Once upon a time, she was just the little kid sister to one of the most famous pop groups in the world. But by the late 1980s, Janet Jackson was a massive solo star in her own right, and anticipation was at fever pitch as she released her new solo project, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, internationally on September 18, 1989.
Jackson had struggled to find her own sound and personality with her self-titled debut A&M album in 1982. The 1984 follow-up Dream Street contained an incongruous but engaging duet with British pop king Cliff Richard, “Two To The Power Of Love.” But when she started working with the mighty writing and production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, there was no stopping them. The Control album of 1986 sold five million copies in the US and some 14m worldwide, and Rhythm Nation was to match that feat.
The “1814” in the title seemed cryptic to many, but was later explained by Jackson as a logical choice. When she was writing the title track with Harris and Lewis, “I was kidding around, saying, ‘God, you guys, I feel like this could be the national anthem for the 90s,” she said. “Just by a crazy chance we decided to look up when Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem, and it was September 14, 1814.”
“At the time, we were trying to make some statements about worldly things,” Terry Lewis told Billboard of the album in 2014. “We used to talk about everything before we would even engage in starting a song. We went on talking tirades, just conversational tirades, trying to figure out not only what was going on in the world, but what was going on in Janet’s head.
‘You have to bring some awareness’
“In the history of music, there’s always been a social commentary with most artists that were substantial artists. You can only talk about so much love and clubs. You have to bring some awareness and have a voice in the times that you live in.”
The accolades rained down on Rhythm Nation 1814, which went on to be placed at No.275 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. It continued in the Control vein of edgy, inventive funk, dance and pure pop music with brilliant crossover hooks and big production, highly choreographed videos. It went on to top the Billboard 200 for four weeks (Control had achieved two) and the new album’s lead single “Miss You Much” also had a month atop the Hot 100.
The title track then went to No.2, after which came another US No.1 with “Escapade,” a No.4 with “Alright,” No.2 with “Come Back To Me,” another chart-topper in the rocky “Black Cat,” (written by Jackson on her own and featuring Vernon Reid of Living Colour on lead guitar), another pop No.1 in “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” and a Top 5 success with “State Of The World.” That made for an incredible total of eight major hits from one album, as Jackson ruled her own Rhythm Nation.
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