“Rhythm Nation 1814”: a retrospective review of Janet Jackson’s 1989 hit album.
by Mark Keen
If “Control” was all about Janet Jackson’s personal freedom and independence then the follow up in 1989 would explore wider themes and Janet’s emerging social conscience, such as poverty, racism, social inequality and drugs. The album was another huge hit especially in the US with seven single releases, but the UK never did quite take the album to heart. Perhaps it was less pop and more industrial r’n’b, but A&M persevered with the release of single after single. For the UK fan this was heaven as each release came with a special feature such as the seven inch box set of “Come Back To Me” (with 1814 badge) or the gatefold 12 inch cover of “Love Will Never Do Without You”, or the special 12 inch editions of “Escapade”.
The campaign got off to a great start with “Miss You Much”, a number one hit in the US although it stalled somewhat in the UK with the single only managing a top thirty (number 22) chart position. The single was preceded by the short film “Rhythm Nation” much in the same territory as Michael’s “Bad” video with a short 30 minute film made in black and white directed by Dominic Sena. This film was shown on television at the time, but appears to have never been released on DVD. The album would peak at number 1 in the US and sell over 12 million copies with seven top 5 US singles: a record!
The second single “Rhythm Nation” with its iconic video would follow hitting number 1 in the US. The video had already been part of the short film, but this did not impact on its chart success in the US at the end of 1989, but again in the UK it was a different story only hitting number 23 despite some high profile performances in the UK, such as The Royal Variety Show in front of The Queen.
The new decade would get off to a great start with “Escapade” hitting number 1 and finally hitting the top twenty in the UK (number 17). This was much more of a return to pop with an extravagant and bright video with its exotic carnival setting.
The next single would be the much more dance oriented “Alright” which was remixed with the addition of a rap from Heavy D. The single hit number 4 in the US and number 20 in the UK. Again, the video was another tour de force with Cab Calloway making a memorable performance. The single also came with multiple remixes. Surprisingly “Alright” would also pop up as a B side in the UK to another single before it was actually released as an A sider.
Janet would slow things down in June 1990 with “Come Back To Me” which hit number 2 in the US (just losing out to Mariah Carey’s debut single “Vision Of Love”) and again number 20 in the UK. One of my favourites, the single is a ballad with considerable longing and regret, with the Paris filmed video adding an extra quality. Janet would be almost recognisable in her appearance compared to the final single off the album.
“Black Cat” was quite a departure with Janet rocking out showing her tougher side. The sixth single from the album hit number one in the US and was the biggest hit off the album in the UK hitting number 15 and staying around for some time. The megamix of hits on the CD single also helped. The video has an ‘in-concert’ theme which suited the track. This was quite an adventurous move for Janet, but demonstrated her versatility and ambition.
The final single from the album in 1991 hit number 1 in the US, although only number 34 in the UK. Arguably the most stunning feature of this release was the amazing video filmed in the Mohave desert showing a very slimline Janet. Amazing that the seventh single from an album almost two years old could produce such a huge hit. The video is truly iconic and the direction by Herb Ritts (who took the memorable photos of Princess Diana) really showed the direction Janet was heading: confident in herself and her sexuality!
This album really put Janet firmly on the map in this new decade, but Janet would go on to even greater success in the next couple of years. Janet would also finally revitalise her popularity in the UK! It was hard to believe there was so much more to come.
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