentry had visited the Sullivan show several times by this point, first appearing on a December 1967 episode with the Cowsills, comedian George Carlin, and entertainer Arthur Godfrey. Other appearances included a March 1970 show on which the bill also featured Gladys Knight and the Pips and Buck Owens.
After the Jackson 5’s sensational success with “I Want You Back,” the first cover of the song was by an outfit from Trinidad & Tobago called the Esso Trinidad Steel Band. It was then interpreted by the J5’s Motown labelmates Martha Reeves and the Vandellas on their 1972 album Black Magic, and has gone on to be covered on record more than 130 times since.
The career-spanning Bobbie Gentry 8CD box set The Girl From Chickasaw County can be bought here.