Quarter Life Crisis: Control Yourself

Monday, September 12, 2011

I turn 25 this year and resting in a the comfortable grey area of a 'quarter life crisis'. To celebrate, for the next few weeks of September, I'm recapping some of my favorite albums and singles that are turning the big 2-5 along with me...

Control. That's all Janet Jackson wanted back in 1986. To say she didn't get it would be a lie.

When Control dropped back in the early days of February '86, no one probably expected the littlest Jackson to be the one to reinvigorate the spark of the "disco diva" and modernizing R&B for the female set. It can be argued that Jackson wasn't the first to attempt this. Plus she had a little help from her friends, producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, in shaping her elusive sound, but Jackson utilized ideals set by Summer, Ross, Turner, LaBelle and many other divas, and as product of her influences, dropped one hell of a feminist funk record.

Control has a lot of "firsts" to its name. From it being Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' big "mainstream" success after producing works for R&B's most coveted such as Cherrelle, Alexander O'Neal, SOS Band and Patti Austin, to name a few. To this day, I still say Jam & Lewis tested loads of ideas on the Cherrelle prospective albums and merely polished and enhanced them on Janet's 80's efforts. Control was also dubbed by some critics as one of the first inklings of New Jack Swing, a music genre that would dominate the late 80's into the 90's, and bridge hip-hop with it's soulful roots. Most people view Control as the "debut" of the Janet Jackson we know now as she got a total style makeover and scrubbed away the girly-girl disco of her official 1982 debut and the cute mediocrity of 1984's Dream Street. In a lot of ways it is.

In 25 years time Control still remains to be a blueprint that has been used and continues to be used by female vocalists today. It follows in a feminism in motion aesthetic as songs like "Nasty" and "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" blared a demand to be heard. Yet, Control doesn't always bite, as Jackson soothed those 'nasty boys' over by cooing love anthems like "When I Think Of You" and "Let's Wait Awhile", proving that you can be as femme fatale as you want to be, but still not let your love jones get in the way. The synths and drum machines may be showing their age, but 25 years later that message of self-determination and respect has not lost it's gleam nor it's roar.

Notable Tracks

State of independence anthems never really go out of style and Janet's is the most recognizable and most spatty of them all as she churns out the trials and responsibilities of being in the windstorm of her 20's. A righteous funky middle finger to her father, her ex-husband (James DeBarge of DeBarge), and probably just purely at the angst of growing up into one's self.

A song that has 'girl power!' smeared all over it. Yeah, boys can be nasty, but Janet claims it's okay to like 'em like that. Just don't call her 'baby' cause she's Miss Jackson (if you're nasty).

What Have You Done For Me Lately?
The side-eye has a theme song thanks to this sparse pop-funk thrill. No doubt this song was inspired by Prince right down to the pithy and witty lyrics it embodies. Many times has the title track been uttered when a woman is well---fed up. We also shouldn't side-step the fact that Janet wouldn't have some of those killer dance moves if it wasn't for Miss Paula Abdul, who makes an appearance in the accompanying video years before she was to churn out her own pop magnet, Forever Your Girl, in 1988.

The Pleasure Principle
Out of all of Jackson's songs, this one remains to be in my top 5. Monte Moir, formally of The Time, came up with this percussive corker that is sleek in every way. Note the sure power punch of the music video which most still believe is one of Jackson's best---not to mention one of the best dance videos in existence.

When I Think Of You
Lightly sugared with sweetness, "When I Think Of You" was her first #1 hit, and third top 10 hit off of Control and had a right to be. In my opinion, one of the best numbers Jam & Lewis put their stamp on and the arrangement of it is just mint.

Let's Wait Awhile
An actual song about keeping your stuff in your pants. Nowadays we get 'I wanna *blank* you all the *blank* long'---even from Ms. Jackson herself, yet it's nice to know that at one time Janet was concerned about abstinence and waiting for that right moment/man to come along. This idea didn't last long as "Anytime, Anyplace" came along in 1993 and eliminated all the virginal stance here.

Funny How The Time Flies (When You're Having Fun) 
Janet coos her way through a seductive fog, getting all those boys riled up. Who could also forget that moaning at the end? There is also a really nice version recalled by Stanley Clarke with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet---that is if you're into the smoothie instrumental jazz thing like I am.


  1. One of the handful of albums that is completely perfect to me -- beginning to end. No filler. No extras. It's ALL good.

  2. Amen to that Mel!

    I'm not a huge fan of "He Doesn't Know I'm Alive", but it doesn't bother me enough to skip it when I listen to the album in full, lol! Flawless album it is.

  3. I like Cherelle, I just think Janet had a better voice & more personality/originality overall, I think she (JJ) proved she wasn't just a mouthpiece. The broad success of "Control," was great, but she never lost her first audience: R&B. As can be attested to the chart stats of this album.

    Long may she reign.-QH

  4. Oh, definitely Janet had the better personality/overall look, than Cherelle, QH, it also didn't hurt that "Jackson" was her last name too either. *wink* In my opinion, Jam & Lewis' work with Cherelle worked to Jan's advantage, not to denounce Jan's talent (which she has loads of) just that it's interesting when you compare the two singers and Jam & Lewis' production treatment to them both.

    I agree, Janet never lost her first core R&B audience, that's what kept people coming back, what made her reach a broader audience than Cherrelle was because Control had something for everyone and even converted the "non-believers", plus it had a better package of hit material. This was just a start of bigger things to come!


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