Song 86: Janet Jackson, “Escapade” (1989)


As I alluded to in my last post, I love songs with words you don’t hear very often but also aren’t distracting for the same reason. I’ve loved “Escapade” ever since my sister bought the Rhythm Nation 1814 cassette in 1989, but it never really occurred to me how unusual the title word is.  Yet it’s perfect for this song, right? The formality of the word contrasts nicely with the informality of the rest of the song (“Come on baby, let’s get away”). It brings to mind both a grand adventure and a slightly irresponsible night on the town.

And speaking of towns, when I learned that this (and much of the rest of Janet Jackson’s work) was produced by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, formerly of The Time and onetime Prince cohorts, that “Minneapolis!” shout-out made a lot more sense. Without knowing that information, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Janet Jackson really, really wants to go on an escapade to Minneapolis, which doesn’t seem very likely. (I love you, Minneapolis, but you’re really more of a “sojourn” kind of city.)

Janet Jackson has made some great music, but I think this is her finest hour. The vocal performance isn’t flashy, because it doesn’t need to be; the proposal in the chorus is more of a coy come-on than an outburst or a sudden idea. The production, though, is a different story. I love those synth hits, which seem to encourage Jackson’s suggestion to get out of Dodge.

I read that this song was written after a failed attempt to cover Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run”, which I find really fascinating. You can hear some similarities between the two (that “ooooh”, especially), but Jackson seems to have written the song’s opposite: not only can you run, you should. You should run away with Janet Jackson. Or Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty.


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