On This Day: Janet Jackson – Control


04 February 1986

I was fourteen years old when this album came out, enthralled by Top 40, and a fan of Janet’s brother since the Thriller album. The teaser single, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” was released in January of ‘86 and served as the breakout for not just Janet Jackson but also the songwriting/production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, formerly of Morris Day & The Time.
Released just before the widespread proliferation of CDs, I had this album on cassette. Of the nine songs on the tape, only two – “You Can Be Mine” and “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive” – were not released as singles. The other seven tore up the Billboard charts in the U.S., five of them going Top 10. Needless to say, the album benefitted from this ubiquity and hit the number one spot in the U.S., eventually going platinum five times over.
For me, it was different than anything I’d heard before. Having the ‘80s as my formative years was great because station formatting was much less regimented than it is now, and so were tastes, at least in junior high school. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to like Van Halen, Thomas Dolby, Kim Wilde, Hall & Oates, and Prince all at the same time. But nothing sounded like what Jam & Lewis were doing on Control. Their mastery of – and innovation with – drum machines changed the face of pop music. Combined with Miss Jackson’s (if you’re nasty) woman-power, sex-positive image, it was brand new.
Janet’s image at the time was not that of a sex goddess like her contemporary, Madonna (to pick an easy example). Madonna was putting on a showcase, subject to the whims and desires of men even if she used those to her advantage. Janet, not to put to fine a point on it, was always in control. Whether she was getting “Nasty,” exploring “The Pleasure Principle,” or suggesting “Let’s Wait Awhile,” your pleasure was always strictly at her pleasure. She did this without waving the flag of feminism or putting men down – she led by example to show what a strong woman could do and how she could do it.
Miss Jackson not only created her own image, she also co-wrote all but two of the songs and co-produced the entire album. She wasn’t just acting the part; she was, in fact, embodying the powerful, ambitious, independent woman that she was portraying.
Absolutely none of this registered with me when I was fourteen. Not a bit. The album cover registered with me, Janet looking demure and coquettish at the same time. The music registered with me, urgent and largely electronic, in keeping with the new wave styles of the day, but injecting a level of funk and R&B that I don’t remember being mainstream prior to this Jackson/Jam/Lewis collab. There was the occasional exception of course, but rarely on a hitmaking level like this. Even a filler track (and it could be argued that this album has none) like “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive” rocks a super funky bassline that is physically irresistible. You know what else registered with me? The soft moans of pleasure that close “Funny How Time Flies” stirring something in my pubescent trousers, those definitely registered.
I’m revisiting this disc today for the first time in a long time. The singles shuffle up to the tops of playlists from time to time but I couldn’t tell you the last time I listened to the album straight through; at some point, I’d set it aside as teen-years bubblegum while I’d moved on to other styles and other acts. Hearing it with older ears today, I must say that I’m legitimately impressed – not only does the album definitely hold up three-and-a-half decades later, but Janet’s influence on subsequent generations is unmistakable and undeniable (as is the influence of Jam & Lewis’s work). If you’ve forgotten how good this disc is – like I had – I definitely encourage you to dig out your old CD or cassette and give it another go. You might be surprised by what you hear.

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