Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Janet Jackson's "Number Ones" Gathers Big Hits

Janet Jackson hails from one of the greatest American music dynasties: The Jacksons. It wasn’t just an everyday task when she released her eponymous debut in 1982 to start her own musical career.

Taking a more direct hand with her music in 1986 on her third LP Control, Ms. Jackson, alongside Minneapolis knob twirlers and continuous producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, crafted a seamless mixture of dance, funk, hip-hop, and pop rooted firm in R&B traditions.

 The rest, as they say, is history. Number Ones (2009) is Janet Jackson’s second official “best of” package, the first being Design of a Decade: 1986/1996 (1996) which focused solely on her A&M Records output. Number Ones, led again by A&M Records, attempts a lofty step forward by licensing her run of singles from her successful tenure at Virgin Records (1993-2006) and her brief stint at Island/Def Jam Records (2007-2008). The songs featured have all hit “number one” on some chart or another, whether it was an international chart or one of three U.S. Billboard charts (Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop, Hot Dance/Club Play Chart.) Effectively, in the United States alone, Jackson has attained 11 pop number ones, 16 R&B number ones, and 18 dance number ones.

Spread across two-discs, a general overview is given of Jackson’s trajectory musically. Her sweetly toned and sturdy voice led her self-empowering funk attacks such as “The Pleasure Principle” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” The themes ranged from social consciousness to the carnal, but Jackson’s momentum in continually evolving her uptempo aesthetic never faltered on the metallic “Rhythm Nation” or the dramatic scale of “If.” "If" made delicious use of The Supremes single “Someday We’ll Be Together” during the introduction and infamous breakdown.

Jackson tended to burn brightest on her ballads. “Let’s Wait Awhile” represented here in its single/video edit, is as heart tugging as it was at the time of its release. The sparse “Again” sparkles, giving way to an extremely fragile, poignant ending. Even the fusion of jazz and hip-hop on her sleeper lead single from The Velvet Rope (1997), “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” with A Tribe Called Quest member Q-Tip gives a broader view into how Janet Jackson uses her voice.

Several other chestnuts like the jubilant duet between the late soul balladeer Luther Vandross on “The Best Things In Life Are Free,” her infectious pairing with jazz great /A&M founder Herb Alpert on “Diamonds,” and the sticky affair “What’s It Gonna Be?” with Busta Rhymes glimpse into the versatility of Jackson’s collaborations. “Scream” her classic dark pair-up with her iconic brother Michael can’t go without mention. It fashions the greatest sibling partnership on record to date with its soaring space-age rock-R&B tensions.

Jackson also demonstrates that outside of her creative, critical, and commercial peak that she continued to turn out classic material. “All Nite (Don’t Stop),” an alluringly marvelous mixture of contemporary European disco motifs & American urban grit, is possibly her finest dance single to date. The amber hued shuffle of “Call On Me” is flirty and her most recent hit “Feedback” had her refining her stake in the electro music realm. Despite the public blackballing at pop radio, post-Superbowl 2004, she unfairly endured during the period these records were out, the songs were embraced at both black and dance radio.

Unfortunately A&M shortchanges buyers by leaving out the clutch of singles from Jackson’s first two records at A&M: Janet Jackson (1982) and Dream Street (1984) which included her first forays into the R&B Top 10 with the sunny splash of “Say You Do” or the frenetic “Don’t Stand Another Chance.” Ironically, these were included as an attached “EP” to her first hits disc Design of a Decade on the international edition, but have yet to make their American debut.

On the one new song, and single produced by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, “Make Me” is study in the classic Minneapolis sonics that Jackson has trademarked throughout her career. Constructed on top of a bold, neon-like keyboard riff and riotous back beat, Jackson dips into her best Michael Jackson-esque “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” vocal technique. Already, it has become an instant Janet Jackson favorite among fans.

"Make Me"
Directed By: Robert Hales

Number Ones simply grazes the legacy of Janet Jackson’s output, in truth constricting more than complimenting her discography. There is still a large batch of singles and album tracks that are missing, but in the meantime Number Ones will serve as a subdued introduction and reminder of Janet Jackson’s musical legend.-QH

[Editor's Note: Originally published & written by Quentin Harrison (me) in the November 24th-December 1st, 2009 issue of The Dayton City Paper. Number Ones available at any and all music retailers, for more information on Janet Jackson visit:]

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