janet‘s breakthrough was in 1986 with the ‘control’ album produced by jimmy jam and terry lewis, previously members of prince‘s group, flyte time. no vocal gymnastics necessary, this album was anchored by janet‘s confident delivery and the precedent set by electro funk/soul such as shannon‘s ‘let the music play’ and cherrelle‘s ‘i didn’t mean to turn you on’.
the album was short – 8 tracks – but it was a crash course in being a young woman in 1986 and beyond. female assertion at a time when destiny’s child were trying to colour inside the lines at elementary school (subject to age verification, cough). janet instructed young girls to take control, cut family ties, kick your boyfriend into touch and make him wait for it.these were ideas that resonated with my pre-teen group, and even more so with the teenage community, who appreciated further reinforcement of the guidance from girls’ magazines like just seventeen and mizz on dealing with sex. in 1986, the media didn’t dare portray 12 year old girls getting pregnant and carrying on happily with their lives in the way coronation street and eastenders would have us believe is possible in recent years. they put out messages about safe sex and waiting until you were older, because society had a spiralling aids epidemic to combat before it even dealt with teenage mums. janet, in her own way, made it cool to say no.
hmm. twenty years ago, no one went online to find that 21 year old janet was in the process of divorcing first husband james debarge, whom she had married at 18. i’ve listened to the ‘control’ album differently since the 2005 claims that they in fact had a baby during their short marriage. back then, you got your info from magazines like smash hits and the one-off interview with parky or terry wogan, and so precious few people even realised she had been married.
of course, its entirely possible that some of the bitterness and icy resolve that made ‘control’ such a great album was a reflection of the fact that janet‘s first two albums, released in 1982 and 1984, flopped. actually they contained some great tracks but failed to inspire, the first merely reflecting the waning disco sound and the second lyrically damper but equally funky as ‘control’, let down by an ill-advised duet with cliff richard. yes, that’s cliff richard.
by the time janet followed up her successs with ‘rhythm nation 1814’ in 1989, social consciousness was the order of the day and this album’s title track remains the only credible plea for unity to date. almost making up for several self-indulgent cheesefests unleashed by her brother.
in the 90s she trod the safer, summery r&b route, to great effect, then lost her way slightly in the 00s by failing to live up to the standards she set for herself. however, in today’s gossip and scandal obsessed culture, surfacing rumours of an 80s baby with then teenage husband james debarge and that wardrobe malfunction have ensured her profile remains high regardless.
and you know you want to look that good when you hit 40. so here is some lesser known janet, enjoy!
top 10 lesser known janet tracks – download here
making love in the rain
the first collaboration with jazz artist herb alpert released in 1987 , this is a sultry chillout track in a similar vein to ‘funny how time flies’.
the second, and better known herb alpert track, following a similar path to the upbeat ‘control’ numbers.
he doesn’t know i’m alive
quintessentially 80s and often overlooked ‘control’ track. ok yes, i used to sing this into a hairbrush.
one more chance
1993 b side to ‘if’ from the ‘janet‘ era. probably left off due to the proliferation of slow jams making the album.
cool electro funk from the 1984 ‘dream street’ album. production-wise, a preview to things to come.
don’t mess up this good thing
janet was too young, and jumped on too late to be a disco pioneer. but this standout track from her self titled debut in 1982 was a taste of what might have been.
where are you now
mid-tempo remix of a melancholy ‘janet‘ track, made sunnier for the ‘janet:remixed’ album by nellee hooper.
70s love groove
‘janet:remixed’ track originally on the ‘you want this’ single. similar to ‘any time, any place’.
you need me
included on the re-released cassette version of ‘rhythm nation 1814’. a ‘miss you much’ clone (never a bad thing).
mid-tempo grower released as a b side to ‘every time’ from ‘the velvet rope’.