Discover more from This Week in The 90s
Janet Jackson crowned Queen with 'That's The Way Love Goes' [May 9, 1993]
Plus: a big review of New Order's Republic
Hey, Time Traveller! 👋 Welcome back to May 9, 1993!
📰 Ireland win Eurovision for the second year running (as detailed in last week’s issue).📽️ Robert Redford propositions Demi Moore in the steamy Indecent Proposal.📺 The final episode of The Wonder Years airs, revealing that Kevin and Winnie did not get married.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is still George Michael and Queen’s Five Live EP, but this week we’re focusing on the song at Number 3…
Janet Jackson, ’That’s The Way Love Goes’
This week in 2023 saw a huge historical event, as an audience of 20 million watched the coronation of King Charles III—Britain’s first coronation since his mother was crowned in 1953.
Monarchy is a fundamentally daft concept, based on the belief that some people are entitled to rule because they have special blood. Elizabeth II was a well-regarded Queen and Charles has her blood; ergo, he will do an equally good job. Charles’ oldest son, Prince William, is also qualified by virtue of his blood, and so are his tiny children.
And the weird thing is: while this idea sounds bananas, most people instinctively believe it. We love this idea of things inherited through blood. My mother loves to credit her grandchildren’s attributes to their ancestors: “she’s got her dad’s eyes, her aunt’s hair, she walks like my cousin.” It’s easy to extend this idea to other bloodlines, especially those in the public eye.
Pop culture is full of dynasties and royal families, kings and queens, heirs and spares. Game Of Thrones and Succession made great TV out of bloodline drama. The new Star Wars films tried to argue that anyone could be a great Jedi, before eventually deciding that no, a great Jedi can only come from the Skywalker family tree.
Elsewhere, there’s a morbid fascination with Nepo Babies and successful families. We watch these people closely, trying to figure out if they worked hard or if it’s just something in their blood.
Like a moth to a flame
Pop music’s greatest dynasty is, arguably, the Jackson family.
Their story is well-known: Joe Jackson, a crane operator from Gary, Indiana, pushed his kids into stardom with his largely horrific parenting style. The Jackson 5 became one of Motown’s biggest acts, mostly because of their cutie pie lead singer, Michael.
Michael grew up and went solo, releasing three of the biggest albums in history: Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad. Just as Elvis had been the King of Rock and Roll, Michael Jackson was now crowned the King of Pop.
The other Jacksons attempted to become pop’s Royal Family, but success eluded them. Jermaine managed a couple of hits, including classic slow jam ‘Do What You Do’, while LaToya raised awareness of the Jackson princesses, but no one came close to the King Of Pop.
No one, that is, until Michael’s baby sister Janet released ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ in 1986—the first global megahit from a Jackson without any help from Michael.
What’s more, it sounded fresh and edgier than The King’s records.
Michael released Bad in 1987, an album that took some cues from ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ In 1989, Janet jumped forward again with Rhythm Nation 1814, an album that latched onto rising trends like hip-hop and new jack swing. Janet didn’t outsell Michael (nobody has sold more than Michael Jackson, other than The Beatles and Elvis) but her work was a lot more zeitgeisty.
Not that there was ever a big Team Michael vs Team Janet rivalry. To most people, their parallel successes were just further proof that there was something magical in the Jackson DNA.
My love is blind
Bloodlines are nonsense, of course.
Should King Charles do well in his new job, it won’t be because he carries Elizabteh’s DNA. It will be because he’s been in training for 70 years, and because he’s supported by a massive team that will handle most of the hard work.
The same is true of Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. Both were born with a certain amount of natural talent, but lots of people have natural talent. The difference with the Jacksons is that they spent their whole lives toiling to develop that talent, often under threat of violence from their father.
Also, the Jacksons had incredible people behind them. Motown had a crack songwriting team called The Corporation—which included Berry Gordy himself—and they wrote most of The Jackson 5’s records, with occasional help from folks like Smokie Robinson and Stevie Wonder.
When Michael went solo, he teamed up with genius producer Quincy Jones. Together, they produced Jackon’s trilogy of mega-albums with songwriting help from people like James Ingram, Rod Templeton and Paul McCartney.
Meanwhile, Janet’s career was DOA for her first two albums. In 1986, she met producers Jam & Lewis, who helped her create ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ and most of her subsequent hits. Janet sounded cutting-edge because Jam & Lewis were cutting-edge, and she had enough sense to trust them.
Does this mean that Michael and Janet weren’t very special? No! It means we have a messed-up idea of what it means to be “special”. We like to think of icons as otherworldly beings, working alone because no mortal can keep up, like Dr Manhattan in Watchmen.
But even special people can only get so far. Great Kings need wise counsellors, just as great pop stars need talented producers. Without that support, things can fall apart real quick.
Burned by the fire
Shortly after Bad, Michael fired Quincy Jones on the grounds that the super-producer was “old and out-of-touch”. Firing Quincy is often seen as Michael’s biggest mistake (biggest professional mistake, anyway) but who knows, maybe it was time for a change?
However, there’s no doubt that he made a huge blunder by not replacing Jones with someone equally talented. Michael’s next album, Dangerous, has four official producers, but there’s no doubt who was calling the shots. He was the King Of Pop; he did not take orders from lesser mortals.
Dangerous was a massive commercial success, but some people (including this newsletter) felt it was a creative decline from the heights of Thriller. Also, his attempts to do hip-hop were awkward and goofy.
As it turned out, Dangerous was his last album before real-world events overtook his career. In August 1993, the L.A. Times reported that Jackson was under investigation for child abuse, and the rest of his life was spent battling ever-louder allegations.
He only managed two more studio albums: 1995’s HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1, an album so ridiculously overblown that Jarvis Cocker had to physically intervene; and 2001’s Invincible, which came and went so quickly that it should have been called Invisible.
Just close your eyes and hold on tight
1993 was very different for Janet. Her partnership with Jam & Lewis resulted in a third LP, janet, which assimilated the emerging trends in R’n’B.
While Dangerous was sometimes a self-conscious attempt to stay relevant, janet sounded relaxed, especially on the laid-back lead single, ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’.
Listening to that track now in 2023, it has aged astonishingly well. Janet (and Jam & Lewis) correctly guessed how R’n’B would evolve over the next decade, resulting in a record that could have easily been a hit ten years later.
In fact, the early 2000s saw new stars like Jennifer Lopez, who could be described as the heirs to Janet Jackson’s empire. And hey, who’s that young dancer in the ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’? Why, it’s young J-Lo herself!
Michael and Janet were both phenomenal talents with a legacy that will never be equalled. Genetics might account for some of their success, but blood alone doesn’t count for much (unless your relatives are rich, in which case it counts for a lot). Greatness only comes to those who are passionate and work hard—and who have an equally talented team behind them.
Today we have a special guest post from music journalist and New Order fanatic. Have a read, and then go subscribe to
Album of the Week
New Order, Republic
It should be no surprise that New Order/Joy Division made the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ballot this year. The band checks all the usual boxes; they've been together for over four decades now and have an extensive discography. They've had an outsized influence on the industry itself- this is, after all, the band that launched 1000 others and a million T-shirts. Blue Monday is still the best-selling 12" of all time- a song with so much impact that Quincy Jones approached them about doing a remix. As the Transmissions podcast put it, they’re the only band to change the world twice.
A lot can happen in forty years.
My history with the band doesn't go back quite to page one, but it's close. I fell in love with the band after finding Low Life in 1987 or so. I spent most of junior high with Substance in my Walkman. I still play it fairly often. Technology has changed, but my love for the music has not. My first “real" concert was seeing them while they were on the road supporting Technique. This was peak New Order, with the band riding high atop the "Madchester" scene. I took two buses across the metro area to get to the show. I was 14. I still have no idea how/why my mother let me do this, but I'm grateful she did.
A lot can happen in four years, too. Between that show and the release of 1993's Republic, Tony Wilson sold his highly influential, highly problematic Factory Records label to London Records. The infamous Hacienda nightclub was hemorrhaging money. And since the band had essentially been underwriting its operation through sales of their music, that meant they were in a tough spot, too. The expectation was that Republic would be the record to save both. No pressure, then.
“What fans may have expected from the follow-up to Technique is questionable, though after "World in Motion," it may have just been an upgraded Technique; but between the albums, something happened that would become a big part of Republic's subject matter. As of 1992, Tony Wilson's Factory Records, the home of not only New Order but their initial incarnation of Joy Division, as well a host of other bands for the past decade-plus, had ceased to be a functioning label. Years of funding the Hacienda, Factory's resident nightclub, had kept New Order’s collective band bank account draining, and inevitable frustration toward the workings of this particular label finally came to a head, and it was all over. Songs like "Liar," "Ruined in a Day," and, debatably, "Times Change" had lyrics revolving around the demise, along with a sense of bitterness that the group, as well as others who had been involved in funding Factory and keeping it afloat had been victim to false promise and, put simply, lies from Wilson. How much of it is justified is debatable, since with any conflict there are often if not always valid justifications for both sides, but in the case of Republic, we’re getting the full-force anti-Wilson argument.”
Republic happened at a tough time in the group's history and a transitory time for music. The rave wave that Technique had ridden was ebbing, and grunge and alternative music were taking root on America's west coast. Even for a band that had done more than its share of shape-shifting, this was a weird time to go into the studio.
On top of everything else, tensions between the band were at an all-time high. Hard to blame them, given the high expectations being thrust on them. Like a couple staying together for the sake of their kids, Republic does the best it can to keep up appearances, but that thin veneer doesn't cover up much.
Republic doesn't really sound like any other New Order album. To be fair, you can make that claim about any of their records when compared to the ones that came before it. But you can usually find a few throughlines across their discography. This felt like a clean break. It was more pop than new wave. The synths come in huge waves. The beats are less motorik and more playful.
Until now, New Order lived in the overlap between digital and analog—their Brotherhood LP is a record literally split between an analog side and an electronic one. Republic represents the furthest distance away yet from the days of Joy Division. The human element is scarce, the rise of machines evident. The band had always been enamored with the beats they heard booming through dance clubs. This record finds them obsessed with channeling those sounds,
Peter Hook's iconic basslines and Stephen Morris' drumming are each barely there, and when you do catch them, it’s almost an afterthought, as if they were trying to make sure the listener knew they were still in the band.No wonder the band found themselves at cross purposes.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, the songs themselves are fantastic. Four tracks were released as singles; Regret, Ruined In A Day, World (The Price of Love), and Spooky. In proper New Order form, each was remixed umpteen different ways and repackaged for release. There were also at least two special editions made of the record, with the CD cases crafted from the same vinyl material as that of the life ring on the cover. The booklet inside was also made of vinyl. Maybe not the best move for a group with cash flow issues…
Back to the songs: As noted, Regret is a straight-ahead pop song- perhaps the most so that the New Order has ever made. World has a lovely breakbeat and video filmed on the French Riviera. Spooky draws its energy from the same pool Technique did.
So too, does Chemical. My favorite track on the record- and arguably its most underrated– it manages to both harken back to happier days while also being novel. Its sound is almost expansive(?), with pounding bass and rolling synthesizers. When I hear it, I can't help but think of blue skies and the beach. That is likely more a nod to the record cover than any artist's intent, but here we are. Speaking of beaches, Young Offender feels more like Ibiza than anything else, overflowing with house sounds and a thundering piano.
The record isn't flawless, of course. The unremarkable Everyone Everywhere and Times Change both feel redundant. Closing track Avalanche comes across as a denouement. In an article ranking the bands 10 closing tracks, I put it at 8th out of 10. It certainly fits the closing track mold more than any other in its discography. But it's also a little undercooked. There's not a lot of "there" there. The result sounds like someone was noodling around in the studio and never bothered to flesh the song out.
By this point, perhaps Ibiza was getting to them, and they just mailed in one last piece to get to the required track count. With its attendant loose ends, it feels like the end of a relationship where things are left unsaid.
And it certainly was the end of an era. The record did well on the charts, hitting #1 in the UK, and peaking at #11 in the US. It was nominated for the Mercury Music prize. The video for Regret saw decent airplay on MTV.
Republic could've been the LP that saved them. Instead, it almost broke them. Indeed, the band barely toured to support the album and promptly took eight years off before recording again.
A lot can happen in four decades, and the story of New Order is no exception. The band has seen more than its share of ups and downs, transitions, and more. Though their sets rarely feature tracks from Republic, they're still playing.
Republic turns 30 this week. It would be inaccurate to label it timeless–it's very much of the era it was made in–but therein lies the appeal. That dated sound ironically makes it feel new today. A band went to a beautiful part of the world during an ugly time in their careers and managed to put out a record unlike any other for us all to enjoy.
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