Happy 35th Anniversary to Janet Jackson’s eponymous debut album Janet Jackson, originally released September 21, 1982.
With hands on her hips, feather boa in tow, and an up do with a pout that wouldn’t quit, a pre-teen aged Janet Jackson introduced herself to the world on an episode of the 1977 CBS television show, The Jacksons. The recurring spot on the program evinced her acting abilities that led to more television work from 1977 to 1984, notably Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes and Fame.
Between the roles of Penny Gordon Woods and Charlene Duprey, Jackson acquired a deal with A&M Records and released her eponymous debut album on September 21, 1982. It was at her father’s insistence that Jackson even considered an alternative career path through music.
But American popular music was in an interesting spot by 1982. The bottom had dropped out of disco by 1980. The movement that propelled a gaggle of black singers, songwriters and musicians to the top had been felled by the very white, very male, very rock constituency that felt displaced and unrepresented by disco. And yet, one facet of the modern rhythm and blues structure stood immune to the anti-disco vitriol: “teen soul.”
Existing in many forms in decades prior, this enclave of R&B was beneficial for The Sylvers, Shalamar, Stacy Lattisaw and DeBarge in the first few years of the 1980s. New Edition was fast approaching on the horizon too. With or without “disco,” funky, uptempo R&B music was still popular and what’s more, this “youth music” was finding favor with adults too. For Jackson, this was the right place (and time) to formally launch her music career.
A&M Records called upon the best and brightest in R&B to build Janet Jackson from the ground up. On the record’s first side, you had René Moore and Angela Winbush, a Capitol Records couple who were on the rise. They wrote, arranged, produced and played on their own records and did the same on Janet Jackson. On the record’s second side, you had The Sylvers’ Foster Sylvers, who was also a multi-instrumentalist/producer for SOLAR Records, one of the hottest urban labels in Los Angeles. Additional back-up for production (Bobby Watson) and lyric scripting (Phillip Ingram) showed that Jackson didn’t want for talent.
Two treacly ballads (“Love and My Best Friend,” “Forever Yours”) did not platform Jackson’s later dominion over this song format. They were, thankfully, the only missteps on Janet Jackson. The rest of the record keeps itself occupied with bustling, post-disco black dance tunage. If Jackson was not feeling passionate about the material, it hardly shows, as the singing heard on “Say You Do” and “Young Love” have Jackson giving smiling, energetic vocals convincingly. The arrangements on this pair of songs, and for the LP as whole, capture the ever-changing dynamic of live instrumentation session work and the burgeoning usage of studio tech that typified the changeover from the late 1970s to the early to mid-1980s. The staccato synth-funk of “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” and the guitar-soul of “Come Give Your Love to Me” hint at the eventual advanced research and development on the records that followed Janet Jackson, where Jackson would be writing her own music.
Many know it now as the US Billboard Top R&B/ Hip-Hop Albums Chart, but when Janet Jackson landed in its respectable sixth place spot, it was called the “US Top Black Albums Chart,” a significant sign of the times providing a necessary cultural context for the LP. White audiences weren’t receptive to Jackson as a singer at this time (US Billboard 200 #63). The five singles the album spun off from late 1982 to mid-1983, “Young Love,” “Come Give Your Love to Me,” “Say You Do,” “Love and My Best Friend” and “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” all reached the Top 10, Top 20 and Top 30 regions of the American R&B and dance singles charts. These R&B and dance music audiences proved pivotal to Jackson with their loyalty when crossover crowds took their leave of her in the mid-2000s.
Jump ahead to September 10, 2008, the opening night of Jackson’s Rock Witchu Tour in Vancouver, Canada. Jackson performed, for the first time, a medley of hits from her first two solo albums. The reception from the crowd was rapturous. Pre-Control fans were vindicated by Jackson finally acknowledging these songs as central to her musical development. Post-Control fans were delighted there was more of Jackson to learn about. Despite the album taking the long road ‘round since its release 35 years ago, Janet Jackson’s precocious influence on the future thrust of Jackson’s canon cannot―and should not―be denied.