Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Janet Jackson B.C. (Before Control) AKA The Limits Of Nepotism

Just when the world thought it had enough Jacksons.

There are times when I forget that Janet Jackson is/was Michael Jackson's sister, and is/was indeed a member of the whole Jackson family entertainment enterprise. I'll bet there are times when Janet forgets it too. And who can blame her? I don't know if being a Jackson helped or hindered her, but you have to stop and think: what are the odds? There are plenty of siblings of pop superstars who don't amount to squat. For example, Paul McCartney's brother Mike had a couple of hits (in a band called The Scaffold, in which he went by the name of Mike McGear!), but that was it. The career of Janet Jackson wasn't written in the stars. I mean, not every family is blessed with the talent of, say, the Kardashians.

Because Janet Jackson was huge.

But even with the industry's greatest head-start, it wasn't a straight shoot to the top. People might remember Control coming out in 1986 and recall to themselves, "Yeah, what a great debut album!" Except ... hey, you know me too well. It wasn't even her second album. Come with me, if you will, to a world where Janet Jackson was the afterthought of the Jackson clan.

For a Jackson in 1982, getting a record contract was like a rich kid getting a shiny new sports car. Who cares if you really wanted one? Who cares if you didn't even know how to drive? Also, imagine a time when Janet Jackson was better known as an actress (!). From Wikipedia:
Jackson had initially desired to become a horse racing jockey or entertainment lawyer, with plans to support herself through acting. Despite this, she was anticipated to pursue a career in entertainment, and considered the idea after recording herself in the studio ... She began acting in the variety show The Jacksons in 1976. In 1977, she was selected to have a starring role as Penny Gordon Woods in the sitcom Good Times. She later starred in A New Kind of Family before joining the cast of Diff'rent Strokes, portraying Charlene Duprey for two years.
Horse racing jockey? That's like when I was in kindergarten and I used to tell people I wanted to grow up to be a fireman. Fireman? What the fuck did I know? Anyway, as far as I can tell, her first two albums were like vanity projects. Nevertheless, because (for reasons unknown to even the wisest of our contemporary philosophers) I love almost every last drop of '80s music, I would not say that Janet Jackson and Dream Street are particularly "bad." But what's interesting about them is that they are impressively ... generic. They possess no unique vision, or quirky character. They sound exactly like what you'd think they'd sound like. They sound like Off The Wall outtakes. They sound like Kool & The Gang's hairbrush lint. But hey, maybe some people are into that sort of thing.

Besides, when Everybody's Favorite Abusive Father is your manager, what do you really expect? Apparently, when he wasn't beating the skin pigment out of Michael, family patriarch Joe fancied himself some kind of record producer. Not everyone agreed, including AMG's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who gives Janet Jackson two stars:
On her eponymous debut album, Janet Jackson demonstrates no distinctive musical personality of her own, which isn't surprising considering that she was in her teens. If her producers had concocted a sharper set of songs and more interesting beats, Janet Jackson might have been a pleasant set of sunny dance-pop, but as it stands, only "Young Love" stands out among the undistinguished, sub-disco thumpers and drippy ballads.

Ewww! Drippy! Time to wring out Joe's jheri curl. Her second album, Dream Street, plays more like Late Night Cough Syrup-Induced Hallucination Street. Weirdness abounds: "Two To The Power Of Love" is a duet with Pre-Beatles British pop legend Cliff Richard, while the title track was co-written by frequent Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder collaborator Pete Bellotte. Also, a certain Gloved One lends some unmistakable background whoops and hollers to "Don't Stand Another Chance."

I think if Dream Street had been Janet's last album, AMG would have given it four stars and designated it as the album "pick" and a hidden Jackson family gem, but in light of what followed, sure, another two star rating is fair. I'll say this: the closing trio of "Hold Back The Tears," "All My Love To You," and "If It Takes All Night" are better than their titles, seemingly generated by an Apple IIe "Name Your Top 40 Single" computer program, would suggest.

In the end, a family name can only get you so far - on the Billboard pop chart at least, as Janet Jackson hit #63, while Dream Street bottomed out at #147. Damn. We're talking about the peak of Thriller here. Even the Doors albums without Jim Morrison did better than that. However, on the R&B charts, she was not exactly a joke, with the albums peaking at #6 and #19, while "Young Love," "Say You Do," "Come Give Your Love To Me," and "Don't Stand Another Chance" all peaked in the R&B top 20.

Maybe her heart wasn't really in it. Maybe she just recorded those albums to get Dad off her back. Hey, not everybody's cut out to be a pop star - even a Jackson. Two flop albums should have been the end of this particular musical career. It turns out the only way for Janet to live up to the Jackson family name ... was to flee the Jackson family.


Herr Zrbo said...

Sorry to comment so long after this post went up but once again I am in awe of Solid Gold. First off, it's great how staged the whole thing is, but what I really love is how during the breakdown the two hosts come in (both of whom I have a vague recollection of) and introduce the show while Janet goes off to dance with one of the background dancers. It's like you've come in during the middle of a performance and your friends are filling you in on what's going on. Keep it up Solid Gold, you're doing great.

Little Earl said...

Hey, maybe you've got short-term memory loss and you can't remember what you're watching, OK? And to think, I almost went with the American Bandstand performance. Deep down, I guess I knew that nothing tops canned banter such as Rex Smith's "There's a great line-up ahead, so stay tuned, especially if you want to hear more about that ever-popular subject, young luuh-uuuve." Look at the way his head bobbles at the end there.