“Control”: a retrospective review of Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit album.
by Mark Keen
Before the ground-breaking “Control” album was released in 1986, Janet Jackson had enjoyed some success with her first two albums, “Janet Jackson” (1982) and “Dream Street” (1984), which tied in with a stint in series four of ‘Fame’ which she allegedly did not enjoy. 1984 even saw a single release of a duet with Cliff Richard on “Two To The Power Of Love” (UK No.83).
The early days of Janet’s career where clearly under the control of her father, Joe Jackson, but in 1985 she broke way moving to Minneapolis to record with Jam and Lewis (previously band mates with Prince). The result was the autobiographical “Control” and the rest is history. “Control” would go on to sell over ten million copies worldwide.
Remarkably, the breakthrough album would include seven singles from the nine tracks (a remarkable achievement which Janet would repeat with her next two albums)! This was a time when an album could have legs, with Janet still releasing singles from the album nearly two years later. The first single in early 1986 “What Have You Done For Me Lately” (US Number 4, UK number 3) was a long way from her early bubble gum pop hits, but still firmly pop, but with more of an urban dance-pop feel. The single was a worldwide top ten single and the video showed an early appearance from Paula Abdul who also had a hand in the choreography. This first single clearly showed that Janet was a strong independent woman, free of the shackles of her father and the shadow of her most famous brother, Michael Jackson.
The follow up single “Nasty” (US number 3, UK number 19) really demonstrated the urban feel and the tougher lyrics. Who can resist the line “my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet – Miss. Jackson if you’re nasty”?!
Janet would finally hit the top spot in the US with the third single from the album “When I Think Of You”, also hitting number 10 in the UK and hitting the charts across the planet. The video is a memorable one directed by Julien ‘Absolute Beginners’ Temple and only has five cuts, although appears as one long take, a technique often copied in pop videos over the next thirty years. This video also demonstrated that Janet was also clearly an artist for the video age with each video being a feast for the eyes.
The fourth single in October 1986 “Control” hit the top five in the US, although inexplicably missed the top 40 in the UK (number 42). Again the lyrics are memorable “it’s all about control, and I’ve got lots of it”. Perhaps most memorable is the video directed by Mary Lambert who had directed “Nasty” and directed many videos over her career such as Madonna’s “Borderline” and “Like A Prayer”. The video, a nine minute epic, where Janet had the opportunity to act out her process of taking control of her life also showed her acting chops.
Janet would slow it down in the ballad “Let’s Wait A While” (US number 2, UK number 3), giving her fifth big hit off the album in early 1987. The song demonstrated Janet’s versatility and the tale of sexual abstinence stroked a cord in this era of AIDS. It was a simple, but effective message. The song also marked her debut on the UK’s Top Of The Pops, which really gave the album campaign a second wind after “Control” missed the top 40. The video was directed by Dominic Sena, who would go on to direct feature films, such as Kalifornia and Gone in 60 Seconds.
The sixth single “The Pleasure Principle” was written and produced by Monte Moir and was another great track hitting number 14 in the US and number 24 in the UK, but still one of Janet’s most memorable hits and a personal favourite of mine. The video again directed by Dominic Sena was a departure for Janet, but no less striking with Janet practicing her dancing solo around a loft with some great acrobatics with a chair. The video is iconic in its simplicity. Janet also showed a change of image with straight hair and a slimmed down physique.
Janet would slow things down with the sensual “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)” the seventh and final single off the album. The single was only officially released in the UK and Australia and although only a minor hit, it did again demonstrate Janet’s versatility and clearly signal that there was much more to come. There was no video for the single, and perhaps that damaged its chart hit chances, but it hardly mattered now as Janet had firmly established herself as an independent artist standing free of her past.
We all know that Janet would go in to become an iconic artist in the 1990’s and beyond, and is still making waves in 2018 with a new album on the horizon. Janet is even perhaps showing a return to the pop sensibilities of “Control” with her latest single “Made For Now‘ and its fantastic video.
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