Today in music history: Janet Jackson reaches No. 1 with “Control”

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On this date in 1986, Janet Jackson began a two-week stint at No. 1 with her “Control” album. The recording was full of hits and served as a foreshadowing of the music to come from Jackson’s later album’s, including 1989’s “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.”

“Control” was full of songs that persist as classic’s from Jackson’s catalog. “Control” is largely considered the album that established her as an artist in her own right and not just as a member of her show business dynasty family.

The popularity of “Control” by Janet Jackson

While the actual factors that impact an album reaching the top of the charts is often difficult to pinpoint, sometimes there are circumstances that aid an album’s popularity.

In 1986, r&b was dominated by males, such Morris Day and The Time, Prince and a handful of newcomers that had releases in 1985 like Ready for the World. Fans of r&b were ready for something new. Also, on the pop side, synth pop and new wave were showing their ages. In short, it did not seem that anyone was doing exactly what Jackson was doing.

And for fans who hadn’t seen Jackson do much since her role as “Penny” on “Good Times,” “Control” was an effective reminder that she had a voice and a vision.

And maybe that was it – – “Control” succeeded because it harnessed Jackson’s vision. In addition, young women agreed with her. The protest against boorish male behavior in “Nasty” and the self-determining ethos of “Control” (the title track), along with the ever popular ballads, such as “Let’s Wait A While,” made “Control” a fan favorite. Not to mention that “Let’s Wait A While” seemed to be an urban high school talent show staple. Even adults in the era could cheer for a song that seemed to promote waiting before engaging in sexual intimacy.

Aside from the ballads, the popular tracks on “Control” are danceable. In 1986, the idea of going out dancing was as popular as ever. Jackson’s fashion and moves from the videos for “Control,”  “Nasty” and “Pleasure Principle” (except for the chair move, maybe) inspired young women across the US to take charge of their lives. Or put another way, and to use a metaphor from Jackson’s world: the album encouraged listeners to be their own choreographer. Watching Jackson dance in powerful moves wearing black clothes and a bright lip signaled power to viewers. The result was likely the album’s ascent to No. 1.

There are reasons that “Control” reached No. 1. As with other chart-toppers, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the album was so popular. But, the fact that the sound and style of “Control” is still remembered more than 30 years later attests to its classic status.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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3 responses to “Today in music history: Janet Jackson reaches No. 1 with “Control””

  1. It’s not hard to pin-point. There are several factors, the music videos with the choreography helped to push the sales of the album. In addition to that, she’s not hard to look at either – and all that sass was a winning combination that led her to dominate that charts for the following decades.

    • The article is actually about “Control” the album, on which “Pleasure Principle” appears. Since I mention the song, and it is on the album, I thought it was appropriate to include that video.

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