Today is Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. If you don’t know why, Google it. It has to do with the Super Bowl incident.
In honor of that, I have compiled a list and a YouTube playlist of my favorite Janet Jackson songs. It includes major hits that you know and love, some underappreciated gems that you may have forgotten about, some album cuts you may have never heard, and some dance remixes that were among my favorites to play back in the day. I couldn’t rank them – no one ranks Miss Jackson – so they’re in alphabetical order.
All For You
The lead single from the 2001 album of the same name, this playful song wants you to both get up and get down, with a bouncy bass line and naughty lyrics like “Got a nice package all right, guess I’m gonna have to ride it tonight.” You go, Janet. Go for the “Single Mix” (sometimes called the “Video Mix”) version of this song, which is mostly the same as the album track only with a breakdown in the middle that features samples of her own “Pleasure Principle” and “Go Deep” and “Let the Music Play” by Shannon.
There are several versions of this sultry, dance floor jam but the album cut and the Sander Kleinenberg remix are the two worth focusing on. The original has an infectious beat that just kind of makes you want to shake your hips, preferably with someone else close by. Meanwhile, the Sander mix is EDC ready, with a breakdown and build to a bass drop (starting at around 1 minute) that is best appreciated with the volume turned up to 11.
This is a great example of the infectious charm of a lot of Janet’s songs, especially her earlier work. If you don’t want to smile while listening to this, there’s something wrong with you. Don’t miss the Zoot Suit era video with a cameos from Cab Calloway, Cyd Charisse, and The Nicholas Brothers!
Because of Love
While some of Janet’s songs sound like products of their era, this one feels timeless to me and could be on the radio right now. It has shades of “Love Will Never Do Without You,” but the layered vocals and bouncy beat make it one of my favorites.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
Janet Jackson. Luther Vandross. I don’t know what else you need to know, but this song from the soundtrack of the Damon Wayans movie “Mo Money” is pure pop/dance pleasure and should be required listening at wedding receptions everywhere. And in what I’ve decided is a nod to “The Golden Girls,” they actually work in the word “thrice.” Check out the video version with vocal cameos from members of Bell Biv DiVoe.
Most of Janet’s work was straight ahead pop and dance, but every now and then she threw in some rock elements like the hard driving drums and guitars on this track from “Rhythm Nation.” While it may not reach the arena rock heights it aspires to, you can still do a little head banging without shame. Interesting trivia… this was Janet’s first solo song writing credit.
Come On Get Up
Although it was only released as a single in Japan, this track from 2001’s “All For You” remains one of my all time favorite Janet songs. I will be using the word infectious a lot in this list, but perhaps nowhere else is it as apt a descriptor. How do you not want to get up and dance when this comes on?
Every now and then a song and an artist come together to create a perfect statement, and this was one of those times. It not only helped to establish Janet’s identity as separate from her famous family, it solidified her position as a chart topper for decades to come. It’s hard to believe she was only 19 years old when this album came out! Even though the differences are subtle, I prefer the “Video Mix” (directed by Mary Lambert!) of the song, which strips out some of the spacy synth filigree heard on the album cut.
This single from Janet’s 2015 album “Unbreakable” did well on the R&B charts but didn’t really make much of an impact on pop radio, which is too bad. The stutter step beat, the popping bass line, and the urgent “Dammn Baby” shouts make it undeniable. The breakdown at about 2 minutes is divine, but make sure you stick around for her final “Dammmmmmmmn” at the end. It’s perfect.
Doesn’t Really Matter
This 2000 single from the “Nutty Professor” soundtrack is another that probably qualifies for the “infectious” moniker. The unconditional love lyrics are a little silly at times (“Doesn’t really matter what the eye is seeing, ‘cause I’m in love with the inner being”), but they come so fast and furious that it’s hard not to just groove along. Listen closely at the end for one of many times when Janet makes a mistake but they not only kept it, but called it out. The video is pretty cool, too, with a futuristic theme and a dance routine on a giant tilting platform that made it one of the most expensive videos ever made at the time.
Absolutely no road trip playlist is complete without this song, with its put-the-top-down, “leave your troubles behind” vibe. The official video was filmed at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot and features a carnival theme but there’s another version that was done at LAX as a commercial for Japan Airlines.
The propulsive dance floor banger is driven by a drumline enhanced beat and literal feedback under her trademark layered vocals giving it a sexy, almost mysterious air. Check out the space vixen/leather queen video.
Feels So Right
This silky-smooth mid-tempo groove was never released as a single from the 2001 album “All For You,” but it probably should have been. The glistening production and effortless vocals make this a great jam that you’d want to play on a lazy summer afternoon.
We could probably start and stop with the song’s fun structure – a mellow, low-key verse that explodes into a funky, horn-fueled chorus. But the song’s real power is in its LGBT empowering lyrics that could have been the prototype for the “love is love is love” mantra that came many years later.
There are several remixes of this including a Masters at Work club workout and a Timabaland hip hop version that features a verse by Missy Elliott, but they don’t really compare to the original, a funky, sexy ode to partying all night. It’s one of the lighter songs from what is probably my favorite Janet album, “The Velvet Rope” (1997).
Got ‘Til It’s Gone
Riffing off of “Big Yellow Taxi,” the callouts of “Joni Mitchell never lies” set the beat for this fantastic R&B gem. The syncopated rhythm, the silky vocals, the stripped down production (complete with a scratchy vinyl sound), and the killer rap from Q-Tip make this one of my all time favorites.
I Get Lonely
The original album version is a gorgeous, sultry slow jam, but I have to tip my hat to the Jason Nevins remix, an uplifting, hands in the air, house classic that used to fill the dance floor when I was a DJ. If I was going to make a list of my top 100 club songs of all time, this one would be on it.
If (Single Version)
“If I was your girl, oh the things I’d do to you. I’d make you call out my name, I’d ask who it belongs to.” Those are some damn sexy lyrics right there. I’m including two versions of the song because they are so completely different and yet so fantastic that they deserve separate listings. The single version is a funky, dark, rock-influenced jam with a video that has one of the best dance breaks ever (at around 3:30). Play this version if you want to get lucky tonight.
If (Brothers in Rhythm House Mix)
Same song, yet completely different song. The whole thing is anchored by a driving, percussive piano accompaniment over a non-stop drum beat that made it wholly unique on the dance floor. While the original version makes you want to get down, this one make you want to get up and you can read that any old way you want to.
Just a Little While
This song is part of the reason we have Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. It was the lead single from her 2004 album “Damita Jo” and would probably have been a huge hit but it was released the day after her appearance on the Super Bowl. Yes, that one. She got blacklisted from most major radio stations and the single never reached the kind of heights it deserved. Just take a listen to the upbeat, kind of retro, buzzy bop and tell me it shouldn’t have been a smash.
Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Originally envisioned as a duet, Janet wound up singing both the low (male) and high (female) verses on this single from “Rhythm Nation 1814” that I’ve always believed is what love should feel like. It also has one of her best, sexiest videos, directed by Herb Ritts and featuring hot supporting roles for Djimon Hounsou and Antonio Sabato Jr. (before he went insane).
Made For Now
Although this 2018 single didn’t do a lot on mainstream radio, it hit the top of the dance charts making it her 20th number one. I have to admit when I first heard it I was a little underwhelmed, but it has wound up going on high repeat on the playlist I use when I need an uplift. The Caribbean influences and the Spanish language rap from Daddy Yankee are perfect for turning any dark day light.
The Post Disco genre was an evolution of the Disco era where songs had the same kinds of non-stop dance beats but replaced a lot of the 70s flourishes with synths and guitars. Janet never really did any true Post Disco songs but this 2009 single from her “Number Ones” greatest hits album comes close. Listen closely for the lyric and sonic nods to Michael’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
Miss You Much
If I was ranking these songs, this would probably be a contender for the number one spot. The big production with its heavy drumbeat, massive synths, and “wocka wocka” guitar are practically perfect and the multi-layered vocals are pure joy. And of course that video… don’t tell me you didn’t try to learn the choreography at some point!
“My first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet – Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.” Iconic. I don’t know what else needs to be said about it other than the video, directed by Mary Lambert, features choreography and an appearance from Paula Abdul before she made it big on her own.
This is another Janet classic that would fight for a spot at or near the top of a ranked list. The driving beat and the funky bass line are fantastic, but the lyrics hit almost as hard: “I’m not here to feed your insecurities, I wanted you to love me.” I want to know who she was singing that to.
Another delight that was lost in the Super Bowl BS, this old-school jam features a sample from Evelyn Champagne King’s “I’m in Love” and a funky dance beat that sounds straight out of 1982… in a good way!
Following up on her groundbreaking, career-making “Control” album could have been a simple exercise in repeating the formula, but instead she took what she had done and turned it up a few thousand notches with hard hitting, rock-influenced songs like this plea for social justice. One of her best songs and one of her best music videos, too.
This is probably one of Janet’s most underrated songs. Released as a single from her 1995 “Design of a Decade” greatest hits package, it reached #3 on the Billboard charts but seems to have faded from most people’s memories. The delightful African/Indian influence and let’s leave it all behind lyrics make it a spiritual successor to “Escapade.” Dance music fans should check out the Junior Vasquez Factory mix.
I’m going to temporarily set aside my feelings about Janet’s brother and simply celebrate this song as the masterpiece that it is. Overflowing with anger and resentment, this was Michael’s response to his, um… “troubles” and while it could be viewed as a problematic, blame everyone but yourself screed, I’d prefer to just let it be one of Janet’s best. I have included two version of this on the playlist. The original space odyssey video, which was at the time the most expensive one ever filmed, features the iconic moments when Janet grabs her breasts and flips off the camera while the Flyte Time remix borrows Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf)” as a base for a funkier workout.
This cut from the “Damita Jo” album was likely going to be a single but then the idiotic Super Bowl controversy kept it from ever seeing the light of day. Yet another shame because it’s a fantastic slice of sexy production and vocals that deserved better.
Someone to Call My Lover
That familiar guitar riff is from America’s “Ventura Highway” and it underpins another one of her delightful, upbeat, falling in love songs. Add this one to your road trip playlist also.
Son of a Gun
The original version of this track features Missy Elliott and Carly Simon in a riff on her “You’re So Vain” complete with “I bet you think this song is about you” refrain. Check out the spacy spoken word from Simon, “If it wasn’t for that damn cream there’d be no clouds in my coffee…” It’s pure funky fun. The YouTube video is the music only – you have to go to Facebook to see the actual music video, which doesn’t have the Carly rap but is a fun revenge fantasy. Also worth seeking out is the P Diddy remix, a which turns the song into an even funkier exercise.
State of the World
Although some could see this is a lesser version of “Rhythm Nation,” this similar plea for the world to change stands on its own with more explicit call outs of the problems of its era (and today). Also check out “The Knowledge,” which is sort of like the second half of this song.
I know this horse has been pretty well beaten by now, but this is yet another song from “Damita Jo” that could have been a hit if the Super Bowl hadn’t happened. Well… maybe not on the radio, because its bouncy beat disguises some truly dirty lyrics. Google them while you listen if you dare.
That’s the Way Love Goes
I’m not always a fan of slow jam songs, but this one is so perfect that it’s impossible not to get swept away in the romanticism of the whole thing. “Like a moth to the flame, burned by the fire… my love is blind, can’t you see my desire?” That’s some sexy stuff right there. I’m also including the video to the 2018 Deeprule and DJ ADHD remix that turns up the BPM but doesn’t lose any of the sultry vibe somehow.
A lot of Janet’s songs were about sex, but few were quite as explicit as this one. There aren’t a lot of lyrics to it, but the ones that are there are straight out of a Pornhub video (not that I’d know what those sound like, I just read about it). But if you can get past the naughtiness, it’s a great dance floor jam.
Written about a friend she lost to AIDS, this song was originally envisioned as a ballad but was turned into an upbeat dance number and it is all the better for it. It turns what could have been a mawkish weeper into a joyful ode to the power of friendship.
As I said earlier, “The Velvet Rope” album is probably my favorite and the title track is just one of the reasons why. It’s got a great fuzzy bass line accentuated by bells and other sonic flourishes that give it an almost gothic feel.
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
“I know he used to do nice stuff for you, but what has he done for you lately?” Yes, Janet had other albums before “Control,” but this lead single put a stake in the ground for her musical direction and a stake through the heart of her former nice girl image. Heard now it feels very 80s, but in all the best ways.
What’ll I Do?
Janet hasn’t done a lot of covers, but her version of a fairly obscure 1968 song by Stax Records artist Johnny Daye shows that she could have done it more often. The syncopated drums, the lush guitars, and the “hey hey hey” callouts make this the kind of song you want to sing along with while you’re cooking dinner. Not that I’ve ever done that.
When I Think of You
Is the music video done in one long take? Well, no, but it was done in only five, with staging done by the legendary Michael Kidd. The song is another one of those bouncy, smile-inducing “I’m in love” jams enlivened by synth horns and a dreamy vocal.
Another example of why “The Velvet Rope” is one of her best albums, this track features a hypnotic trip-hop beat under a whispered/guttural vocal about demanding not blaming anybody for your problems except yourself. “Check in the mirror my friend, no lies will be told then, pointing the finger again, you can’t blame nobody but you.”
You Ain’t Right
A lesser-known album track from “All For You,” this stands out for its insistent, fuzzy bass beat, spacy flourishes, and tight, multi-layered harmonies. If you’re looking for a good “F-you” song, this one will suit the bill just fine.
You Want This (Video Mix)
Another woefully underrated gem, this one would absolutely be near the top of my all-time favorites list. Featuring samples from The Supremes’ “Love Child” and Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” it’s got lush vocals over a driving dance beat that makes you want to move. The cheeky lyrics are a delight – “By the time I’m through with you, you’ll be begging me for more.” Check out the video version which has a rap throwdown from MC Lyte that isn’t featured in the album track.