“Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” by Janet Jackson (1982)

I’ve already discussed how Janet’s 1982 debut album is a low-key jam. “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” is probably the album cut that’s most suggestive of the itchy funk that she’d go on to perfect with the assistance of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. It’s produced by Foster Sylvers, whose big brother Leon defined the L.A. funk/soul sound in the early ‘80s.

Janet’s often been criticized for having a small voice, and I’ve read some stuff in the past that suggests she was encouraged to sing bigger and louder to vocally stand up to the arrangements. She comes through here, increasing in power verse by verse until you can tell she’s feeling herself. By the back third of the song, she’s done sounding girly and has a brassy edge to her singing that’s thrilling to listen to. It’s still one of her sassiest, most enjoyable performances.Weird fact: Glenn Scarpelli, who was a sitcom contemporary of Janet’s (he was playing the adopted kid on “One Day At A Time” around the same time Janet was playing Willis’s girlfriend on “Diff’rent Strokes”) also recorded a version of “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing”. It registers high on the “WTF” scale, but doesn’t hold a candle to JJ’s original.

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