’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Black Cat”
The twenty-second No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Black Cat” by Janet Jackson. Noteworthy for being written by Jackson all by herself, “Black Cat” was the sixth single off Rhythm Nation 1814. After “Escapade,” the third single, hit No. 1 earlier in the year, Jackson narrowly missed the top spot twice with “Alright” (No. 4) and “Come Back To Me” (No. 2). After “Black Cat,” Jackson would again hit No. 1 with the seventh and final release off Rhythm Nation 1814, “Love Will Never Do (Without You).”
“Black Cat” was a strong departure for Jackson, as it had a heavy rock influence, complete with electric guitars. And we’re not talking about minor rock flourishes here — this was a flat-out rock song, going to No. 1 on Billboard’s U.S. Mainstream Rock chart in addition to the Hot 100 singles chart. It also appeared on the Dance and R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Can you imagine that happening today? We can’t.
Listen to “Black Cat”:
“Black Cat,” a key element to what made Rhythm Nation 1814 such an amazing record, demonstrates Jackson’s artistic and professional bravery as she boldly transcended genre, as her brother Michael had done with his 1988 No. 1 hit “Dirty Diana.” Rock suited both Jacksons, and the videos for both these songs feature live performance footage suggesting both sister and brother were very at home in this musical space. Above all that, “Black Cat” also challenged gender norms. A hard rock song with a strong female at the helm? Be still our beating hearts!
Tidbit: The video for “Black Cat” was shot at the Tacoma Dome, not far from our beloved Seattle, a city crucially influential to the music of the ’90s!
Was it dope? My, yes. Jackson was red-hot at this time, and “Black Cat” was in heavy rotation on MTV and various radio formats. It’s rebellious, energetic and oozes with attitude. It pumped you up and made you want to run through the room in your socks and jump up and down and headbang. And by you, we mean us. Tackling this genre as Michael had done also underscored a solidarity between the siblings. Ms. Jackson, at this time, was still rocking a key earring that unlocked Michael’s animal cages at the Jackson family compound in Encino, CA. (Michael, incidentally, had big cats as pets and would later make use of a panther in the video for “Black Or White,” his first of two No. 1 songs during the 1990s.)
Does it hold up? Even though rock isn’t very popular right now, this song has proven that it has legs. Jackson garnered a great deal of attention when she re-emerged recently with the album Unbreakable and a companion world tour, on which she performs “Black Cat.” The song has been frequently covered by popular artists and is performed somewhat routinely on singing competition shows. So there’s still a captive audience for this song even though in many ways it exists in a peculiar space that defies categorization.
Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?
– John and Carla