Celebrating Janet Jackson’s Commercial Breakthrough Album “Control” 35 Years Later

At the age of 19, Janet Jackson severed ties with her father who was her manager, annulled her marriage to James Debarge and headed to Minneapolis to work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on “Control,” an album that changed their lives.

In February of 1986, Janet Jackson released her third studio album, Control. This album signified a seismic shift for an artist who grew up overshadowed by her talented brothers, The Jackson 5, and her older brother Michael, who 4 years earlier released Thriller, the best-selling album of all time. With the release of Control, Janet Jackson broke her brother’s record for the longest continuous run of singles from one album to stay on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart when her songs lived on the chart for 65 consecutive weeks, eventually selling over 10 million copies.

Listen: Celebrating Janet Jackson’s seminal album Control 35 years after its release.

Prior to Control, Janet Jackson released two solo albums in 1982 and 1984, produced by her father and her brothers, respectively. Neither album did well commercially. She would eventually break ties with her father as her manager and strike up a relationship with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to produce her third solo effort. This songwriting and production duo took a much different approach to working with the 19-year-old artist.

“Nobody had asked her to write, nobody had asked her what she wanted to sing about.” says producer Jimmy Jam, “They just gave her songs and we were like you need to be part of the process here and that’s how the Control record started and obviously ended up being a very pivotal record in all of our careers.”

Seven of the nine songs produced for Control were released as singles. Five of those songs were Top 5 Hits on the Billboard Top 100 Chart. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Janet Jackson created a new sound, and along with that new sound came groundbreaking videos that dominated MTV. Another career that was forever changed working Janet Jackson was that of LA Lakers cheerleader and choreographer Paula Abdul, who worked on 3 of Janet Jackson’s videos. Abdul went on to have a recording career in her own right, but it was working with Janet Jackson that changed everything for her. 

“I was able to create a tremendous amount of stuff for her, and in turn, the two of us together,” recalls Abdul. “Her career exploded and it opened up a huge door for me in choreography because after Janet’s videos were shown… a snowball effect… all these videos kept coming.” 

Control received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year, but lost to Paul Simon’s Graceland. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, however, took home a Grammy trophy for Producer of the Year, opening doors for them to work with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Mariah Carey. Two years later, they would reunite with Janet Jackson for the album Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which surpassed its predecessor by every measure, delivering a Grammy nomination for Janet Jackson for Producer of the Year, making her the first woman to receive that recognition. 

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  • Ann Delisi
    Ann Delisi hosts Essential Music, the Essential Conversations podcast series and the Essential Cooking broadcast and podcast. Born and raised in the Motor City, Ann is a broadcaster, interviewer, producer, music host, storyteller and proud Detroiter.