RANKED: Janet Jackson’s 50 Greatest Songs Of All Time

Check out the finest work from Janet—or Miss Jackson, if you're nasty.

Four decades of influential, ground-breaking music. Five Grammy Awards. Seven No.1 albums. Over 100 million albums sold worldwide. Ok, we’re going to stop with the accolades Janet Jackson has racked up in her illustrious career, because their endless and it’s kind of pointless. Janet is an iconic figure who hardly needs music analytics to support that fact. All that’s needed in this particular space is a reason to celebrate her achievements. Today, the music legend is 50 and flawless. So this celebration serves as a reminder of her incredible career and all the pop culture moments she’s given us over the years. Happy Birthday, Miss Jackson!

  1. “Fast Girls”

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    The second single off her sophomore record Dream Street, this single peaked at #40 on the Billboard R&B charts. The most interesting aspect of the song is that it was written and produced by founding Time guitarist and onetime Prince protégé Jesse Johnson.

  2. “Young Love”

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    Janet’s debut single from 1982 hardly set the world afire, but Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say. A modest success at the time of its release, Ms. Jackson would hone her craft as a singer and songwriter on subsequent releases, building up to her breakthrough 1986 Control.

  3. “Say You Do”

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    A minor hit on the R&B charts, “Say You Do” was the third single off Janet Jackson’s self-titled debut album in 1982. While not as well known as her later hits, Janet still thought enough of it to include it in the live set of her 2008 Rock Witchu tour.

  4. “2Nite”

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    Produced by Norwegian hit makers Stargate was buried as an album track in the middle of 2008’s Discipline, but found a second life after it was featured on the Sex and the City movie soundtrack.

  5. “No Sleep”

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    A collaboration with rapper J. Cole, this song’s pulsing but understated grooves recall the Golden Age of Quiet Storm R&B. When it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, it was the 40th Janet Jackson single to do so.

  6. “Twenty Foreplay”

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    This track from the mid-‘90s greatest hits collection Design of a Decade: 1986–1996, segues from a tender ballad to a mid-tempo bump and grind, which is suitable given its title. The song’s video pays tribute to groundbreaking African-American actress Dorothy Dandridge.

  7. “R&B Junkie”

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    This song has an intentionally retro feel, sampling Evelyn King’s “I’m in Love.” A nod to the post-funk / pre-mainstream hip hop R&B sound of the early ‘80s. Released as a promo only single for the Damita Jo album, it reached #1 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under R&B/Hip-Hop Singles.

  8. “Black Cat”

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    Ferocious is the word for Janet’s all-time fiercest full-blown rocker. Pouncing forward on a guitar riff by Extreme axe-master Nuno Bettencourt, Janet herself transforms into the sabre-toothed feline of the title, devouring heavy metal, punk, glam, and her own signature sound and roaring it all back out as this slaying single.

  9. “What I’ll Do”

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    This European-only single was a cover of a 1967 hit by obscure soul singer artist Johnny Daye and was co-written by famed Stax Records guitarist Steve Cropper. It was later remixed by tattooed Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.

  10. “Every Time”

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    This somber ballad was a hidden gem on The Velvet Rope album. If you don’t remember it you’ll likely appreciate the visual appeal that the music video offers. Ms. Jackson floating around nude in water. Does that jog your memory a little?

  11. “The Best Things In Life Are Free”

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    Janet duets with soul legend Luther Vandross on this ebullient hit from the Mo’ Money soundtrack. Many have since forgotten the movie; nobody has forgotten this, its infectious theme song.

  12. “Someone to Call My Lover”

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    Built on the gorgeous acoustic guitar riff from America’s “Ventura Highway,” Janet pilots “Someone to Call My Lover” to fresh heights of glowing pop luminescence. The song’s lyrics about finding the right match mixed with understated hooks and Janet’s honey-voiced delivery is like a romance in itself. Listen and fall in love.

  13. “Because of Love”

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    With the new jack swing sound fading into the past, Miss Jackson imbues it with new life, then gives the genre a properly magnificent note to go out on with “Because of Love.” It’s both a farewell to a pop culture moment and a grand welcome to her new game-changing album, janet.

  14. “Call On Me”

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    This melodic duet with sing songy hip hop star Nelly was the lead off single from Janet’s 2006 album 20 Y.O., and was co-written by Jermaine Dupri. The ensuing video for it was directed by Hype Williams and is one of the most expensive music videos of all time, with production costs running over $1,000,000.

  15. “Come on Get Up”

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    This track from 2000’s All for You was used as the opening number on the subsequent tour. Like other track on the record, it displays the influence of Eurodance music and deep house.

  16. “Diamonds”

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    The same year that Janet united with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for Control, music mogul and trumpet legend Herb Alpert teamed with the duo for his comeback album, and lightning struck for him too—due, of course, in huge part to Miss Jackson’s vocals making the single “Diamonds” truly shine.

  17. “I Want You”

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  18. “What About”

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    One of Janet Jackson’s most “rock” numbers, this album track off The Velvet Rope confronts domestic abuse head on. Many took the lyric “What about the times you said you didn’t f-ck her / She only gave you head” to be about then President Bill Clinton and his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, a claim Jackson has denied.

  19. “Runaway”

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    Janet recorded “Runaway” as an original bonus track for her greatest hits collection, Design of a Decade: 1986-1996. In a big way, the song incorporates so much of the what makes the album’s other tracks so great—uplifting spirit, serious insight, vast musical knowledge and skills—yet it still stands on its own. Thus, another great hit was born among Janet’s greatest.

  20. “The Velvet Rope”

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    The title track from Janet’s most sonically and thematically adventurous album, 1997’s The Velvet Rope found the singer at her most sexually explicit while also exploring her history of depression. The album’s dense sound, naked emotional content and sexual forthrightness has been seen as an influence on such artists as The Weekend and Frank Ocean.

  21. “Make Me”

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    This track from the collection Number Ones, was released a few months after the tragic death of Janet’s legendary older brother Michael Jackson. Using the refrain from Michael’s 1979 hit “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and a similar 4/4 disco beat, many thought the track was a tribute to The King of Pop.

  22. “Rock With U”

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    This Euro-disco jam was the second single from the Discipline album and was co-written by R&B singer Ne-Yo. Jackson has said the song was “created for the gay community,” and also shares its name with brother Michael’s 1979 hit “Rock With You.”

  23. “You”

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    This sparse exercise in rhythmic tension was a promo single from The Velvet Rope. The spoken / song vocals drew comparison’s to brother Michael and it was a highlight of Janet’s subsequent tour.

  24. “You Want This”

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    Just another ’90s club-ready single from Janet that sold over 500,000 copies, charted in the top 10 on Billboard’s 100 and featured potential baes throughout the music video.

  25. “Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)”

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    Here’s another example of how incredible the Control album was. As the seventh and final single from the seminal LP this infectious cut failed to rack up any numbers on U.S. charts, but it did become a quiet storm staple on adult contemporary radio. #BabyMakingMusic

  26. ”Feedback”

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    This club banger from 2008’s Discipline album found the singer experimenting with electropop influences. It was Janet Jackson’s last charting single of the ‘00s, peaking at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #1 on its dance club charts.

  27. “All Nite (Don’t Stop)”

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    Produced by Swedish hit makers BAG & Arnthor, this song was an ode to the addictive qualities of the dance floor and should have been a major smash hit. Unfortunately, its release was negatively effected by the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy, as many media outlets refused to play any Jackson videos in the wake of her infamous wardrobe malfunction, which is a pity as its one of the strongest numbers on her 2004 album Damita Jo.

  28. “Got ‘Til it’s Gone”

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    Tapping into alternative hip-hop and the entrancing sounds of trip hop, “Got ’Til it’s Gone,” from Janet’s 1997 album, The Velvet Rope, is a sonic wildcard that features both rapper Q-Tip and folk singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. The world was changing and, once again, Janet set the pace.

  29. “Come Back to Me”

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    Lush, silky, stoked with heavenly orchestral strings, and endlessly enchanting, Janet’s ballad “Come Back to Me” is an offer that no one, upon hearing it, could ever possibly turn down.

  30. “Doesn’t Really Matter”

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    Janet’s theme song from The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, in which she also starred, is as airy and fleet-footed and as effortless in enrapturing us as the movie’s other protagonists are… well, the opposite of those qualities. This is pop at its most delicious; nobody could blame the Klumps for eating it whole.

  31. “I Get Lonely”

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    With “I Get Lonely,” Janet became the only female artist to score eighteen consecutive Billboard top ten hits. To hear this R&B confession even once is to know that it could never have missed—as well as to never forget it.

  32. “The Pleasure Principle”

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    With Control, they just kept coming. “The Pleasure Principal” was the album’s sixth single and sixth consecutive smash. It’s alluring, arousing, and endlessly intriguing—so much so that in 2008 Janet named her own lingerie line after this classic.

  33. “Scream”

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    Janet’s soaring, rocking 1995 duet with brother Michael is a full-on blast. Few titles have ever perfectly capture a song’s energy, as well as what it always makes us want to do. “Scream” is cathartic, earth-shattering, and pure Jackson rage, uncut.

  34. “Go Deep”

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    “Go Deep” hits hard and hits where we feel it most. Over a fat, pulsating funk bassline Janet sings of wanting to hit the town, take home the hottest guy in sight, and take him home to make him “scream and moan.” Janet neither screams nor moans on the song. That makes it all the hotter.

  35. “Together Again”

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    Sweetness, gratitude, and affection have rarely swung as irresistibly as they do on “Together Again.” Janet’s #1 hit reaches back to classic disco and picks up some house music flourishes along the way, but that ecstatic vibe is, as always, a Miss Jackson original.

  36. “Any Time, Any Place

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    Smoldering sensuality is a hallmark of many an R&B ballad. With “Anytime, Anyplace,” though, Janet pushes the form to scorching new high temperatures, laying out a taboo celebration of (literal) love in public.

  37. “Alright”

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    Alright” is hot jazz pumped up with dance funk and the power source that can only be Janet. The song is mid-tempo, but it grooves and swings with a might that has nothing to do with speed, end everything to do with Miss Jackson’s mastery and command of leaving us spellbound.

  38. “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”

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    Another #1 hit for Janet, “Love Will Never Do” was initially planned to be a duet with a male singer (producers Jam and Lewis thought hard about Prince). Instead, Jimmy Jam suggested Janet herself sing every other verse in a lower octave than usual, thereby turning this romantic triumph into something of a duet with herself.

  39. “Let’s Wait Awhile”

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    No one but Janet Jackson could make postponing the ultimate act of getting together such a sexy proposition. That’s exactly what happens on “Let’s Wait a While,” the fifth single from Control and the most convincing argument for delayed gratification ever recorded.

  40. “Escapade”

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    Pure joy, pure Janet. The irresistibly upbeat “Escapade” is an immediate mood elevator and body-mover, featuring one of Janet’s warmest vocals. The song is a happy heart made music.

  41. “Control”

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    The title track of Miss Jackson’s six-times-platinum breakthrough album is her mission statement. No longer content to be perceived simply as Michael’s kid sister or a cute TV star, as well as standing on her own after annulling her marriage to James DeBarge and firing her father Joe Jackson from being her manager, Janet teamed with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to render a definitive statement from the heat of those fires. That, they did. “Control” is the song wherein Janet Jackson fully realizes herself while the world sings along, awestruck and grateful.

  42. “Nasty”

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    My first name ain’t ‘Baby’/It’s Janet/Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty!” With that declaration, Janet Jackson rocketed “Nasty” from a killer pop jam with pummeling hooks and an irresistible call-and-response (“Who’s that eatin’ that nasty food?/ Nasty boys!”) to a game-changing classic. Due in no small part to brilliant production and (especially) Janet’s delivery throughout the song, that aforementioned proclamation of identity and demand for respect rapidly bolted forward from being a pop culture catchphrase to a crucial piece of everyone’s collective consciousness. And, of course, you can (and must) dance to it.

  43. “Again”

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    Again, the landmark janet. album begat another hit. This sweet, melodic ballad was inspired by Jackson’s experience working on the film Poetic Justice and the poetry of Maya Angelou. Though Jackson was headed in a more cutting edge direction, this song proves she can still deliver a pop crossover ballad that would make Whitney Houston proud. And once again Jackson set future music video trends, getting hot and steamy with future CSI heartthrob Gary Dourdan, who would become the ubiquitous romantic interest in a series of videos throughout the decade.

  44. “What Have You Done for Me Lately”

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    Danceable. Defiant. Definitive. Divine. That’s what “What Have You Done for Me Lately” continues to explode with every time it’s ever been—or every will be—played anywhere. Janet’s anthemic musical question established her as an independent queen in charge of her own destiny, so if you’re going to contribute something to her court, it better be well worth her while, and, should it work, you best keep it coming. “What Have You Done” may have peaked at #4 on the Billboard pop chart, but it’s #1 among Janet’s greatest both for its magnificently powerful songwriting and performance, as well as its righteous vibe that has echoed through the subsequent decades of dynamic pop stars, and perhaps nowhere louder than today in Beyonce’s Lemonade.

  45. “All for You”

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    Taken from the album of the same name, her first full length of the new millennium, this song’s optimistic and infectious dance pop sound was a purposeful throwback to her earliest hits. As longtime producer Jimmy Jam said at the time of it’s release, “In the history of Janet, the records that are the happy records, that make people smile, have always traditionally been the more successful records.” And indeed, the single was a major smash for Jackson the world over, going to #1 in the US and Canada, and staying there for weeks on end. It would eventually reach platinum status in the US and received a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording and an ASCAP Award for Song of the Year.

  46. “If”

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    One of a staggering eight hit singles off janet., “If” straddled the bridge between Jackson’s old style Jam & Lewis new jack swing and the newer influences she would explore throughout the ‘90s. It boasted a big beat, a catchy melody and featured her now overtly sexual lyrical focus. Likewise, the video was almost a throwback to the big production and synchronized dance numbers of her earlier hits, but now updated to reflect her increasingly kinky sexual obsessions, including voyeurism, cyber porn and oral sex.

  47. “When I Think of You”

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    The third single off her breakthrough Control album, “When I Think of You” was also her first #1 hit. The upbeat, infectious song slightly toned down the aggression of “Nasty” and “What Have You Done For My Lately,” and instead basked in the joys of a newfound love. If her previous hits sought to redefine the image of her famous brothers kid sister, this one reaffirmed her girl next door charm.

  48. “Miss You Much”

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    Selling four million copies and topping the Billboard singles chart for an entire month, “Miss You Much” is the longest-running #1 of 1989, and remains one of the most relevant and instantly embraced anthems for anyone who longs for a faraway love. The song’s beloved black-and-white music video that features a dance routine with chairs may be a time capsule of the “Miss You Much” era, but the lyrics, the emotion, and the singing of Janet herself as only she could possibly do it is the very definition of “timeless.”

  49. “That’s the Way Love Goes”

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    Let’s be honest, Janet was many things before this song and video dropped in 1993; talented, sexy, smart, but she was never cool. This song, with it’s hip Soul II Soul vibe, this video, featuring a very adult Jackson chilling and slow dancing with friends – including the then-unknown Jennifer Lopez, and the janet. album, with it’s provocative alternate artwork – which later found fame as a Rolling Stone magazine cover – and a grown up sound that included hip hop and UK downtempo influences, changed the perception of who Janet Jackson was as an artist and set the tone for her ’90s output.

  50. “Rhythm Nation”

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    With her 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet Jackson did for Control what even her brother Michael could never totally pull off regarding Thriller: she topped herself. If Control set a new bar, RN1814 blew right through it, and never more definitively than via the single “Rhythm Nation.” With a military cadence and the might of a world-conquering war machine, the song blasts Control’s electrifying dance pop full of funk, hip-hop, hard rock, and even industrial metal. It’s hard not to picture the music video with Janet leading uniformed dancers in a mechanized assault amidst a post-apocalyptic factory—even if you’ve never seen the clip. That’s because the song conjures such vivid imagery in conveying its insistence on one world harmony. That’s power.