Zari Watts | Staff Writer
Janet Jackson’s hit single “No Sleep” with rapper J. Cole on her 2015 album “Unbreakable” is a smooth, sultry R&B track that seems to exist exclusively in a breezy, candlelit 2 a.m. She’s mastered that specific sound with experience from her long and experimental career, but Jackson started out with a strikingly different approach. Janet Jackson’s “Control” was her breakthrough project, and even 30 years later, it is a phenomenal album that withstands the changes of time.
Her musical style has always shifted appropriately with time and what sound is most prominent. But at the age of 19, the peak of her need for independence, she released the album truest to herself. Jackson had recently annulled a brief marriage, moved out from her family home, and was absolutely brimming with a need to express her desires and beliefs. The product was her 1986 album, “Control.” It was her third album, but the first to break records. “Control” was in the top five of Billboard Hot 100 and even nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy.
In an old interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jam and Lewis shared a glimpse into their creative process with Janet saying, “We knew that Janet had a lot of attitude and a lot of feistiness just from watching her as a kid on the different TV stuff she did. Let’s create music that has that kind of attitude and let her run with it.”
They also spoke to the novelty of Janet’s style as a black woman in the pop world saying, “The only way to get on pop radio if you were a black artist was basically to put a ballad out. Now all of a sudden you have this aggressive, hard-hitting female singing. It changed the way radio sounded. We’d walk through neighborhood and hear Janet just blasting out of people’s houses.”
Janet captured the attention of the masses with her clear subject matter, impressive vocal range in terms of both pitch and style, and quintessential 80’s beats. In the first song, “Control,” she starts off the album with a clear purpose for her album, and even more, for her musical career. She emerges with a firm yet tranquil tone announcing, “This is a story about control. My control. Control of what I say. Control of what I do. And this time I’m gonna do it my way. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Are we ready? I am. Cause it’s all about control. And I’ve got lots of it.” She created a 1980’s pinnacle of young black female independence.
Her stylistic vocal range can be heard from her sexy, breathy falsettoes in “The Pleasure Principle,” to the clean-cut harmonies of “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” that can then slide down into deep, measured tones emanating from the back of her throat heard in “Nasty.”
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced seven upbeat tracks heavily founded in 80’s pop/dance beats, ridden with elements of R&B, soul, rock and jazz. These beats carry the album through the stern energy of “Nasty,” to the upbeat, carefree sounds of “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive.” They then shifted the tone for the end of the album with a ballad-like “Let’s Wait Awhile,” and the R&B track accented with guitar riffs “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun).”
Janet also employed little details within the album that showcased her youthful creativity like the endearingly over-scripted dialogue at the beginning of “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” the genuine laughter towards the end of “When I Think of You,” and the French lyrics in “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun).”
It’s clear that even 30 years later, Jackson’s “Control” still stands high.