Deep Album Cuts Vol. 47: Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is an artist I've always wanted to do for this series, and since her 11th album Unbreakable is out this week, I stopped procrastinating. In some ways she's ideal for it, and in other ways she's not. She's one of the most impressively successful singles artists of all time, one of the people who really mastered the art of the singles campaign -- for instance, 2 of the only 7 albums to have spun off six top 5 hits were by Janet. Her brother Michael also made 2 of them, and of course he remains one of the few to ever travel in the same pop stratosphere.

We know that great women often only get to show us their greatness if they share a famous name with a brother or father or husband. And we know that that's an indictment of the world we live in, and not those women. We know there's a very strong case to be made for Janet's catalog being deeper, more satisfying and consistent, with more front-to-back enjoyable albums, than certain other people in her family, but we don't need to talk about that. Greatness is greatness.

Janet Jackson Deep Album Cuts (Spotify / Tidal):

1. Funky Big Band
2. What About
3. Lonely
4. He Doesn't Know I'm Alive
5. Empty
6. The 1 featuring Missy Elliott
7. When We Oooo
8. SloLove
9. Get It Out Me
10. The Knowledge
11. New Agenda featuring Chuck D
12. Livin' In A World (They Didn't Make)
13. Pretty Boy
14. You'll Never Find (A Love Like Mine)
15. You Can Be Mine
16. Velvet Rope featuring Vanessa-Mae
17. This Time

Track 13 from Janet Jackson (1982)
Track 14 from Dream Street (1984)
Tracks 4 and 15 from Control (1986)
Tracks 3, 10 and 12 from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
Tracks 1, 11 and 17 from janet. (1993)
Tracks 2, 5 and 16 from The Velvet Rope (1997)
Track 7 from All For You (2001)
Track 8 from Damita Jo (2004)
Track 9 from 20 Y.O. (2006)
Track 6 from Discipline (2008)

Janet Jackson's 10 albums before Unbreakable can be cleanly divided into two halves -- the 5 multiplatinum blockbusters in which she reigned over the pop charts with #1 singles, and the rest. The first two albums got lost in the shuffle of all the Jacksons who had records on the shelves, with Jermaine and Rebbie outselling her at the time (Janet did a little better than La Toya, at least). And then, on the heels an ill-fated Super Bowl halftime performance in 2004, Janet's sales and airplay plummeted over the course of three back-to-back albums. It's only after a 7-year break that it feels like a good time to welcome her back, to appreciate the whole catalog, to maybe forget that goddamn halftime show.

It was fun to dive into those early albums that are but a footnote in Janet's career now. Janet Jackson is a bit of an Off The Wall wannabe, but the guileless joy of her voice was already fully formed at that point. Dream Street had tracks by Georgio Moroder, but the best parts, including "Pretty Boy," were produced by The Time guitarist Jesse Johnson, making him the first of 5 members of The Time to have produced Janet Jackson songs (Everyone knows about Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, but Jellybean Johnson produced "Black Cat" and Monte Moir produced "The Pleasure Principle"). Jesse Johnson played guitar on Rhythm Nation but never produced for her again.

Control is a wonderful album, but in some way it stands apart from the rest of her hit records. It's just 9 tracks, 7 of which were singles, much like Thriller (even one of the two Control deep cuts, "You Can Be Mine," has a similar title to the Thriller deep cut "Baby Be Mine"). The next 7 albums, however, follow a different format, with short interludes between nearly every song, ballooning the tracklists out to as many as 28 tracks. Those interludes are largely spoken, sometimes outright explaining what the song or the album is about instead of just letting the music speak for itself, and in some ways it's refreshing to free the deep cuts from the context of those skits. But the way she wove them into most of her albums also illustrates just how seriously she takes the art of the album, and how much she worked to give hers a certain personal touch and texture that other pop stars' albums lacked.

Velvet Rope is my favorite of her albums, and also the one that I think has been served well by the passage of time. It sold half of what its immediate predecessors sold, but she was such a giant star that it was still one of the biggest albums of the 1997. And it stands so far apart from anything anyone else was making on that scale in that year, and feels so prescient today, in an era of intensely personal, kinky, genre-bending R&B. You could drop "Empty" onto an album by a new artist today and people would go apeshit for it.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
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