In September 1989, Janet Jackson released her iconic Rhythm Nation 1814. Her record company wanted a sequel to the successful Control album. Janet had other plans, choosing to make a concept album focusing on racism, poverty, and substance abuse, among other social issues. She threw in some romantic ballads and pop songs too. The formula turned out to be winner. Rhythm went to the top the Billboard charts and sold 12 million records. Here is a ranking of the 12 tracks.
Lonely is pretty basic and boring. Don’t isolate yourself, let others in, blah blah. It’s like a step-by-step guide for hapless loners.
11. Someday is Tonight
This is sequel to “Let’s Wait a While” from Control. Janet lets her boyfriend know she’s finally ready to go all the way. Eh, this wasn’t worth the wait. It tries too hard to be sensual and ends up sounding very cheesy.
10. Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make)
Janet sings about children being corrupted by a shitty world that adults have created A valuable message that gets lost in a sappy ballad. The kids deserved better than this.
I was never a huge fan of Alright. It’s a cute dance track, but nothing special. Great video, though.
8. The Knowledge
The concept here is knowledge equals power. In order to change the world, we need to begin with the children, giving them an education and stressing tolerance. I like her delivery over the hip-hop beat here.
7. State of the World
This a better message song than “Livin’ in a World”. It’s a catchy jam with powerful lyrics about homelessness, bullying, and crime. Something to think about while you dance.
6. Black Cat
Janet lets her inner rock star out in an unexpected turn from her normal sound. She makes the shift effortlessly and rides that electric guitar for all its worth.
This is the perfect road trip song. Getting away with your friends and cranking up radio, as you did in the pre-Spotify days. It makes you want to sing-a long and save our troubles for another day. Indianapolis!
4. Love Will Never Do (Without You)
A sexy fun song. She sings about how people doubted her relationship with her guy because they were so different. In the end, they proved their friends wrong. The video for Love was a big departure for Janet. She was showing more skin and being flirty with the viewer. Giving us a taste of things to come.
3. Come Back to Me
The strings sound amazing on this track. I also like how she uses her lower register as she’s begging her lover to return. My favorite part is when she goes silent for a few seconds and you think it’s over, until she comes rushing back with another verse. It’s a beautiful song.
2. Rhythm Nation
This feels like Janet’s version of “Fight the Power”. She talks about coming together to push back against injustice. In an interview at the time, she said that she felt a responsibility to use her music as a way of inspiring people and bringing about change. Rhythm became a battle cry that resonated for a generation.
1. Miss You Much
I’ll tell your mama, I’ll tell you friends about how much I love this song. It’s classic Janet. A vibrant dance track with a bombastic sound. The other day I heard it played in a new movie and I couldn’t help but dance in my recliner seat. Thirty years later, this is still a hit.