Jackson 5: “I Want You Back” – Wilton Felder’s Isolated Bass (Isolated Bass Week)

The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” is another iconic bass line, and here it is, isolated in all its glory.

And like the Geddy Lee track we shared yesterday, not without a little controversy.

For starters, there’s been some debate on who actually played bass on the track. The consensus pick is Wilton Felder, who at the time was taking on more Motown projects, along with Bob Babbitt, with the declining role of the great James Jamerson.

There’s also a little bit of a debate on whether or not this is the real deal. If you crank it up, though, you can hear that it is the instrumental version of the track, before the vocals were added. You’ll have to decide if it is legit.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Next…do Iron Maidens Phantom of the Opera!

  2. QUEEN: MILLIONAIRE WALTZ by John DEACON…Pleeze.

  3. one of my all time faves!

  4. Just great. Thanks!

  5. This is a great track but, it’s not the final take if it’s an original….on the vamp Felder repeats the triplet lick as it fades…this one doesn’t.This is either an alternate take or, a near-perfect tribute copy! Good post either way!

    • Yep, I caught this too…there are two arpeggiated triplets in the fade of the original (one running up, one running down) that are missing in this isolated version. Whoever made this is talented, in any case.

    • Matthew Cunningham It could very well be an alternate take…tones kinda match quite a bit actually…My first guess is a tribute cover

  6. One of the most underated bass player´s in the business check him out live w// JIMMY SMITH ON ROOT DOWN!

  7. A bass line of beauty. I always figured it wasn’t Tito on the bass.

  8. sounds like the bass part’s in a different key to the backing…

  9. I was told that Ron White played the bass on “I Want You Back”. I was told this by Louie Shelton who played the guitar tracks.

    • Ge Sessum

      I don’t think Wilton used a pick on his bass plus he wasn’t stiff like this track. ‘Let’s Get It On’ is a perfect example of Felder’s soulfulness. This could be Carol Kaye.

  10. Either way you know those are the notes and you know the grove and where the notes need to land. I really appreciate this site, thank you.

  11. chuck wilson

    sounds like the real deal. he played on top of it so good! gave it that jump.

  12. It sounds like a P bass with flatwound strings and played with a pick. The pick means it wasn’t Jamerson. I’ve always heard that it was Wilton Felder.

  13. Matt S.

    I emailed Bob Babbitt about ten years ago through his website. He said that while he did record a version of it, the released version isn’t him. It’s Wilton Felder.

  14. bvdon

    What key is this in? I thought it was G but it sounds like A flat here. Did they speed up the tape?

  15. Mike Harrison

    Absolutely not the track/take from the hit record: the drop to the low F is missing in the fade.

  16. My tuppence worth/ my two cents – I remember trying to nail this for a band a few years ago (and was thinking about it only last week again because of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ … but that’s another matter) At the time I looked at the videos, listened to the track, had my tuner running. The song is in Ab and not being a great bass player I always had trouble playing it. Is it possible it’s a dropped tuning? The evidence to support that is in this clip https://youtu.be/s3Q80mk7bxE – The bass run down starts at 01:30 – if we start with a high Ab the 5th note would be Db … but it looks like an open D is being played by Jermaime. Ashley mentions an old motown trick-is the tuning the trick? Is it easy(er) to play in A? I for one am going to be trying this out at home tonight! :-) Any thoughts anyone?

    • Mike Harrison

      What Jermaine may appear to play in a video clip isn’t an indication of what was on the hit single version. While a professional session player wouldn’t have any problem playing in Ab, I do agree that it would be easier to play in an open key, although more likely G than A — I again refer to the (missing) drop to the low VI in the fade, which would be open E if the tune were played in G. Detuning is certainly a possibiity, though. In one of my earliest sessions (1967), the tune was in Bb, and there was no way I could manage the stretch — so I tuned the whole bass up a semitone and played it in A! (In the early 70s, I did learn the part to “I Want You Back” — in Ab.)

      • George Blier

        speaking of tuning….anybody else think the D string is kind of sharp?

  17. May

    I don’t think it’s real due to the fact that whoever is playing can’t stay in time. Go listen to Sir Paul playing on “Something” or John Entwisle on “Pinball Wizard” and you’ll hear two English white guys kicking this supposed Motown Master’s butt when it comes to keeping a beat. Therefore, I call fake. A great player, but not Felder.

  18. Sean

    It sounds legit enough to me. Even if it’s not the original, they nailed it.
    Anyways, I remember the first time I heard this I immediately thought “wait a minute, that’s not James!” I had never even heard of Felder before that. Thanks for posting it.

  19. i would have to say it’s not the original track b/c during the bu-bipoo-boop-boo part there are some missed notes that are sounded sort of as harmonics which is not the case on the released track. as far as the vid, they were trackin’ or “lip synching” as it was called back in the day so anything jermaine appears to be playin’ doesn’t count.

  20. Stu

    This is the real deal

  21. Warren Cox

    Yeah, the posted clip is of the J5 singing over a track, but they have played this live many times & Jermaine nailed this line, not exactly as the recording but impressive nonetheless – as a teenager. – & I’ve seen them live many times. He must’ve been sweating bullets when they were first handed this tune & he heard this line.

    • Mark Shepherd

      Yo Warren:
      I agree as the consensus is that the Motown producers kept Jermaine and Tito off of their axes and designated them backup vocal duty only. Are you the same Warren I used to discuss music with in Parkchester in the Bronx? If so, we’ve both been big J5 fans since this material was new…

      • Jim Davenport

        Is this the Mark Shepherd that went to P.S.213 Elementary School in Bayside NY?

  22. Jason

    Next your’re going to tell us Milli Vanilli didn’t sing their songs.

  23. Christine Cener

    I just found this site and I find it fascinating! Thanks so much.

  24. Mike Harrison

    Clearly not the track on the record — it’s missing the high Db at 2:43 followed by the low F at 2:46. It’s a very competent interpretation, though.