Don’t hold back — just have a good time: Janet Jackson


Deflating expectations with modesty, “No Sleeep” is a perfect first single, the first Janet Jackson single since 2006 to bear the co-writing/co-production credit Janet Jackson-Jimmy Jam-Terry Lewis and no one else. This partnership, thirty years old now, has weathered New Jack, Dre, wardrobe malfunctions, and the death of brother Michael. I can’t trace the moment when Jackson started asserting herself — “Control” off her 1986 breakthrough answers the question. But sometime in 1993 the specificity of her lusts felt all hers, leading Jam and Lewis to respond with the hardest, most operatic music of their careers. “The balance of power had clearly shifted, but this was no bitter emancipation,” Josh Love wrote in an examination of the Jackson-Jam-Lewis axix published as part of Stylus Magazine’s induction of the producers into our hall of fame (others: Electric Light Orchestra and Kate Bush). And “No Sleeep” has succeeded beyond its modest hopes: despite a flatfooted J.Cole rap appended for the kids, the single is a mainstay of adult R&B.

The Slant Magazine staff, boasting a Janet expert as devoted as Eric Henderson, compiled their twenty-five best songs. Lots of overlap between their list and mine, despite my including more tracks from The Velvet Rope, an album I hope my readers stream or buy soon. As minimal as Missy Elliott’s contemporaneous Supa Dupa Fly, The Velvet Rope compresses Jackson’s voice to its smallest expressive unit; it’s the quietest horny voice in nineties R&B. Which makes the sadomasochistic and bisexual fantasies less lurid: if she isn’t getting off on convincing us they’re outrageous, neither should we. That’s the point. Her commitment to staying within the demands of her scenarios, indivisible from her limitations as a singer, gives bone and sinew to those fantasies. Janet Jackson is us. It’s like she’s saying, Of course you have special needs, it’s okay.

I’m less moved by subsequent appearances. Don’t knock the list’s brevity; by this point her catalog boasts enough surprises, from guest appearances on tracks by Herb Alpert to an insouciant, sun-kissed collaboration with Luther Vandross, Jackson’s commitment to the pleasure principle has proven infectious.

1. Control
2. The Pleasure Principle (Long Vocal Remix)
3. Go Deep
4. Escapade
5. Love Will Never Do (Without You)
6. If
7. This Time
8. When I Think of You
9. Alright
10. The Velvet Rope
11. Because of Love
12. Someday Is Tonight
13. What About
14. Diamonds (w/Herb Alpert)
15. You
16. Doesn’t Really Matter
17. You Want This
18. Rhythm Nation
19. Got Till It’s Gone
20 The Best Things In Life Are Free (w/Luther Vandross)
21. Rope Burn
22. Feedback
24. Anytime, Anyplace
25. Throb
26. The Great Forever
27. All For You
28. No Sleeep
29. That’s the Way Love Goes
30. The Velvet Rope

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