S1: Welcome to hit parade. A podcast of pop chart history from Slate magazine about the hits from coast to coast. I’m Chris M.A. chart analyst. Pop critic and writer of Slate’s why is this song number one series.
S2: On today’s show 30 years ago this month in September 1989 some of popular music’s biggest superstars were coming back with highly anticipated albums that had been years in the making. Hit makers from the worlds of classic rock new wave hard rock and hair metal were all lining up to dominate the 1989 holiday season with LP is destined for multi platinum sales.
S3: Yet all of these comebacks by rock veterans were out distanced on the charts by a 23 year old woman whose new album was arguably the most ambitious.
S4: She had rebooted her career in the mid 1980s and now she felt she needed to reinvented again.
S5: Janet Jackson’s 1989 album whose full verbose title was Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was a mega blockbuster and it did not have to be as ambitious as it was. Rhythm Nation was following a hugely successful prior album Janet’s hip packed 1986 smash control. And between her late eighties momentum and her well-known family name whatever Jackson put out next was likely to sell strongly. But Rhythm Nation did a whole lot more than.
S6: A watershed in pop Rhythm Nation bridged. The music of the 80s and 90s and such genres as New Jack Swing hip hop lush soul and even hard rock.
S7: It was also a hit machine Rhythm Nation went toe to toe with some of the biggest albums of the decade.
S2: It both opened and closed with a number one hit for chart toppers in all its hits spanned three calendar years. The only album to achieve this feat it tied the record for most top 10 hits from a single album.
S7: And in a way I’ll explain shortly. It actually bested that yardstick amazingly Rhythm Nation could have even generated an eighth smash hit on the Hot 100 which would have made it the only such album in chart history.
S3: Today on Hit Parade we consider the achievements of Janet Jackson her rhythm nation co creators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and the legacy of her most successful most influential studio album both as a work of audio craftsmanship and as a chart phenomenon and that phenomenon kicked off three decades ago with a very catchy dance pop single destined for the top of both the pop and R and B trust.
S8: And that’s where your hit parade marches today. The week ending September 30th 1989 when the Janet Jackson single Miss you much cracked the top five on Billboard’s Hot 100 the first of seven singles to reach that mark. From the Rhythm Nation 1814 album an unprecedented and still unequalled chart record.
S9: Before we proceed with the story of Janet Jackson I want to say a few words and offer a proviso about her late brother Michael in order to properly tell the story of Janet’s chart feats. I have to cover those of Michael Jackson of course in the wake of the allegations of sexual abuse made by the recent HBO documentary leaving Neverland. There are those who would prefer not to hear Michael Jackson’s music. I respect those who feel this way. However Hit Parade is as I say every month a podcast of pop chart history on which we play excerpts of the hits we discuss. And it is basically impossible to discuss the history of the pop charts without discussing the music of Michael Jackson. So here’s what we’re going to do. We will concentrate all of the music of Michael that we need to tell this story into the next few minutes of our show which you can skip if you choose. If you do elect to skip I will include enough context later in the show that you will still be able to follow along. Thanks. And now if you don’t wish to hear Michael Jackson’s music please skip ahead five minutes. At the risk of stating the obvious Janet Jackson emerged from what you might call a musically gifted family.
S4: The Jackson family from Gary Indiana were historic hit makers Janet’s five older brothers Jackie Tito Jermaine Marlon and Michael formed the Jackson 5 in the mid 60s and signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown label late in the decade after. I want you back.
S8: Their first National Single in late 1969 the hits arrived quickly.
S2: The Jackson 5 let off their chart career with four straight number one singles on the Hot 100. The first act in chart history to do so under the firm hand of family patriarch Joe Jackson.
S4: Several of the brothers also generated relatively successful solo careers including Jermaine Marlon and of course Michael. In all the group both as the Jackson 5 and later the Jacksons after adding brother Randy Jackson generated 20 top 40 hits in the U.S. in the 1970s alone.
S2: And all of that was merely a preamble for Michael’s celebrated hit making career one that would set an even greater number of chart records many of which he still holds. Today.
S8: Though Michael scored a handful of solo hits as early as 1971 wanted his serious chart dominance began at the dawn of the 1980s.
S9: Michael’s late 1979 solo breakthrough off the wall generated for Top 10 hits. The first album by a solo artist to do so. Following Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
S10: By the end of 1980 off the wall made Michael Jackson one of the biggest artists in pop. Did.
S2: This huge success however would be eclipsed three years later by. Of course Michael’s mega blockbuster Thriller the album set a new benchmark.
S11: When seven of its nine tracks became top 10 hits all of them issued as retail singles from late 1982 to early 1984. Two of these tracks were number one hits the paranoid dance smash Billie Jean. And the rock soul hybrid featuring guitar from Eddie Van Halen beat it.
S3: Among thrillers other singles three were top five hits including the Paul McCartney duet. The Girl Is Mine The funk disco track wannabe Startin Something. And the album’s title track which is still a Halloween perennial.
S2: That gave thriller a total of five top five hits out of a staggering seven top tens.
S11: For the record the ballad human nature reached number seven and the Electro R.N. beat track P Y T reached Number 10. This benchmark of seven Top 10 hits from a single album has proven difficult to top. It was difficult even for Michael Jackson himself to equal although he did come close with bad. His 1987 follow up album while a stunning 5 of bad singles reached number one yet another chart record of Michael’s that has been tied but remains unbroken when the album’s sixth single. Another part of me stalled at number eleven.
S2: It prevented bad from matching thrillers perfect streak of Top 10 hits Bad’s seventh single Smooth Criminal did reach number seven but that left bad with only six Top 10 hits.
S4: I am sharing all of these Billboard chart feats as a reminder of both the coattails provided and the shadow cast by the Jackson brothers over their sisters. Mind you the enterprising and driven Jackson family led by patriarch Joe Jackson did try to make hit makers out of all the Jackson kids including the three sisters by the early 1980s with Michael commanding the charts and his brothers dominating the concert circuit with their Victory tour. All three Jackson sisters were also issuing solo material to varying degrees of success.
S1: Rebbie Jackson the eldest sibling of the family was the first of the sisters to score a Top 40 hit centipede. A song that her brother Michael wrote and produced for her did respectably in the fall of 1984. Reaching number four on Billboard’s R and B chart and number 24 on the Hot 100. It was Rebbie Jackson’s only pop hit but she scored a handful of top 40 R and B hits over the rest of the 1980s.
S11: That was considerably better than middle child Latoya Jackson who recorded nearly a dozen albums but was by and large not a big hitmaker.
S8: More than half of her R and B Hits missed that charts Top 40 and on the pop chart she never peaked higher than number 54 which she reached with the reggae tinged 1984 single heart.
S12: Don’t like.
S8: But then there was little sister Janet the baby of the family. Born Janet Damita Joe Jackson in 1966.
S4: She seemed to possess the greatest potential that is if she could decide what part of show business she wanted to focus on.
S13: If this should be a big hit and you should have to go out there and work as the rest of the gang does the rest of the Jackson family all of them I see everywhere at all times.
S14: Maybe that would change your mind about singing. I mean you don’t dislike me about acting or singing. I mean you might like to sing more than you like that. I don’t think it would change my mind I think I like a diva.
S9: Fair enough. When Janet Jackson appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1982 she was all of 16 years old and had just been signed to an M records.
S3: The storied artist friendly label run by Herb Albert and Sherry Moss. She was on Bandstand to lip sync her debut single. The precocious young love.
S2: But as her interview with Dick Clark suggested music was essentially a backup plan for her naturally pretty and charismatic. Janet had been acting on television for the last half decade. She emerged as a child star on the Smash mid 70s sitcom Good Times playing recurring character Penny.
S9: And on another hit sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. Janet played the long running character Charlene the girlfriend to series regular Willis in a clever bit of synergy. Jackson even got to sing one of her songs on the show. Well with that kind of encouragement rock.
S15: The magic.
S4: But to paraphrase the song the magic wasn’t working. Whether she appeared on Dick Clark or Diff’rent Strokes none of Janet’s early 80s material was a hit on the pop charts. The aforementioned young love peaked at number 64. A follow up single did not much better. The 1982 album simply titled Janet Jackson was a somewhat bigger hit on the R and B charts but it was overseen by five producers hand-picked by Joe Jackson.
S2: And critics felt it lacked personality. Janet’s sophomore album 1984 is synth driven Dream Street was similarly scattershot. The song Don’t Stand Another Chance. Produced by brother Marlon Jackson even featured vocals from brother Michael. And yet it’s still missed the hot 100 entirely.
S4: Nothing seemed to help Janet on the charts in this period despite her family’s assistance.
S11: This is around the time when Janet realized she needed to treat her career as something more than a Jackson family brand extension. She was chafing under the hands on management of her father Joe. Janet would later tell the Boston Globe quote I just wanted to get out of the house and get out from under my father which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do unquote. So in the mid 80s Janet Jackson quietly terminated business affairs with her family and she set about rebooting her career critical to that reboot was her decision to work with a single producer on her next album. Someone to collaborate more directly with her and unify the sound of her material. Actually it was two someones a duo who’d been working for years as both artists and producers in Minneapolis Minnesota.
S2: James Harris. The third known professionally as Jimmy Jam and his partner Terry Lewis started as a keyboardist and bassist respectively for a 70s Minneapolis funk band called flight time. By the start of the 80s flight time evolved into the time under the auspices of none other than Prince king of the Minneapolis music scene Prince refashioned the time into his side project and proteges led by the flamboyant singer Morris Day. The Times scored a string of cheeky funky R and B hits in the very early 80s. Ray. The time would eventually be featured prominently in Princess smash 1984 movie Purple Rain. But by then Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were out of the time in a now legendary story.
S16: Prince fired them in 1983 after they missed a gig with the band and more disloyalty in Prince’s mind. He found out they were doing production work for another act.
S8: Fortunately that other act was the S.O.S. Band and the song Jimmy and Terry produced for them would be a sizable hit.
S2: Just be good to me was a number two RB hit in the late summer of 1983 and a breakthrough for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as producers. It was the first example of their distinctive style funk driven electro R and B.
S9: It was a sound they would adapt for a range of artists as Jam and Lewis became mid 80s R and B hit makers for the likes of Cheryl Lynn Alexander O’Neal Thelma Houston and I didn’t mean to turn you on singer Sheryl around 1985 Jimmy and Terry expressed interest in working with Janet Jackson.
S11: Having heard that she was in the market for new producers Jam and Lewis had met her in their days with the time they were charmed by her charisma and TV fame. And even though they heard flaws in her first two albums they loved the quality of her voice quote We knew that her attitude was what was missing from her records. Jimmy Jam said in a later interview by involving her in the creative process we thought we could get her excited about making a record and excited about being an artist. Unquote perhaps most important Jimmy and Terry found out that the newly independent Janet would be willing to travel to Minneapolis and co write music with them in their homegrown studio Flight Time named after their former 70s funk band. So Jackson flew to Minneapolis and worked with Jam and Lewis to reinvent her sound from the ground up.
S2: Many fans would come to regard this third album as a de facto re debut and Janet called it control appointed title about taking ownership of her own destiny.
S9: She even kicked off the control album with a spoken word statement of purpose.
S17: This is a story about control of control was a turning point in 80s pop.
S1: It fused jam and Lewis’s steely R and B sound with Jackson’s sharp wit and independent minded lyrics. It would provide a roadmap for black pop and rb in the second half of the decade.
S2: What was also remarkable about Janet’s third album musically was that it did not sound like a Jackson family album. It did not traffic in the lush pop and soul of Michael and his brothers for the first time a member of the Jackson family had gone with a production sound closer to the stripped down electro funk of Prince Jimmy and Terry’s former band leader and mentor and Michael Jackson’s primary rival in black crossover 80s pop. You could hear this best in the single that Janet Jimmy and Terry chose to lead off the release of control. It leaned into that princely sound foreign. The sassy prickly and irresistible. What have you done for me lately was an instant success. In the spring of 1986 it gave Janet Jackson her first true chart smash peaking at number one on Billboard’s on B chart and number four on the hot 100 with its metronome beat staccato synths and Janet’s tight clipped vocals. It was basically the biggest Prince song of 1986 that Prince himself had nothing to do with. Indeed Prince would later cover the song live.
S16: And while he clearly liked it he poked fun at his former colleagues. Jam and Lewis for copping his.
S18: But Janet and her producers were no copycats. The tracks on control were infused with both jam and Lewis’s sonic touches and Janet’s take no guff attitude. Each subsequent single from control widened this palette and each one was a smash in the summer of 1986 came the iconic even sassy or number three hit nasty.
S2: That was followed in the fall by Janet’s first ever Hot 100 number one hit. The romantic breezy and danceable when I think of.
S3: Then by the winter of 1987 the control album’s title track reached number five and a grateful Janet was calling out per star producers in the music video.
S5: Finally in the spring of 87 the tender pro abstinence ballad.
S1: Let’s wait a while reached number two. It was the last time a single from Janet would be quite this chaste. During this year long run as control spun off this quintet of top five hits. The album racked up sales of more than four million copies.
S3: It peaked at number one on the Billboard album chart for two weeks in the summer of 86. The control album would eventually be certified quintuple platinum. By the summer of 87 when the acclaimed dance track the pleasure principle. A number one R and B and club record petered out at number 14 on the Hot 100 it was clear the epic chart run of control was drawing to a close. The album had exceeded everyone’s expectations and established Janet Jackson not only among the top stars of 80s pop and rb but as the first of the Jackson siblings not launched by the original Jackson 5 to emerge as a solo star. Janet and her collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had developed an easy chemistry and a fruitful mind meld. But now the hard part would be following up. Control. And they would take more than a year before regrouping. In that intervening period.
S11: Janet’s brother Michael came back with his follow up to Thriller releasing his bad album just weeks after Janet’s last control single dropped out of the top 40. Whether by happenstance or by Jackson family design Michael and Janet generally avoided directly competing with each other on the charts from the fall of 87 through the summer of 88. Michael Jackson racked up his new string of hits from bad again six top tens five of them no ones plus the underperformer. Another part of me.
S2: But in the late 80s Michael’s latest run of hits wasn’t all that was happening on the airwaves during Janet Jackson’s album hiatus. The sound of pop particularly the sound of popular African-American music was evolving.
S2: I want her Keith Sweats late 1987 smash hit inaugurated a sultry percolating and rap derived trend that the media dubbed New Jack Swing. In truth Janet’s control album had laid the groundwork for new jack swing based Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s combination of synthesized percussion post disco funk and smooth RB with hip hop production elements offered a blueprint for new jack swing. This was the sound that producers like Teddy Riley the mastermind behind Keith Sweat’s hits and the leader of the hit RB vocal group guy took to the bank in 1987 and Eydie. In an era when rap was ascendant New Jack Swing gave even mainstream pop singers a way to be conversant with hip hop while crossing over singers like former New additions vocalist Bobby Brown. By early 89 thanks to hits like Bobby’s number one smash my prerogative again produced by Teddy Riley. The radio was awash in New Jack swans. Meanwhile on the rock side of the radio dial socially conscious music became not only viable but fashionable in the form of such fiery globally minded rockers as Peter Gabriel Sting and YouTube.
S20: Occasionally music with a message even scaled the charts. In a move that would presage some of the themes of Janet Jackson’s next album New York neo folkie Suzanne Vega scored a number three hit in the summer of 1987 about child abuse called Luca. Of course socially conscious music was not new to either rock or R and B as she prepared for the album Janet Reed listened to legends from prior decades like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye who had found room in soul music for social content and even protest while generating radio friendly pop. To.
S21: Janet felt that there was a space in contemporary commercial black music of the New Jack Swing Era for such message driven pop.
S9: This dovetailed with a rise in Afro centrism in late 80s black popular entertainment and on historically black college campuses.
S8: The increasingly militant lyrics of rap’s second wave led by public enemy only added fuel to Jackson’s fire. What ultimately tipped the scales for Jackson was her January 1989 viewing of televised news reports about the mass shootings at a Cleveland Elementary School known as the Stockton schoolyard massacre.
S4: It was a then rare American tragedy the killing of elementary school kids that from a 2010s perspective now seems numbingly familiar.
S2: Bullet holes had been hastily speckled over flowers draped the school sign and grief counselors and mental health professionals were in every classroom explaining to children as young as six what happened here and why several of their classmates won’t be coming back.
S9: As Janet Jimmy and Terry regrouped in flight time studios in the cold Minneapolis winter of 1989 they began writing and recording songs that drew upon all of these influences. The themes of conscious hip hop rock and soul and the rhythms of New Jack Swing the album would be a modern day analogue to LP he’s like Marvin Gaye’s that drew together both romantic songs and socially conscious songs under one umbrella. Many of Jackson’s lyrics directly addressed issues like the Stockton massacre with song titles like State of the world and the heartfelt living in a world they didn’t. Janet even recorded short tracks that she called interludes some of them brief bits of speech some of them more ambitious audio collages the homeless problem good looks and.
S22: LEMON Square today to the adults to teach for to create fear.
S4: Jackson Jam and Lewis were taking their cue from a then relatively new concept in the world of rap. Lost Souls seminal spring 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising helped popularize the concept of the short skit on hip hop albums.
S23: Movies. Blight is a. Collaboration.
S24: Janet’s interludes would be much the same thing in a pop and rb album context. We are in a race between education and catastrophe.
S25: Musically the album built on and broadened the New Jack Swing template. Jam and Lewis were audio craftsmen who love samples found samples and sonic elements they could make their own.
S2: By 1989 Jimmy and Terry were entering what you might call their industrial phase. Obsessed with the factory like sounds of grinding gears and whirring motors these Jam and Lewis effects would underlie the songs on the album and give it richness and detail. And on tracks like the knowledge Janet Jackson was even rapping. To open the album. Janet recorded an interlude really a prologue that replicated the opening monologue of the control LP.
S4: Once again it was a statement of purpose for the new album that doubled as Jackson’s Declaration of Independence. Only this time it was a pluralistic declaration addressing both herself and her nation. Less AI more we we are a nation. Of graphic boundaries. Bound together through our beliefs. Like. Minded individuals. Sharing a common vision. Pushing. World. Creative. Jackson titled the album Rhythm Nation. Actually the full title would be Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. She would later explain that 1814 was the year the American national anthem was penned by Francis Scott Key.
S9: But four three two one leading up to the album’s September 1989 release Jackson Jam and Lewis had been largely left alone by an records mostly because they had sequestered themselves in Minneapolis. But the label was nudging the trio to produce something promotable and on brand. In later interviews jam said that M was not so secretly hoping for a control part to even if they had no intention of repeating themselves.
S6: Janet Jimmy and Terry had produced some romantic tracks alongside the socially conscious tracks. So for the album’s first single team Janet offered Annan. A love song. Except it was no ballad. And like much of the album it slammed.
S8: Miscue much was quite possibly the most pre sold hit in Janet Jackson’s career. Written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis specifically for Janet. It deftly bridged the sassy teen pop sound on control with the clattering industrial New Jack Swing they were building on the new album.
S6: It was a foolproof single against what turned out to be heavy competition. As I noted at the top of our show the week MSU much made it’s hot 100 debut September 2nd 1989.
S4: The chart was unusually crowded with debuts stacked with superstars delivering lead singles from albums that were long in the works. The Rolling Stones first album in four years.
S3: Tina Turner’s first LP in three years. Motley crews and era Smiths in more than two years. And even Tears for Fears with their first album in four and a half years.
S8: Songs from all these superstars slammed onto the Hot 100. That same week in early September. But Janet Jackson with the lead single from her first album in more than three years bested them all miss you much entered the Hot 100 at number 42 a strong debut in such a heavy week. Five weeks later it shot to number one. Three weeks after that the Rhythm Nation album followed suit and topped the Billboard album track. Best.
S4: That is this could have been predicted a catchy first single from a new album by a member of the Jackson family. Following up a disc that had generated five top 5 hits many superstar follow ups opened with a bang like this. What was more impressive was where rhythm nation went from there teed up second in Janet’s hit parade was the album’s title song.
S5: Rhythm Nation the song gave notice that rhythm nation. The album was going to be a work of scope and ambition. Janet Jackson offered impassioned lyrics about a generation arming itself against prejudice and marching in unison accompanying its release was a long form music video that found Janet leading a precision dance troupe dressed in the same military style garb from Jackson’s album cover. And employing precise drill team steps. This video slash mini movie would win Jackson a Grammy. The following year her first gramophone. And the only Grammy she would take home for this album. As for the backing track Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis brought their A game updating their sound for the era of hip hop. Sonically Rhythm Nation echoed the dense production sound of rap deejays like public enemies the bomb squad who built their tracks out of thickets of samples. For Rhythm Nation Jimmy and Terry sampled some funk guitar from Sly and the Family Stone’s chart topping 1970s smash.
S16: Thank you for letting me be myself again. And they embedded it deep in the mix.
S5: This allusion to Sly Stone the leader of a multiracial band from a prior generation subliminally supported the song’s overt message of racial harmony and flashing forward in Janet Jackson’s career.
S4: This single foreshadowed a sampling technique that Jam Lewis and Jackson would pursue on their future collaborations. Every Janet album for the next decade would feature a hit built around a subtle but unmistakable classic sample whether it was from the Supremes. Which Jimmie and Terry turned into the backing track for Janet’s 1993 hit. If. Or Joni Mitchell one of Janet’s all time favorite artists. Always seemed to go you know what you’ve got to whom they looped into the 1997 hit got til it’s gone. All of these future Janet hits were in essence descendants of rhythm.
S5: Rhythm Nation debuted on the Hot 100 in November with the Rhythm Nation album still on top of the album chart.
S4: By early January the track had reached number two on the Hot 100 just two singles into the LP.
S2: Janet and her producers had shown the album’s breath for the third single Janet. Jimmy and Terry decided it was time to party.
S26: Escapade was one of the earliest songs written for rhythm crafted by the trio in an attempt to modernize the sound of vintage Motown party anthems like Martha and the van dealers. Nowhere to run. Jam and Lewis added mechanized metallic sound effects giving the song the same Sheen heard on Miss much and on earlier hits like nasty and in a final touch. Jackson shouted out the city where the song is recorded escapade debuted within the top 40 in January of 1990 all the way up at number 37 and it was number one by March spending three weeks on top for the fourth single team Janet went even more old school recalling the sounds of both the 1970s and the 1930s.
S7: All right. It was like an old school soul record updated with turn of the 90s production. It was built out of samples of the early 70s funk songs. Think about it. By Lynn Collins and do you like it by Beatty express in the All right video. Janet and an army of dancers recreated the look of a Busby Berkeley musical with cameos by pre rock legends Sid Sharif’s The Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway.
S8: Debuting on the Hot 100 in April all right was in the top five. Within a month peaking at number four in early June it was now time for a summer single and mirroring the approach of control whose fifth single was the tender.
S4: Let’s wait a while. Janet and AFM decided to go with a ballad but this time on the centerpiece Ballad Of Rhythm Nation Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have. Upped.
S21: Their game. To date. Jam and Lewis had not done formal orchestrations on a Janet Jackson single comeback. To me it changed that. When the song was first recorded Jackson told the producers. She could picture strings on the track so Jam and Lewis brought in Minneapolis arranger Lee Blasko who labored in a lush string arrangement. Incidentally come back to me was also the latest version of a production sound that Jam and Lewis had been perfecting for more than half a decade. Their wet sound. It was the vibe of pouring rain translated into a pop song. Jimmy and Terry had actually scored multiple hits rebooting and refining this keyboard driven wet production sound dating back some five years.
S16: They first brought it into the Billboard Top 10 in 1986 on their production tender love by the force M.D..
S4: Later that same year Jam and Lewis produced the British New Wave group The Human League and they made the wet sound even more explicit on the group’s number one hit. Human. Two years after that they put the rain metaphor into both the melody and the song title of new additions 1988. No one R and B hit can you stand the rain. But Janet Jackson’s comeback to me was perhaps the most polished version of this inundated audio metaphor the steady drip of a summer shower matched the ache in Jackson’s leading vocal.
S6: By August come back to me. Reached number two on the Hot 100. Rhythm Nation was now nearly a year old quadruple platinum and had spun off five hits all of them having reached the top five. This was the point at which control three years earlier had begun to peter out but with Rhythm Nation Jackson not only went a couple singles deeper the hits actually got bigger and more adventurous.
S20: Black cap remains possibly the most atypical hit song in Janet Jackson’s catalog a rock song built for heavy guitar. Jackson came up with the main guitar riff herself. Indeed black cat was the one track on rhythm nation that Janet penned alone without Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The duo advised on the track but concluded they would not be the best producers for it so they invited their former band mate from the time jellybean Johnson to produce. Johnson in turn invited guitarist Dave Berry to play the song’s hard riff and Johnson encouraged Jackson to sing it in a voice she had never tried before. In his words like a heavy metal Queen. Black Cat debuted within the top 40 in September of 1990 very high for the sixth single from a year old album. Six weeks later it was number one. It was the album’s third number one single overall. After Miss you much and escapade.
S16: This chart topping performance by Black Cat meant it was actually sensible to go for a seventh single. Mind you this was rare but not unprecedented for a smash album. Janet’s brother Michael had gone seven singles deep on both Thriller and Bad as had Bruce Springsteen with Born in the USA and George Michael with faith.
S1: The difference with Janet was where her singles all placed on the hot 100. To date none of her six singles had placed lower the number four could she pull a seventh top five hit it would require going deep into rhythm nation to a song that had sounded like an album cut.
S6: When Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis co-wrote love will never do without you. They pictured it as a duet a low male voice for the early verses and a female Janet singing the high parts. Later in the song. In the studio however they discovered Janet could sing both parts dropping her voice to its lowest possible range on the first verse. In fact Janet did all the vocals on the track multi-track in both leads and backups by herself on the album. Love will never do was a six minute long call and response rave up like new jack swing crossed with gospel. It also was not the kind of song that would work with one of Janet’s typically busy music videos performed by a troupe of dancers so an AM invited photographer Herb Ritz to shoot a video with only Janet and a handful of male models in a wide open desert like space. Jackson was dressed in nothing fancier than a black tank top and a tattered pair of jeans the black and white clip which featured cameos by actors Antonio Sabato Junior and Djimon Hounsou was sensual and arrested. It would take home a best female video statue at the 1991 and TV video music awards. Love will never do without me. Was the underdog of rhythm nation singles. It debuted on the hot 100 in November 1990 all the way down at number 89. About 40 to 50 positions lower than any of the other singles had started.
S2: But after a 10 week climb in January 1991 more than 15 months after rhythm nation had been released. Love will never do reached number one. The album’s fourth chart topper and its record seven top five hit.
S16: Statistically speaking this was now terra incognita. Not only had rhythm nation become the only album in history to generate number one hits in three separate calendar years 1989 1990 and 1991 the album had produced more top five hits than any album including Michael Jackson’s Thriller which produced seven top tens. Only five of which were top fives in chart follower circles. This did make some news at the time in the pages of Billboard magazine chart beat columnist Paul Green heralded Janet’s achievement over her brother but seven big hits was still seven big hits. What would seal the deal in the record books and truly set rhythm nation apart from Thriller would be an eighth hit. And even at this late date rhythm nation had a prime candidate for that a single.
S7: In the prior few months. A handful of radio stations were already playing the song State of the world as an album cut state of the world would be a return to the cerebral theme of the Rhythm Nation album a lament for a society marked by violence and starvation. The chorus went quote Drugs and Crime spreading on the streets. People can’t find enough to eat. Now our kids can’t go out and play. That’s the state of the world today. But like the song rhythm nation state of the world was propulsive and catchy slipping its bold messages into an accessible radio friendly package. In mid-February 1991 and M Records anointed the track officially by sending radio stations a state of the world promotional single. However Adam chose not to issue state of the world as a retail single in music stores. This would be a critical decision. As I explained in a previous hit parade episode our great war against a single edition billboard rules at the time required that a song be issued as a retail single purchasable by the general public to be eligible for the Hot 100. As we also discussed in that episode by the early 90s justice.
S2: The major labels were beginning to experiment with not issuing retail singles to see if they could spur consumers to buy more albums. The prior summer M.C. Hammer smash you can’t touch this was only issued at retail as a 12 inch single for club deejays and not in the popular keys single and see these single formats. It made Hammer’s album Please Hammer don’t hurt him a 10 times platinum mega smash.
S10: Billboard magazine reported in 1991 that anthem was attempting something similar with state of the world hoping to boost sales of the rhythm nation album.
S16: But there was a big difference. By 1991 rhythm nation was nearly a year and a half old and its prior seven hits had all been issued as retail singles. It was an odd strategy to promote a single to radio so late in the game and not offering for sale.
S7: In retail stores. And Ms gambit did it really work. Rhythm Nation had had a great run on the album. It was now quintuple platinum but it had fallen out of the charts top 30 and would not return. Meanwhile state of the world was a radio smash. In addition to the hot 100 billboard maintains a radio songs chart that tracks the songs receiving the most airplay regardless of their retail availability and on radio songs. By April 1991 state of the world was a number five hit. So here was the bottom line.
S16: If an records had issued state of the world as a retail single making it eligible for the Hot 100 with that kind of airplay it likely would have been a top 5 Hot 100 hit even if it had sold only modestly. It almost surely would have been a top 10 hit. Why would an M leave a near guaranteed chart smash on the table as it were. If it wasn’t actually going to sell more albums why not enshrine Janet Jackson in the record books. No one in the Jackson camp has ever formally explained this odd decision and one can only speculate. For the record Michael and Janet Jackson recorded for competing labels him for Sony Music’s epic records. She at the time on CNN. There would be little incentive for these labels not to compete for Billboard bragging rights. But Michael and Janet were siblings did Janet pull a punch to keep the brother’s record for most top tens from an album intact. Sounds a bit silly but Michael’s obsession with chart records was legendary and well chronicled. Again one can only guess.
S27: But with more top 5 hits than any album before or since Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 retains its status as the most hit packed album in Billboard history. No album in the years since. Even in the digital era which has generated a greater number of shortly top 100 hits for superstars like Drake. No one has matched. Janet’s feat.
S16: Rhythm Nation turned out to be Jackson’s last studio album on an M records. Her reward for this blockbuster success was a contract bidding war by the middle of 1991 just a few months after rhythm nation had spun off its last hit. It was announced that Janet Jackson had signed to Virgin Records in a contract reportedly valued at up to 50 million dollars making her the highest paid recording artist at the time. For the record her brother Michael signed a new contract with Sony just a few months later that valued him at close to 100 million dollars. Janet Jackson would go on to record for Virgin for more than a dozen years scoring several chart topping albums the best selling of these was her first album under the Virgin contract simply titled Janet period and led off by.
S3: That’s the way love goes number one for eight weeks in the summer of 1993. Janet’s biggest hot 100 hit.
S10: Sales wise Janet period very nearly equaled rhythm nation. Both albums are now certified sex couple platinum.
S16: But Rhythm Nation generated more number ones and more hits overall for the next decade while recording and acting occasionally in movies like poetic justice and the nutty professor to Jackson enjoyed huge multi-media fame critical acclaim and chart topping hits.
S3: Her 1997 album The Velvet Rope earned Jackson some of the strongest critical reviews of her career as well as the 1998 number one smash together again.
S2: As late as the start of the 2000s Jackson was still commanding the Billboard charts.
S4: Her 2001 album All For You opened with her biggest sales week ever and its title track a percolating dance pop track again produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis was a seven week. No one on the Hot 100 in an era dominated by Destiny’s Child J Lo and job.
S2: Unfortunately and unfairly. Jackson’s career took a major hit after her appearance with fellow pop star Justin Timberlake at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
S16: The less said about the scandal now known dismissively as nipple gate the better the media fallout did serious damage to Janet’s career and not Justin’s and most critics now argue she paid too great a price for history’s most infamous wardrobe malfunction. However what has also emerged in the last two decades is the deep abiding influence of Janet Jackson and particularly rhythm nation on a generation of popular music critics broadly cite for music as the forerunner to 21st century.
S5: Journalist Chris McCall claims quote the techno soul hybrid Janet pioneered in the 80s is now the sound of the commercial airwaves and the direct forerunner of most current female pop stars unquote. Indeed Wikipedia maintains a list of artists influenced by Janet Jackson which currently runs to more than one hundred and eighty names among the millennial superstars who have publicly cited Janet’s influence are Beyonce Knowles who tapped into Janet’s dense productions and electro RB with both Destiny’s Child. And in her solo work.
S10: Britney Spears has also long claimed influence and inspiration from Jackson. With many of her hits blending R and B pop and dance in a style descended from both control and Rhythm Nation and Janet’s influence has not been limited to female artists. Bruno Mars has praised her music repeatedly and directly echoed her vintage New Jack Swing stylings on several of his hits. Acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar not only sampled Janet on his album good kid Mad City on a track named for her movie poetic justice.
S16: His celebrated 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly borrowed the structure and the synthesis of Rhythm Nation combining both catchy and conscious music interspersed with spoken word tracks that he called interludes. Lamar even borrowed a song title from Janet for his albums centrepiece a Black Lives Matter inspired track called All right. All.
S10: Right. Even in the world of indie rock Jackson and her work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have cast a shadow. The Brooklyn based noise rock duo Sleigh Bells declared in interviews that the lead single and title track of their 2013 album Bitter Rivals was directly influenced by the intense percussive production sound. Of Rhythm Nation. To.
S2: Now in her early 50s. Jackson is still a very active recording and touring artist. The last decade has brought her another acclaimed and chart topping number one album Unbreakable. And just this year belated induction into the Rock and Roll.
S10: Hall of Fame. Please. 20. Induct. More women. Some.
S28: Also this year.
S16: Jackson wrapped up a nearly two year concert tour that took her across America Canada and Japan. She called the trek the state of the world tour and the name is not incidental. Jackson began her concerts with a montage of news and media clips indicating 30 years after Rhythm Nation how far society has yet to travel. More joyously a highlight of the tour was the song State of the world the would be a single from Janet’s now 30 year old album The Stealth hit that helped put her in the record books.
S29: Right up to the present day. Janet Jackson compels her audience to give a moment to consider the actual state of the world. But she also believes music can bring people together across the rhythm.
S8: I hope you enjoyed this episode of hit parade.
S28: My producer for this episode one last time is Chris Rubin.
S30: This is the very busy very in demand Mr. Berube is last time working on our show. After setting his very own hit parade record of producing 21 shows for us I can’t thank Chris enough for helping to make a parade the success it is. His work has been polished detail oriented kind hearted and very sympathetic to the demands of a certain perfectionist podcast host. You can continue to hear Chris’s excellent work on many episodes of the podcasts 30 for 30 and underdog as well as the show he’s joining 99 percent Invisible. We will miss you Chris and you will always be an integral part of the hit parade. We also had help this episode from Rosemary Belson the managing producer of Slate podcasts is June Thomas and Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate podcasts. Check out their roster of shows at Slate dot com slash podcasts. You can subscribe to hit parade wherever you get your podcasts. In addition to finding it in the Slate Culture Gabfest feature if you’re subscribing on Apple podcasts please write and review us while you’re there. It helps other listeners find the show. Thanks for listening and I look forward to leading the hit parade. Back your way. Until then keep on marching on the one on Christmas.