’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Together Again”
The one hundred fourteenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Together Again” by Janet Jackson. This track was the singer’s sixth and final No. 1 hit of the ’90s, following “Escapade” and “Black Cat” in 1990, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” in 1991, and “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Again” in 1993. She preceded these with two chart-toppers in the ’80s, and followed them with two more in the ’00s, for a career total of 10.
“Together Again” was the first official single off Jackson’s acclaimed CD The Velvet Rope, although it was preceded by the promotional radio-only single “Got ‘Til It’s Gone.” So “Together Again” was a commercial return to form, and enabled Jackson to maintain her streak of having at least one No. 1 hit from five consecutive studio albums, from 1986’s Control through 2001’s All For You. Her album sales and airplay stats declined during the ’00s, and as of this writing her most recent charting single was 2015’s “No Sleeep” (peak: 63).
After a slow intro, “Together Again” reveals itself to be an upbeat Dance track with a cheerful melody over major chords, but with somewhat bittersweet lyrics about being reunited with someone in heaven. In interviews, Jackson has said the song is specifically a response to her feelings after losing a friend to AIDS.
Take a few minutes to listen to “Together Again” again:
Jackson is an underrated vocalist, despite being one of the best of our generation. She may not have the technical belting capabilities of contemporaries like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston or Celine Dion, but what she does better than any of them is perform convincingly across a wide spectrum of genres and emotional contexts. She can sell sass (“Nasty”), anger (“Scream”), lust (“Any Time, Any Place”), heartache (“Come Back To Me”), activism (“Rhythm Nation”) or joy (“Runaway”) by adapting her capable voice to whatever the track calls for. And yet somehow she always sounds like Janet Jackson regardless of whether she’s screaming, cooing or even rapping. On “Together Again,” she gives us a hard-to-achieve mixture of joy, hope and longing. The songwriting isn’t particularly innovative, especially in the company of Jackson’s strong portfolio, and the house beat gets a bit tedious, bordering on annoying. But Jackson elevates whatever she touches, and the message of “Together Again” is lovely.
Does it hold up? Jackson’s catalog in general isn’t holding up as well as it deserves to, considering what a major star she was in the ’90s. There are several contributing factors. For one, Jackson is notoriously private, and in an age when people are hungry for access to their favorite celebrities via social media, Jackson doesn’t offer much. Meanwhile, she struggled to find commercial success after her 2004 Super Bowl performance controversy, although we blame the lackluster quality of her output, with one exception being the 2008 single “Feedback,” which peaked at No. 19 and has been Jackson’s only Top 20 hit since 2001. Perhaps further fueling the public’s disinterest in her is that she has always struggled to escape the shadow of her brother Michael, whose death in 2009 elevated his status from Pop star to Elvis Presley-like legend. The sum of all these parts is that we continuously encounter a baffling amount of ignorance regarding Janet Jackson, especially among those under the age of 30. Consequently, her entire body of tremendous work threatens to be forgotten unless we keep it alive!
Dopeness: 3 out of 5 Birkenstocks
2 weeks at No. 1, starting Jan. 31, 1998
Preceded by: “Truly Madly Deeply,” Savage Garden
Followed by: “Nice & Slow,” Usher
’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?