On “Nasty,” the 1986 single that nearly became her first No. 1 pop hit, Janet Jackson told the world exactly what she thought about a certain overused term of endearment.
“My first name ain’t baby,” she said. “It’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.”
“Nasty” snarled and strutted its way to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and like predecessor “What Have You Done for Me Lately” — the lead single from her landmark Control album — it proved that America was ready to accept Michael’s kid sister as a strong, sexy woman who wouldn’t take no jive.
Mess with her, and she’d tease up her hair, throw on a black blazer with matching jeans and dance all over your sorry ass.
As great as it was to see Janet owning her life and career, it took the lighter, fluffier third Control single, “When I Think of You,” to push her over the edge. It’s a gushy, gooey pop song about losing control and submitting to the power of love, and it topped the charts 28 years ago today, on Oct. 11, 1986.
“When I Think of You” doesn’t have the autobiographical oomph of the two previous Control singles, but it does have a similar sound — a mega-rhythmic hybrid of R&B and pop dreamed up by producers and co-writers James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis.
Former members of the Time and associates of Prince, Jam and Lewis came along at just the right moment. Janet, 19 years old at the time of the recording, had recently annulled her marriage to James DeBarge and broken off business ties with her father, Joseph.
She’d technically released two prior albums, but Control marked the debut of a whole new person and artist. The disc yielded a remarkable five Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits, three of which — “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Nasty,” and the title track — were vehicles for Janet to assert herself and show the world she could be as great as her older siblings, Michael in particular.
Of course, one of the things the world loved about Michael was his sweetness. While he could be a twitching, gasping, crotch-grabbing freakazoid, some of his most beloved hits — everything from “Rock With You” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” to “You Are Not Alone” — are straightforward expressions of love.
It figures, then, that “When I Think of You” was the tune that got his little sis to the top of the mountain.
Janet has since notched nine additional chart-toppers on the Hot 100, the most recent being 2001’s “All For You,” which was also produced by Jam and Lewis. Though many are great, none — not even “Escapade,” one of four No. 1 smashes from her follow-up, Rhythm Nation 1814 — match the sheer exuberance of “When I Think of You.”
Maybe it’s “baby,” that previously off-limits word. She sings it here a lucky seven times.