If – Janet Jackson (janet, 1993)
Starting out with a jagged sample from The Supremes and a fuzzed-out guitar lick copped from Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” the song “If” was a genre-bending tour de force from the freshly sexually liberated Janet Jackson.
Released as the second single from her fifth studio album ‘janet.’, the song had the chore of following up the ridiculously popular “That’s the Way Love Goes”. A thankless task to be sure, but instead of trying to recapture that kind of vibe, Jackson swerved and served up something completely different. Before shows like “Glee” made mash-ups popular, a song like this still stood out for combining her synth-pop style with heavy rock elements, dance club culture and even a bit of trip-hop into one awe-striking brew. While this song only peaked at #4 on the charts, it’s long-lasting impact is arguably as big a deal as any other single song in her discography. And the video!
My goodness if you were 18 like I was when this came out it gave you an entirely new appreciation for Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty J). I thought Paula Abdul got my blood pumping with her “Cold-Hearted” video in the summer of 1989, but it was all I could do to contain my excitement when I saw the intense choreography and sheer sexuality put on display on this track. The JJ I grew up with was the sweet Penny on ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ and moved on up to singing about “When I Think of You”. That cover she did for the album and ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine was pretty titillating, but this was nearly soft-core porn on a dance floor! Now she was a sex kitten with no shame. And I can’t say I minded the transformation.
Produced by longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and written with Motown legend Harvey Fuqua, this song is my favorite JJ jam by a country mile. It’s got a great beat, features Janet using her upper and lower vocal register with a deft touch and is just fun to crank up and dance to. As a song it’s pretty bad-ass and chicks dig it too. She had toyed with this territory in “Black Cat” on the Rhythm Nation album, but she fully-blossomed and found her groove thing on this tremendous track. If she was your woman oh the things she’d do to you, but she’s not so she won’t. Wow!