35 Years of ‘Control’
Today marks 35 years since the release of Janet Jackson’s breakthrough album, Control. It was her third LP, and prior to its release, Janet was generally known as the Jacksons’ baby sister. Sure, she had been on a few hit TV shows, but with this album, she established herself as a global superstar.
Before we can discuss the music, we have to discuss where Janet was at that point in her life and career. At just 19 years old, she was year out of an annulled marriage (to James DeBarge), which was followed by the firing of her manager at the time, Joseph Jackson. Yes, her daddy.
Janet Jackson was quite literally taking control.
Janet hired a new manager, John McClain, who was a vice president at her record label at the time, A&R Records. McClain would introduce Janet to two former members of the group The Time, James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Steven Lewis, and nothing was the same. Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would go on to form arguably the greatest creative partnership in the history of popular music.
Along with Janet, the duo co-wrote seven of Control‘s nine tracks and co-produced eight. The only track with no Jam & Lewis input is “The Pleasure Principle,” which was co-produced by Janet and whose video is among the most imitated ever.
Prior to Control, Janet had no creative input in her music. One could argue that the duo helped a young Janet find her sound, and in a way, she kinda did the same for them. Through their collaborations with Janet, the duo were able to register what a Jam & Lewis production sounds like in the consciousness of the music-buying public. And more importantly, they established themselves as the pioneers of a new subgenre: new jack swing.
Control has range in tempo and subject matter. Janet — Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty — is assertive on the title track as well as much-quoted “Nasty” and “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” But on “When I Think of You,” “You Can Be Mine,” and “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive,” she shows us that assertive women need love too.
The biggest contrast, however, is between the eighth and ninth tracks of the album: “Let’s Wait Awhile” and “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun).” On the former, Janet is basically preaching abstinence. On the latter, which is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life,” we get to experience a more mature and sensual side of Janet, complete with whispered sexy talk in French.
Given the generally upbeat feel of Control, a lot of people might miss the fact that it is deeply personal. The title track is about firing pops and grabbing the reins of her career, “What Have You Done for Me Lately” is about ex James DeBarge, “Nasty” is about a real-life sexual harassment incident, and even her abstinence anthem is about a conversation she had with a boyfriend in her early teens.
Control is a true classic and a reference point for a lot of the music made in the 20 years that followed. The album sold over 10 million copies worldwide and set Janet Jackson on her path to becoming the legend she is today.
My favorite track on this album also happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time (by any artist). Check it out below.