Friday, September 25, 2015

Playlist: 15 Janet Jackson deep cuts

There's just one week to go before Janet Jackson's long-awaited 11th studio album, Unbreakable, hits the shelves and, let's be honest, it has a heck of a lot to live up to - Janet has sold more than 69 million albums, and scored 10 US number ones in her career.

The signs are good though, with the deep and groovesome No Sleeep the best single Janet's released in years.

But there are plenty of deeper cuts buried in Janet's discography that are worth excavating, even for the casual fan. I've put together a playlist below...

Go Deep and Enjoy.

1) Don't Stand Another Chance
Janet's first two solo albums have been airbrushed out of her official history. And rightly so - they're awful. But this track, from 1984's Dream Street, is the exception. Written and produced by her brother Marlon, it's a frisky disco jam in the vein of Don't Stop Til You Get Enough. Listen closely, and you'll even hear Michael's distinctive vocal hiccups in the background.

2) Diamonds (Herb Alpert ft Janet Jackson and Lisa Keith)
Diamonds popped up on the 1987 album Keep Your Eye On Me by legendary horn-blower Herb Alpert - who also so happened to be Janet's boss at A&M Records. Written after (or during?) the Control sessions, it retains that album's slick funk aesthetic, with a finger-snapping rhythm track reminiscent of Janet's own Nasty. Essential.

3) Alright (UK Hip-Hop mix)
A crunchy, upbeat number about falling in love with a friend, Alright was one of the slightest songs on Janet's 1989 Rhythm Nation album. But the carefree melody lent itself perfectly to remixes (I count 22 official versions, plus dozens of bootlegs). One of the best is CJ Mackintosh and David Dorrell's long-deleted hip-hop mix, which was only ever released in the UK.

4) Strawberry Bounce
2004's Damita Jo was Janet's last million-selling album, overshadowed by the SuperBowl saga and hampered by commercial blacklisting on the Clear Channel radio network (a ban which was enforced for four years). But it contained some of her best work - including a handful of collaborations with an up-and-coming producer called Kanye West. Strawberry Bounce is one of those: A lascivious stripper's anthem in which Janet purrs, "Honey, if you came for a show, I'm gonna make you lose control."

5) Rock With U
By the time of Janet's last album, 2008's Discipline, the public had largely lost interest. And so, it seemed, had she. Discpline was an unforgivably patchy record, whose flashes of brilliance were outweighed by rote R&B jamzzzz and an over-reliance on smut. The futuristic Rock With U was an exception, with Janet dampening her libido and declaring, "let's converse".

6) Together Again (Jimmy Jam Deeper Remix)
One of Janet's signature songs, Together Again is a tribute to the friends she lost to AIDS, whose celebratory chorus ("I can see your star shining down on me") puts a positive spin on tragedy. The version that charted is a flyweight house track - but the CD single (remember those?) contained this R&B version of the song, with re-recorded vocals and a totally different melody.

7) French Blue
Janet's first brush with the Minneapolis sound came via The Time's guitarist Jesse Johnson, who produced two forgettable tracks on her Dream Street album. But then, in a fit of creative frenzy, he tore up those songs (Fast Girls and Pretty Boy) and stitched them back together to create this Frankenstein's monster of a remix. The stuttering, sleazy synths and backmasked vocals make this sound like a lost Prince b-side.

8) And On And On
An off-cut from the janet album, this samples Sly and the Family Stone's iconic Family Affair guitar lick and turns it into a slick, laid-back summer party jam. It overstays it's welcome slightly ("damn this is a long song," Janet observes as it plays out) but its relegation to b-side status illustrates the high standards Janet and Jam and Lewis were setting for themselves in 1992.

9) Who
A bonus track on the Japanese edition of 2001's All For You, this is better than about half of the songs on the official tracklist - with Jam and Lewis clearly cribbing production notes from The Neptunes. Pure dancefloor catnip.

10) Say You Do
A minor club hit from Janet's eponymous first album, Say You Do shows what the singer was up against before she defied her managers (and her parents) to make Control. Say You Do isn't a bad song, per se, but is very much Jackson 5-lite. Janet gives a generous vocal performance but - despite the title - the song has nothing to say.

11) You Need Me
After the success of Control, Janet's label predictably demanded a second volume of that record's defiant coming-of-age anthems. They went so far as to propose a title, Scandal, and a subject matter - dishing the dirt on the Jackson family's feuds. What's surprising is that Janet initially ran with the idea. You Need Me, which became the b-side to Miss You Much, is an angry riposte to Joe Jackson: "Daddy he was distant. never there to hold my hand... Mother made up for him, always watching over me". In the end, the Rhythm Nation concept was stronger (and the songs better) but this is a fascinating insight into the work in progress.

12) Rope Burn
While Janet's reliance on bedroom ballads eventually grew tedious, this one, from the Velvet Rope album, stands out for its sense of humour ("tie me up, tie me down"). It was a nightly highlight on her Velvet Rope tour, as Janet would bring an audience-member on stage and pole dance for them, as they looked increasingly uncomfortable in the trouser department - you can see an example here. The song gets bonus points for inventive use of a flex-a-tone.

13) Burnitup! (ft Missy Elliot)
Taken from Janet's new album, Unbreakable, and premiered on her world tour, this is a crunchy, club-ready dance track on which Janet sounds re-energised after her seven-year hiatus. It also marks Missy Elliot's third appearance on one of the star's songs, a relationship which began on the caustic Son Of A Gun back in 2001.

14) What's It Gonna Be?
The $2m video for this Busta Rhymes duet was something of an eye-opener, with Janet in a purple latex suit covered in cock rings and Busta transforming into a CGI sperm. Well, why not?

15) Someday Is Tonight
The closing track on Rhythm Nation is essentially a sequel to the hit single Let's Wait Awhile. Where once Janet had preached abstinence "before we go to far", now she was "ready to give up my love." It's still rather coy, with all the heavy petting left to Herb Alpert's fantastically sexy trumpet solo (yes, you read that right). Most importantly, the song paved the way for the declarations of sexual maturity on Janet's next album - the 20 million-selling janet.

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