(November 11, 2022). Two things happened in the winter of 1986 that changed the music world forever.
First, on January 23, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which had been established only a few years earlier, got started by inducting its first class…an undeniable cohort of ten of modern music’s icons whose names had been synonymous with rock and roll since its inception and who, with their induction into music’s then-newest hall, would forever be remembered as its pioneers.
Twelve days later, on February 4, a still-teenage Janet Jackson released an album that would catapult both the youngest member of the famed Jackson family and her newfound producers—former Time members Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis—to superstar status.
The album was Control, Janet’s third LP overall but the first to make people really take notice of the youngest Jackson, the littlest sister whose most notable successes up to that point had been her acting stints on TV shows like Good Times, Fame and Diff’rent Strokes.
But Control was different from Janet’s first two albums (her self-titled debut in 1982 and Dream Street in 1984). Control was the young 19-year-old’s breakthrough LP, a musical declaration of independence from that same famous Jackson family—namely father Joe’s domineering management style and, to a lesser extent, her big brother Michael’s enormous shadow.
It also marked Janet’s long-awaited transition into womanhood with bold, hard-hitting songs about bad behaving (“Nasty”) boys, asserting oneself in relationships (“What Have You Done For Me Lately” and “The Pleasure Principle”), and giving into temptation (who could forget Janet’s sensual, French pillow talk in album closer “Funny How Time Flies”?).
Musically, the album offered a fresher sound for Janet as well, with gritty, synth-and percussion-heavy, Minneapolis pop-funk courtesy of Jam & Lewis, which the two men had employed to a lesser degree of crossover success on their earlier clients’ albums like those by Cherrelle, Alexander O’Neal and S.O.S. Band.
Even Janet’s look was fresher than before. The album’s cover showed a then-19-year-old Jackson with bigger-than-life hair fabulously coiffed to one side in a now-famous up-do and her adult frame draped in a black, buttoned-down, shoulder-padded jacket—all of which was positioned against a red background with yellow outlines accentuating Janet’s striking pose.
Only the album’s well-choreographed music videos outdid the album’s cover in terms of presenting the new and improved Janet Jackson to the world and to a quickly expanding fan base.
Similarly, in Janet, the songwriting/production team of Jam & Lewis finally had that pop-friendly artist to take them over the top. At a time when record producers—particularly Black ones (think Narada Michael Walden, Kashif, Leon Sylvers, L.A. Reid & Babyface)—were gaining as much notoriety as the artists they recorded, if not more, Jam & Lewis rode Control and its success to a new level of popularity and even appeared in the music video for the album’s title track, leaving no doubt whose product it was.
Control’s success was major, with one hit single after another from the album topping the Billboard soul charts and crossing over to top-five pop as well. It eventually sold more than six million copies, making Control the biggest selling album by a Black female at the time and establishing Janet, Jimmy and Terry as household names.
It was a level of success neither Janet nor Jam & Lewis had experienced before, and both entities would parlay their 1986 accomplishments into even more hits—together and apart—from that year through the remainder of the 20th century and well into the new millennium.
Yet, even with the Control phenomenon being what it was, no one could have imagined in 1986 that someday all three amazing talents—Janet, Jimmy and Terry—would someday be in the same hall of fame whose only members at the time were pioneering rockers the likes of Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley.
Even as recently as five years ago it wasn’t considered a fete accompli as neither Janet nor Jam & Lewis had even been nominated for the honor, even as the Rock Hall’s inductee list had grown to hundreds and included everything from rockers to rappers and from famed producers to record label executives.
Fast forward to 2022.
On November 5 this year, during the Rock Hall’s 37th annual induction ceremony at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, Janet Jackson—a member of the Class of ‘19–inducted Jam & Lewis to the famed Hall, a fitting tribute given their symbiotic rise to superstardom that began 36 years earlier with Control, just as the Rock Hall had recognized its first members.
This year’s ceremony was even more poignant considering that the last surviving of those first ten inducted rock and rollers—Jerry Lee Lewis—had just passed away days earlier, leaving the Rock Hall’s newest members to carry on the legacy those pioneers had begun nearly 70 years earlier.
But perhaps there was no better nod to the past than Janet’s chosen appearance for the occasion.
In a clear attempt to mimic that famous Control album cover, the still-beautiful Jackson appeared at the induction ceremony with an all-black ensemble that included similarly angled shoulder pads and that same, big curly up-do draped to one side—a striking look that cloned her 19-year-old self to near perfection!
But as she appeared onstage to the roar of cheers and applause as the song “Control” played behind her, Jackson left no doubt whose night it really was.
She opened the tribute to Jam & Lewis with these words, “As everybody knows, I grew up with no shortage of big brothers to look up to and I had a father who inspired and encouraged me. But my extended brothers and closest artistic collaborators are Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.”
She went on to say how they grew up together in the music industry and how they felt like kids playing in a sandbox when they created what would become the Control album.
Of course, Janet, Jimmy and Terry weren’t kids then. And Control certainly wasn’t child’s play.
It was a stroke of creative genius by its three principles Janet Jackson, James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III, and Terry Lewis.
And what better way for Janet to pay homage at Jam & Lewis’ RRHOF induction ceremony than by recreating the look that captured the era and the essence of the album that was the catalyst for all three to eventually get there!
Congratulations, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (and, once again, Janet) on your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entries!
Rock Hall commentator DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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