"This is a story about control: my control." So begins Janet Jackson's musical diary about her coming of age.
Growing up in America's first family of pop music, Janet began writing and playing at the age of nine. But Control was her declaration of independence from a family in which a musical career was expected and all business and career decisions were made by an autocratic father. "The Control project represents the first time that I chose to use my ideas on one of my albums," Jackson says.
Jimmy Jam, who coproduced the album with his partner, Terry Lewis, says that the singer desperately desired to make an album that would demonstrate she was capable of standing on her own.
"She wanted to separate from her past two albums, where she had been a singer with no say-so," says Jam. "She was also getting out of a bad marriage and about to start living on her own, away from her family. Being a singer and entertainer was something she had been thrust into before she actually knew that was what she wanted to be."
Working with Jam and Lewis at their Minneapolis studio, Flyte Tyme, provided an excellent environment for such a break. "She came to Minneapolis with just her friend Melanie," says Jam. "There were no bodyguards, no limos. She drove herself around in my Blazer. She didn't have people doing things for her."
Only one of the album's songs, "He Doesn't Know I'm Alive," penned by Flyte Tyme staff writer Spencer Bernard, was in hand when the sessions began. "We worked on the album for two months," says Jam. "But we spent the first week just talking and getting to know each other." Those conversations — in which Jackson talked about her desire to be independent — provided the material for the songs on Control, most of which were co-written by Jam, Lewis and Jackson. Actual recording time for the album, which would eventually sell more than 5 million copies in the U.S., was just three weeks.
Jam says he had no idea that Control would find such a broad audience. "We knew it would be a successful black album," he says. "We tried to make the hardest, funkiest black album — almost a male singer's album. The edginess that's evident in the music on Control is her; that's our interpretation of Janet."
Although Michael Jackson's Thriller had sold 40 million copies worldwide just a few years earlier, Jam says they felt little pressure about working in the shadow of Michael's accomplishment. "Our joke was that we were out to make it so that Janet was no longer Michael's little sister," says Jam, "but rather that Michael was Janet's big brother."
Control succeeded in establishing Janet Jackson as an artist in her own right. Jam also views the album as a late-Eighties watershed in popular music. "It opened radio to funk," he says, "and now that has spread into rap. Before Control it wasn't acceptable to have hard-edged black music on pop radio. Now it's the norm."