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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The late 1960s and early '70s were the golden age for what came to be called kiddie soul. Inspired by the huge success of The Jackson 5, hundreds of very young R&B groups formed across the country. Many of them recorded only one single. Now, a new compilation gives nearly 20 of these obscure sides a fresh spin.

ABC: The ABCs of Kid Soul."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "NOW THAT SCHOOL IS THROUGH")

CINDY: (Singing) What are you gonna do, now that school is through.

OLIVER WANG: There has long been a fascination with the sound of pre- pubescence, as the castrati of 18th century Italy would likely painfully attest. The affected falsettos and natural sopranos of young boys and girls are meant to evoke a more Halcyon world of simplicity and purity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "NOW THAT SCHOOL IS THROUGH")

CINDY: (Singing) (Unintelligible), the whole class will be gone. And while you goes on away and let me go by.

WANG: Even though the voices are those of children, the themes were rarely childish. Part of the appeal of kid soul was hearing young boys and girls sound worldly beyond their years. "Home Schooled" is packed with songs about love, relationships and the encroaching awareness of sex.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "I'M NOT READY FOR LOVE")

PROMISE: (Singing) I'm not ready to cross that line. I'm not ready to cry all night, I'm gonna sing (unintelligible). Will you just to throw your way or not. I'm not ready for love. I'm not ready for love. I'm not ready for love. I'm not ready for love.

WANG: The record suggests that while the adult world is absent in the voices, its complications of the heart and body are still a liminal presence. This tension between youthful innocence or romantic preciousness made stars out of The Jackson 5 and their youngest member, Michael. He was only 11 when the group first hit in 1969 with "I Want You Back." That inspired the gold rush of kiddie Casanovas, the younger-sounding, the better.

Southern(ph) Virginia's Jack & the Mods showcased the vocal talents of 9-year- old Jake Townsend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "ONE IS ENOUGH FOR ONE")

JAKE TOWNSEND: (Singing) One girl is enough. One shoulder is enough for one. One love, one love, one love is enough to (unintelligible) on.

WANG: Not all of the groups of the era were trying to cash in on tweener romance.

Patriza and Jimmy from Los Angeles offer a rare children's perspective on another dramatic relationship - between them and their parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TRUST YOUR CHILD")

PATRIZA: (Rapping) Listen, parents everywhere. Let me talk with you a little while. Because I feel that you might need to know that even though you don't think though, you can really trust your child. I'm Michelle, remember like the old people say, we're only kids on the old block. So when you're doubtin', just be mindful that (unintelligible) inside. Trust your child.

JIMMY: (Singing) Trust your child.

WANG: As provocative and whimsical as maybe songs prove to be, "Home Schooled" is also an unintentional anthology of failures. Most of the groups on the album never made it past a single release, nor did any of the promising young talents find a way to mature into adult successes.

Yet, if these songs are forced to stand alone as a sole efforts these groups recorded, that feels appropriate, too. After all, what else is youth but a playlist of singular songs whose sentimental power still rings in our ears, even as the rest of our childhood memories fade to static?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: The CD is called "Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul." Oliver Wang is a music critic and scholar in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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