This Monday post of Old New Borrowed Blue is brought to you by my exploding excitement about seeing Janet Jackson live in Toronto tomorrow night. In case you missed it, Janet. Jackson. LIVE. To prepare myself, and invite all of you into my very happy expectations, let’s listen to some Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue songs from Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty).
Something Old: Obviously the most difficult category to choose for, seeing as Janet has 3 decades packed full of energy, sass and nostalgia. Since I’ve spent some time in the past writing about Rhythm Nation, and recently included “Control” in an ONBB post, I think I will plant myself firmly in Janet’s 90’s catalogue. In 1993, Janet. (read Janet Period) was the album that signalled a new persona for the youngest Jackson. Not only did she create distance from the Jackson legacy (and controversy) by dropping her family name, she also changed from a modest, socially-conscious Rhythm Nation badass into an iconic sex symbol. And “If” is the single that signals this shift more than any other. So before I launch into an entire blog post about Janet., let’s enjoy this futuristic, genre-fusion dance track that is bold with desire – “If I was your girl, the things I’d do to you…” – while respecting your boundaries – “but I’m not, so I can’t, then I won’t”, while also making absolutely brilliant musical references to both Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and Diana Ross’ “Someday We’ll Be Together”. My wife recently asked me to pick my favourite Janet track from each decade and I suggested “Together Again” for my 90’s pick… but I think I just changed my own mind.
Something New: One of the many reasons I’m so excited for tomorrow night is to hear a few more new tracks that we can expect to find on Janet’s new album, Unbreakable. In the meantime I am very happy with the first single/music video “No Sl333p,” which is clearly from the same Janet that gave us the gifts of other sexy slow jams like, “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Any Time, Any Place.”
Something Borrowed: Janet Jackson is a queen of both borrowing and being borrowed. I’ve heard that on the tour I’m about to experience, she actually shows video of Kendrick Lamar performing his Janet tribute, “Poetic Justice,” which is built on samples of “Any Time, Any Place”. When Janet borrows from someone else’s music, it’s usually both an intentional reference and a sign of great respect. She is known for not only sampling, but inviting Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell into the studio to rerecord lines from their hit songs for “Son of a Gun” and “Got Till It’s Gone” respectively. Although there are many examples of “something borrowed” in Janet’s discography, the choice was easy, since one of my favourite Janet dance tunes of all time samples one of my favourite jazz/funk tunes ever, recorded by Herbie Hancock as “Hang Up Your Hang Ups”. You will probably recognize Janet’s version, “All Nite”, from one of the most memorable music videos of her career.
Here is Hancock performing “Hang Up Your Hang Ups,” live for your reference and enjoyment.
Something Blue: This is already a category that I tend to stretch a little, as genres generally can be quite elastic. It seems most appropriate to offer something from Janet’s darker and more introspective album, The Velvet Rope, that maintains her sexually charged image while also addressing personal issues and conflicts such as domestic abuse, body image, and mental illness. Incidentally, this is also the album that secures Janet’s place as a gay icon, addressing AIDS, Homophobia, and reimagining Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” as a lesbian love song. Have I mentioned that this woman is my hero? Anyway, what is the blues if it doesn’t include longing for an ex-lover? Without further ado, “I Get Lonely”.
Although all of today’s songs will have something in common, I can’t think of a more diverse and eclectic Old New Borrowed Blue before today. The inspiration for using the name Brittany/Britney as a theme came from the release of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard’s new punk solo project, Thunderbitch. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First up is a slightly more familiar Britney.
Something Old: It already feels odd to call this 2000 track old, and yet when I watch the video for “Stronger,” it’s impossible not to notice how dated the entire thing is. What is happening? Did she transform her cheating ex-boyfriend into a chair that she starts pointing at and dancing/jumping upon? And why is it that no matter how many times I watch this video, I always hold out hope that she will transform into a werewolf during the bridge, when she ends up in a thunderstorm? Despite my constant disappointment, “Stronger” is in my opinion Britney Spears’ strongest single from Oops, I Did It Again, or maybe any of her 8 albums.
Something New: And this is where it’s time for some Thunderbitch. Brittany Howard takes a half-step out of Blues to make a slightly louder, angrier album. The standout track to me is “Wild Child”, and if you like that, you can stream the whole album for free at thundabetch.com.
Something Borrowed: I think that “Toxic” was meant to be covered and sampled; I tend to love songs that borrow from “Toxic” far more than the original. Is it just me, or do Childish Gambino and Danny Brown make Britney Spears sound more eerie and fierce than ever?
Something Blue: Instead of fishing for another Brit(ta)n(e)y, let’s stick with the music that had me fall in love with Howard’s bluesy vocal and guitar performances from the Alabama Shakes’ debut album, Boys & Girls. Here they are performing “Hang Loose” for a Seattle radio station.