When Tito and Jermaine Jackson played those trademark opening guitar riffs and little Michael Jackson wailed:"Ooooh, yeahh, lemme tell you now...,"the opening lyrics of their hit Motown song, "I Want You Back", my 13-year old next door neighbor, Traci and I, thought we'd lost our teenaged minds. It was 1971 at a huge concert at Veteran's Memorial in Columbus, Ohio.With backup from his handsome brothers, eerily old-soul, 12-year old Michael Jackson crooned bubble-gum love songs, as if his heart had already been broken a thousand times. Traci and I spent the rest of the entire concert, standing on our seats, screaming like maniacs.I remember the warm-up group, too, though they were definitely grown men. I could never forget their name because in stage patter, in between songs, Lionel Richie must have mentioned:"We're The Commodores!" 25 times. He seemed anxious to leave an impression.They were good, played a lot of familiar tunes that weren't their own, had yet to write original stuff that became hits. This was pre-"Miss Brick House" and "Easy" and "Sail On" and way before everything that made Lionel Richie and The Commodores outrageously famous in the years to come.But back then they did a lot of what sounded like danceable generic funk. I remember thinking, "Great group", but I had never seen them before. Yet Lionel definitely stood out--tall and lanky, square-shouldered and light-skinned with a huge Afro--he alternated between playing the saxophone and singing the lead in a strong, edgy country and rhythm-and-blues influenced tenor.Though he seemed personable, all I remember is that in between their songs, Lionel was doing a heck of a lot of talking. Traci and I squirmed in our seats and after awhile all I heard was blah, blah,blah. Nice looking, good music, but let's move on."We want The Jackson Five!!" screamed one rude and impatient young girl."This won't be the last of The Commodores!" I heard Lionel call out after their last song."Get off the stage!!" shouted a boisterous young man, fist pumping the air."We love you, Columbus!" yelled a positively unshakeable Lionel."WE WANT MICHAEL JACKSON!!!" was the explosive piercing cry of my friend Traci, who to my astonishment, had scrambled to stand on her seat, absolutely shrill."Coming right up is The Jackson Five. You've been a great audience--and WE"RE THE COMMODORES!!" Lionel got in his final plug.I remember laughing, he was so unflappable. And then they were gone, and frankly I thought that was the last I would ever see of them.
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