The Bridge: Rain Sounds and Moody Goths

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S1: Hey everybody this is Chris McKenzie host of Hit Parade Slate’s podcast of pop chart history. Welcome to the bridge. That’s diamonds by legendary trumpet player and music mogul Herb Alpert. Number one on B. Number five pop hit from 1987. And as you can hear diamonds featured vocals by the hottest artist on Albert’s label at the time Mrs. Janet Jackson. This single which was recorded right after Janet’s breakthrough album control served as a bridge in her career.

S2: Between that album and her 1989 blockbuster rhythm nation it also provided not incidentally a bridge for Herb Alpert back to the top of the charts and these mini episodes bridge our full length monthly episodes give us a chance to catch up with listeners and enjoy some hit parade trivia this month. I’m delighted to welcome a guest who is not only a friend to hit parade but an alumna here at Slate. Aisha Harris writes and edits for The New York Times the newspaper just recently named Aisha their culture editor for the opinion section. Aisha is always smart and on point writing spans TV movies and of course music in her time with Slate through 2018. Aisha led the stellar podcast represent and she is still a frequent guest on various Slate podcasts and this is her first time on Hit Parade. Aisha welcome to the bridge. Thank you. And I guess I should start by asking about your own Janet fandom. Are you a longtime fan.

S3: I’m definitely a longtime fan. I’m 31. So I was actually only a very small tot when Rhythm Nation is really a sure but I can as far back as I can remember of my household was filled with like Jackson Five Michael Jackson and Michael Jackson was like my thing.

S4: I was obsessed with him for you know the first five six seven eight years of my life.

S3: And then Janet was never really I knew she existed but she wasn’t played that much in my household until my mom got she bought the design of a decade. CB Yep.

S5: And so that was my introduction was bad. So like I knew I didn’t know which album it was on the original albums they were on that there’s a compilation C.D. featuring a couple of new songs.

S3: But it was mostly her old hits and I remember listening to that all the time and then velvet rope came and my mom would play that in the car all the time even though I probably should have been listening to it about most of it went over my head.

S6: That’s a somewhat raunchy album. But then Janet in the 90s kind of got into her her raunchy phase.

S3: Yeah. So I came into it. I don’t think it became like a true hardcore fan though until I was around twelve or thirteen when they offer you up and came out.

S5: And I actually saw her on tour my mom took me to see her for the offer you toy. That was my eighth grade graduation gift and it was amazing.

S7: She was awesome. I loved it. And I’ve been like I can say I’ve been a hardcore benefits ever since. That’s awesome.

S8: Did the hits from the 80s sort of sound dated to you in a certain way do they sound different from the Janet that you were getting into in the 90s and early aughts. Yeah I mean it definitely sounded different because I think around that time also I remember that’s the way love goes being like the song that was played all the time and I’ll be tired all the time on the radio.

S9: And it did sound very different. And I think the one song that I latched on especially on that album onto was pleasure principle and it’s still probably like my top three of all of Janet’s songs.

S6: Mine too. It’s just so great. Did you. Then let’s segway into what the specific hypocrite episode was about. Did you then at some point go back and play rhythm nation as an album. And when would that have happened.

S10: Yeah. I don’t think that really happened until like honestly until like maybe six or seven years ago when Spotify became a thing. I didn’t know state of the world was new to me. All of the interludes were new to me. There are some songs that like I was aware of but yeah I was like I was a late bloomer to like the full Janet album out of the hits on rhythm nation which would you say stands out the most for you today 30 years later. For me all right just feels like like it’s just musically. It is everything I want in a song.

S5: Sure it’s super catchy and I also think of the music video for that as well just because like you mentioned in the episode she features all of these old Hollywood acts as black Hollywood Hollywood acts and also centuries shows up the Nicholas Brothers like it’s just like such a fun wacky zany video and it shows Janet kind of like she she could be sexy but she could also be sort of masculine and like embrace like a more masculine dance and style and look she had like the giant oversized zoot suit right.

S10: I loved it. I also love black cat. I think that was one of the songs off of design of a decade that I really gravitated toward.

S5: And just because it doesn’t sound like her. Like you said it might sound like she’s using a very different register of her voice and it’s just super kind of in the same way that like Michael did beat it and then would later do like Dirty Diana like I just love it when Janet goes like super rock and it’s fun.

S6: That’s awesome. I have two thoughts about blackout one that I feel like Janet was anticipating things like Free Your Mind by in Vogue which happened about hours later.

S8: And the other thought I had about black cat is that I remember when black cat was the against sixth single from the album so this is now late 1990 and by then you know there were all these hair metal acts. I mean there were already around by 1989 obviously but I remember watching an interview with Janet on MTV at the time and she was talking about how she really loved the Motley Crue song Dr. Feelgood. Now Dr. Feelgood could not have been an influence on black cat because as I point out in the episode Dr. Feelgood was one of the singles that came out the same week as Miss who much like at the beginning of the cycle of that of.

S11: Album release for the nation.

S2: But you can really hear a lot of you know Motley Crue or I don’t know Whitesnake attitude in the way Janet’s doing it isn’t just a rock song. She’s really taking on a metal vocal in that song.

S12: And yeah to your point it’s just it’s a unique voice for her. I can imagine that coming out of a greatest hits album that sounds like a lot of different things that that would really stand out. Yeah.

S13: Yeah so this was Janet’s socially conscious album.

S2: I wonder whether the socially conscious aspects of rhythm nation hit you as corny or you know earnest or you know forward looking with 30 years perspective.

S3: You know for me it’s a very high bar when it comes to socially conscious pop music fare like there are very few like you know the obvious. It’s very obvious but the one that I think is probably the best version of that type of album is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I just think it’s. It’s sonically.

S14: Gorgeous and inventive and different.

S10: Well not feeling too preachy and you know what helps the album not feel and not feel too corny or cheesy is the fact that like yes half the album is socially conscious but then in the middle of that she goes OK now time to dance.

S15: Get the point. Good. Dance. And then it turns into light moves into the. All right.

S9: The level never do and I’m like lonely at the end and come back to me like so I think it helps that it balances itself out. Sometimes it can feel a little a little treacly but I don’t have.

S8: So this episode was also frankly an excuse for me to talk about a pair of producers. I’ve been a little obsessed with since I was a teenager. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis I think they’re brilliant record makers. And I kind of love the the team up between them and Janet. I feel like they all brought the best out of each other. And they’ve said as much in multiple interviews you know the fact that Janet has worked with them as long as she has and on so many albums. And to give them credit it isn’t as if each album sounds like the others. You know you came up with Janet in the 90s when you know Jimmy and Terry were creating a more lush sound for her.

S3: Oh definitely. The other thing I was really surprised about listening to your episode was you talked about and I forget what you called it the raindrop or the I call it their wet sound.

S6: So what’s the. Yeah. It’s just not the most you know pleasant way to describe it. It’s the most accurate to describe it.

S4: Yes. But like I had never made the connection between those and didn’t realize that they were all the same basically the same song. Were they actually sampling themselves on this difference on so there is come back to me on that one which is one of I think can sound Janet’s bass ballads.

S1: Totally agree. My favorite ballad by her.

S4: Yeah. So there’s that. But then that song sounds a lot like a human by the human we mean by Human League.

S3: And then also sounds like tender love by force and D. And also songs like can you stand the and buy a new edition. Which I’d never put together deep. Were they all. I wasn’t clear what were they. All the same exact sample. Or did they like. Were they just kind of working reworking this from the same like they were reworking the same template.

S8: And yeah I’ve I’ve checked with a couple of musicologist friends and the chord progression is not identical in each song but it’s very very close. There they’re using a similar bass chord in all four of those hits. As I said the foursome D song dates back to 85 it becomes a hit in 86. Next comes the human leaves human. The new addition song is 88. That’s on their heartbreak album. And then Janet comes next. By the way bonus cut for those who are listening I didn’t want to ruin the timeline and the full length episode but there’s a fifth one. They did it again in 1994 the Boys to Men song on bended knee.

S16: Well wait is is the same thing again. And also I want to state this for the record. If anybody thought I was throwing shade Jimmy and Terry with that section that was pure admiration as far as I’m concerned they ought to answer and to answer your question. They were taking a really sturdy song template and tweaking it and making it sound genuinely different five times and getting five hits out of it. They’re all good songs. I like all five of them and between their choice of instrumentation their choice of arrangements some of the chord changes that they make I would say the new addition record can you stand the rain has the most tweaks and formula they managed to get very different feeling songs out of the same template multiple times and they don’t do it on all their hits but like maybe one hit per album they’re like right this one’s going to sound like raindrops. This is the Web site. And they just recreate it over and over again and it works every time. If you would come up with that template you would use it every time.

S8: I guess we can finish up with something about where Janet fits in the modern pop pantheon. I mean does this music from 30 years ago or the music of control does it feel relevant today. Does it feel dated in a good sense. Do you hear it in other music I’m in.

S10: It still feels incredibly relevant and even without you I feel like any person younger person could listen to it today and night and realize the sort of backstory of Janet. The.

S9: Control was all about her sort of establishing herself away from her brothers away from her father but like even without that like on its own it still holds up. And I mean one point to make is that it just appeared at the very beginning of hustlers that the new movie the song control is it opens that that movie and so and the movie closes with Miss you much.

S3: Yes.

S4: So I mean she’s still absolutely relevant and just even looking at someone like nah mining or money is a former member of that harmony and she’s now solo. Her new song motivation or newish song motivation in that video it’s just her dancing the entire time in different settings.

S7: And the way the video is set up is that she is kind of hearkening back to you know 10 12 15 years ago when beauty Beatty’s went up and park was a big thing and she was watching artists like Ciara J Lo and it all of them and their dancing moves were also inspired by Janet. So when you when you put it all together it’s kind of like this just long tale of Janet inspiring not just one generation but like now to three generations that have come after her.

S17: I got a huge pleasure principle vibe from that Normandy video crossed with all right. You know it’s got a cast of dozens similar to the All right video it’s out on the street. So is Normandy directly to your point echoing moves that you know Janet came up with some of which may have been choreographed by Paul Abdul let’s give her her props I guess not necessarily but I love the idea you’re proffering here that there’s a lineage of. This synthesis of RB and hip hop. That style of dance being passed on through generations of pop backs. I absolutely see that in something like that no video.

S2: So now it’s the time and hit parade the bridge where we do some trivia. And joining us from New Jersey is Will Will.

S18: Are you there. I’m here. Chris how are you. I’m great. Well how are you. So far so good. Ready for some trivia.

S2: Fantastic. So you’re joining us after the Janet Jackson episode were you a fan of Janet going into the episode.

S19: I’ll be honest. She didn’t listen to a lot of her before but once I heard about the album as you described that I really had to get into it and I really liked what I heard.

S2: Fantastic. Can I also ask you well are you a Slate Plus member.

S19: I am. I had joined about two years ago for the Political Gabfest and I once I saw all the other shows that I could listen to I really started listening to a lot of the the stable.

S2: That’s a great moment for me to remind our listeners that while this bridge episode is available to all hit parade subscribers we only open our trivia rounds to Slate Plus members.

S20: So if you are a member and would like to be a trivia contestant visits Slate dot com slash Hit Parade sign up.

S2: That’s Slate dot com slash Hit Parade sign up so well I’m sure you’ve listened to previous bridge episodes and you know how this works but briefly for those who are new to it I’m going to ask you three trivia questions. The first will be a callback to our most recent full length episode and the next two are going to be a preview of our next full length episode. Are you ready for some trivia. I’m ready. All right here we go. Question 1. Last month our Janet Jackson episode talked about her hits from 1980 nines rhythm nation but also her breakthrough on 1986 as control album.

S20: Which of these control singles was not among its five top five hits on the hot 100.

S13: A what have you done for me lately be nasty see. Let’s wait a while. Or D the pleasure principle. I think though is the the pleasure principle. And that is correct. The correct answer is the pleasure principle.

S2: The sixth single from control did top the RB and club play charts but it missed the top 10 on the hot 100. Peaking at number 14. The other three choices here were all top five hits plus when I think of you and control while I’ve got Aisha here we were just talking about how much we both loved the pleasure principle it’s a little disappointing that it was not one of the big hits from that album right.

S3: Yeah. I mean I would’ve thought let’s wait a while and then the one that was kind of on the outside.

S21: Yeah yeah let’s wait a while just kind of fill that ballad slot. So you know I guess in the 80s it was always a safe bet to go with a ballad.

S2: You know when you were a couple of singles deep on an album. But anyway well that was correct you’re one for three are you ready for some more trivia.

S19: I’m ready. I think I may have this one. Let’s see if we can do over three.

S20: All right. Here we go. Good luck. Question to which of these British bands all leading lights of the 80s post punk and alternative rock movements was the first to score a U.S. Top 40 pop hit. A The Cure B Depeche Mode C the Smiths or D New Order.

S22: Was that the cure.

S12: I’m sorry. The correct answer was B Depeche Mode. They reached number 13 in the summer of 1985 with their danceable single against racism and war. People are people. It would be another five years before Depeche Mode would reach the top 40 on the hot 100 again.

S18: All right. Well our third question maybe I can redeem myself.

S2: All right here we go. Question 3. The choices are the same. But the question is different. Which of these four dark post punk bands peaked highest on the Hot 100. Scoring a number two hit in October of 1989 with a single that by the way was held out of Number One by Janet Jackson’s miscue much a The Cure B Depeche Mode see the Smiths or D New Order.

S18: I’m going to go in new order for this one.

S22: You should have gone with your original answer which is the correct answer is the cure.

S12: Their goth ballad love song hit number two on the Hot 100 the week ending however 21st 1989 kept from number one by Jackson’s miscue much for the record Depeche Mode reached the top ten a year later with enjoy the silence in their career New Order scored just to U.S. Top 40 hits and the Smiths never reached the U.S. Top 40.

S2: All right well as you predicted the easiest question was the first question and you had a rough go with our preview questions but I understand that you have a question for me and we can now turn the tables and let you ask me a question.

S18: Yes. Are you ready. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. All right.

S19: While some British post punk bands then make it out of the 20th century in one piece the cure and Depeche Mode both continued releasing studio albums well into the 2000s of the two which enjoyed a better position on the Billboard 200 album chart in the 21st century and with which album a Depeche Mode sounds of the universe B Depeche Mode spirit. See the cure’s self-titled or D the cure. Blood flowers.

S20: My memory was that the self-titled cure album from 2004 did especially well so I’m going to go with the cures the cure album.

S23: The answer was actually a Depeche Mode of sounds of the universe.

S24: It peaked at number three on the album chart in 2009 spirit. The second place choice at number five as recently as 2017. The Cure’s best release. Post 2000 is their 2004 self-titled album which peaked at number seven.

S2: Well all right. So it was a top 10 album but it did not beat those Depeche Mode albums I should have guessed that. So we defeated each other with questions about Depeche Mode and the cure so go figure. Well we’ll call it a tie. All right. I just want to thank you well for joining us on hypocrite. Thank you. Thank you for having me. A lot of fun.

S25: So as you can probably all tell from our trivia round in our next episode of hip raid we’re actually going to focus again on the year 1989 except rather than talking about Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. We’re going to talk about a band that she prevented from going to number one on the hot 100. That would be the cure as well as the band’s Depeche Mode The Smiths and New Order. And 1989 was not only the year of rhythm nation it was arguably the year Goff broke on the U.S. charts. Now not all of these bands are golf but all of them offered dark gloomy and sharp edged British rock that was inspired by punk and post punk music. I’m also thinking of bands like Susan and the band she’s bough house and they’re a descendant band Love and Rockets. The launch of Billboard’s modern rock chart the year before in 1988 provided a feedback loop for British alt rock of the post punk era. And eventually these bands were actually scoring on the pop charts.

S26: So we’re going to talk about the moment that these bands crossed over and became not only big bands on alternative radio but even on pop radio so I wish I can’t thank you enough for joining us for Hit Parade the bridge and where can folks read more of your fine work at the New York Times.

S3: You can find me at the New York Times and you can also follow me on Twitter at crafting my style. And thank you for having me Chris. This is one of my favorite podcasts I tell everyone. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a guest.

S27: It’s great and I’m glad I got a chance to talk to you about Janet my huge thanks again to Aisha Harris for joining me for this episode of the bridge. And by the way a brief note if you’re listening to this episode on Friday October 11th and you’ll be in the Boston area I’ll be speaking this afternoon at the sound education 2019 conference for podcasters and audio educators my panel music matters will be at 140 P.M. at Boston University’s Center for English language and orientation programs and I’ll be joined by some excellent co panelists like Cole Kushner of dissect and Indra. This contests of cadence. You can buy tickets to the panel or the whole conference at sound education dot F.M..

S28: This episode of hit parade the bridge was produced by Usher solution. And I’m Chris M.A.. Keep on marching on the 1.