29 November 2020

"When I Think of You" by Janet Jackson (1986)

The cover to Janet Jackson's When I Think of You (1986)
from the album she dropped that same year, Control.


Recently I was doing research on the Jackson 5.  And while in the midst of such I had came to a startling realization.  Yes, the constant presence of his (big) brothers early in his career logically helped Michael Jackson become grounded in the music industry.  But none of his siblings, outside of Janet, actually contributed to his immense fame in adulthood.  Now I know Jermaine may have had a hit or two, and cheesus used to play the damn out of Rebbie Jackson's Centipede (1984).  But only Janet proved herself successful enough entertainment-wise on a level worthy of being a sibling of Michael Jackson.

Michael (1958) was about seven and-a-half years older than Janet (1966).

So then after coming to that conclusion I was like okay, let me write an article about Janet Jackson.  Then it came down to ascertaining which of her songs, When I Think of You or that track she did with Q-Tip, was actually my favorite.  Ultimately, even though I would say the latter has more of a timeless quality, I went with the former because it's older and affords more of a reason to delve more into Janet's history.


And historically When I Think of You is in fact a significant song as it was the first time Miss Jackson, who went on to become one of the most-successful female singers ever, topped the Billboard Hot 100.  (She's achieved 10 number ones on the Hot 100 as of 2001).  It has also garnered gold certification in the US and has made it onto 10 music charts around the world.

Now going back to doing Michael justice, when this song made it to number 1 it also made Janet and Michael the only two siblings in history to both individually top the Hot 100.  And even now, over 30 years later, that's an achievement that's still yet to be matched.

When I Think of You, despite being an undeniable hit, didn't sell like crazy.  But it is the song which put Janet Jackson on the road to superstardom in a way that legitimized the Jacksons as a genuine musical family.  In fact even as I'm writing this article Michael Jackson's daughter (?) Paris just dropped her first song.  And that's what you call a true musical legacy - like Bob Marley for instance - that when anyone in your immediate family decides to come out with a track, the industry has to at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

Janet Jackson is in fact the youngest member of
the Jackson family.  But as you can see, even from
early on she already knew what time it was.


In fact Janet Jackson herself was far from what you would call a musical prodigy.  That's a somewhat-euphemistic way of saying that her first two albums before Control (1986) - with her debut project coming out when she was 16 years old - both "bombed".  Meanwhile if you or I were lucky enough to get signed to a record label and dropped even one corny album, our music careers would pretty much be over.  But again, this is not only a Jackson we're talking about but also one who didn't give in easily.  So as mentioned above, A&M Records still gave her the benefit of the doubt with Control.

Janet Jackson in the studio with Jimmy Jam (left)
and Terry Lewis (right) circa 1993. The pair produced
of her aforementioned 10 Hot 100 number 1s.

And this time around she not only 'got out from under her father' but also employed the services of producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.  And even though you rarely hear about them these days, back in the dawgs they were amongst the musicians who defined the sound of R&B.  And interestingly out of the numerous hits they help create - working alongside the likes of Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey and the late George Michael - the artist they are most known for partnering with is indeed Janet Jackson.  And in addition to producing When I Think of You they also wrote the song, with Janet also being a co-writer.

Moreover outside of this track, they produced other hits from Control which went on to define Miss Janet's music career such as Nasty and the equally-unforgettable What Have You Done for Me Lately.  And by the time all was said and done, the album proved successful enough the earn the pair a Producer of the Year Grammy Award.


Meanwhile the music video was directed by an industry vet named Julien TempleAccording to IMDb it features Paula Abdul (although I couldn't spot her anywhere offhand).  It is also said to contain two of Janet's nephews (via her brother Tito), Taryll and TJ Jackson.  The pair later went on to become two-thirds of 3T, the group who dropped what I remember to be a slightly-frightening music video alongside uncle Micheal (which would be 1995's Why).  You may also notice that Janet is a bit on the thick side in the clip.  I remember back in the days there were rumors of her having weight loss surgery, but according to the singer herself those were lies.  Yet either way, it's pretty obvious comparing her then to now that she's had facial surgery.  And in noticing how pretty she was back then, well, let's just say it's bit challenging to understand how she rationalized that decision even though at the end of the day we know that she (and others) followed the lead of MJ.


And now comes to the real nitty-gritty, actually analyzing what the song means.  To be totally honest even though this is one of my favorites, I don't know any of the words to the actual verses.  However I would presume it's about, you know, love.  And whereas the wording isn't anything even remotely complex, the two verses do take slightly-different approaches to the matter at hand.

In the first, the singer is telling her sweetheart that whenever she's stressed out, thinking of him calms her down.  And the second verse is somewhat similar, whereas she likens dude to an anti-depressant.  But she also alludes to the notion of her love for him continually growing as time progresses.  Indeed when she thinks of him her thoughts doesn't drift to the things she don't like, you know, like a normal lover would do.  Rather whenever he comes to mind, 'all she thinks about is their love'.  So it really does sound like Janet is portraying the role of someone who is in the early stages of a romance, before you start also noticing things about that special someone which turn you off.  But I'm not trying to spoil the mood or anything.  After all, Janet was a tender 20 years old when this track came out.  So it's like, I just wonder if she'd be privy to drop a song like this today.


To me the 1980s and the mega-success of soloists such as Janet Jackson and Madonna marked a shift in the music industry.  Janet was someone who got her foot in the door due to, as aforementioned, the success of Michael Jackson in particular.  In other words she was not born with natural singing talent, as was Michael.  In fact she has an average singing voice, albeit one that has been thoroughly trained and on this track one can even say computerized.  Or stated otherwise, Janet's talent didn't make her a star; her drive did.  And since the 80s it has become more common for vocalists, who really don't possess anymore singing talent than the next man, to blow up.  Or let's put it like this - nowadays a pop musician's drive is perhaps even more important than his or her talent.

And this isn't a diss or anything, not as far as Janet is concerned.  Whereas she and Michael may not have been as buddy-buddy as some of us would like to think, again it was her efforts which truly legitimized the Jacksons, as a whole, as a musical family.  And she was one of the premiere artists who defined late 20th century music.  So I may just follow-up this article by researching Got Til It's Gone, i.e. the track she dropped with Q-Tip in 1997.

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