Today is #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay. I normally listen to Janet all day and celebrate that way. But I thought I’d join in the online fun. So to celebrate this year, I thought I’d list my top 10 late-era Janet Jackson songs, which I’m defining as anything recorded or released after All For You. I’m doing this partly because commercially and creatively speaking Janet’s work during this period hasn’t really scaled the same heights as her 1986-2001 output.
But this doesn’t mean that Queen Janet hasn’t dropped some straight fire in the new millennium. She has. But icons always have periods where they are not quite as dominant as they were before. It’s part of what it means to be an icon and have a career spanning decades.
So I’m here to give you just a taste of how dope Janet was capable of being during the last two decades. Check it out after the jump.
Few artists can deliver songs that literally sound like pure joy. Like Escapade and Runaway before it, Daybreak is pure candy. The good kind. The beat is, by turns, cacophonous and smooth – an intoxicating blend that is the most purely infectious thing on this list. It’s one of a handful of perfect songs on 20 Y.O. and should have been a single.
9. Can’t B Good
Janet is well-known for doing sexy and sensual well, for doing sassy well, for doing introspection well. But we rarely celebrate her ability to do wistfulness. Can’t B Good is both remembrance and recognition. Her signature stacked backgrounds hold the song together, but this is actually one of the best examples of Janet’s ability to sing really powerfully even in her head voice. It’s a beautiful lead over one of the best midtempo joints she’s ever done.
Night is a perfect house song. It entrances, thrills and grooves – all at once. It’s the most immediately intoxicating song Janet’s done in the last two decades. I’m still utterly mystified as to why this wasn’t a single.
7. Dream Maker/Euphoria
Dream Maker/Euphoria is one of the most complex compositions Janet’s ever given us. There are several brilliant ideas working at the same time here in stunning combination. There’s the opening (which gets repeated again toward the end of the song) – where Janet recreates perfectly a Motown Jackson 5 sound in both production and vocal. There’s the song’s meaning – a dream of a better world. And there’s the melody – which tempers the idealism with a practicality that gives the song a slight melancholy air that is stunning. It remains my favorite song on Unbreakable and it should have been a single.
6. Put Your Hands On
Janet Damita Jo Jackson always knows where the pocket is. There are really no artists of Janet’s stature who do grooves better than her. Put Your Hands On is the kind of song that makes you want to wind your hips. It sounds like sensual touch, an exhale, and a cuddle.
5. Take Care
This remains my absolute favorite Janet ballad of the last two decades. It sounds like something that could have been on janet. But rather ingeniously Janet flips a lot of those elements from that era on their head. First of all, Janet’s singing more in her chest voice than she usually does on ballads. And the backgrounds aren’t quite as stacked or as prominent as before. And the result is a classic Janet ballad that manages to give us something at once familiar and new.
4. Island Life
Another of Janet’s perfect pop confections (again – no one can make a song literally sound like joy better than Jan), what I love most about Island Life is Janet’s lead vocal. Janet is known for her relatively soft tone, but the times she sings full out are often deceptively powerful and rich. That’s the case here where she’s in her chest voice for most of the song. But it’s the runs and adlibs in full voice at the end that stun. I defy you to not smile from ear to ear when she sings “This one’s for me” and from then on never lets the song go. It’s probably her single best lead vocal ever.
3. What Can I Say
Janet’s forays into production with people other than Jimmy and Terry are often a bit of a crapshoot, but this Rich Harrison joint is perfection. It helps tremendously that these are classic Janet/Terry vocal arrangements (the key change on the bridge is subtlely powerful). Again, Janet’s singing full out and doing little runs that are just lovely. The Damita Jo period was incredibly rich, which resulted in a lot of terrific songs not making the final tracklist. This one should have made the cut along with…
2. Love Me
Next to the decision to record and release Discipline, the decision to leave this amazing Just Blaze joint off of Damita Jo still angers me. The Dallas Austin original version on the album is lovely, but I really wish this version had been a bonus track at least. This is trademark Blaze with trademark Janet vocals. It’s the most thrillingly modern hip-hop inflected song she’s ever made and it is definitely a top 10 of all time Janet song for me.
After reading this list, you probably get that my favorite Janet is a midtempo Janet. It’s that perfect tempo for Janet in chest and head voice. And it gives her space to beguile as only Janet can. Janet has an uncanny ability to write songs that sound exactly like what the lyrics suggest they should. Enjoy literally sounds what I imagine pure relaxation and enjoyment would sound like. When Janet invites the backgrounds to take the song home, the song becomes something practically otherworldly in its ability to convey pleasure. It’s one of her finest songs ever and a top 5 of all time for me.
That’s it. What’s your list?