The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 1)

Happy New Year! Today we commence another look back at the UK charts of yesteryear, and this time, our wayback machine is set to this time 25 years ago. Get ready – this is The Story of Pop: 1998.

Over the next year, every Thursday at 9am, we will revisit the UK singles chart from a time of movie soundtracks, hip-hop dance mashups, girl power, boybands, World Cup mania, long running mega hits and yes: double denim.

It was at the heady start of our long love affair with pop music, when Fridays at 7:30pm were all about Top of the Pops, Smash Hits was our fortnightly bible, and Sundays at 4pm were appointment listening for the Top 40 on Radio 1 with Mark Goodier, so it seemed the ideal place to go next.

So let’s get started and see who we’ve got first on our retelling of UK pop as it looked a quarter of a century(!) ago…

  • Artist: Janet Jackson
  • Song: Together Again
  • Released: 01/12/1997
  • Writers / Producers: Janet Jackson / James Harris III / Terry Lewis / René Elizondo Jr.
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #4
  • Weeks on Chart: 19

After releasing her greatest hits album Design of a Decade in 1995, which had sold over 10 million copies worldwide, the Princess of R&B, Janet Jackson, was at a crossroads, having fulfilled her original album deal with Virgin Records, whom she had been with since her debut in 1986.

Renegotiating a deal with them to the tune of $80m, she began work on what was to be her sixth and arguably most personal studio album to date. The Velvet Rope was so called because on one hand, it referred to the smoke and mirrors that her level of fame was often veiled behind, but also was offering her fanbase a deeper insight into who she was as a woman and as a human being, particularly one from one of the world’s most famous families in music.

During her world tour for the Design of a Decade album, she had experienced an emotional breakdown, and was at a very low point that had built from years of repressing childhood trauma, self harm and body dysmorphia. Lyrically as well as musically, she was doing a lot of self reflection and questioning about herself that in many ways, was boundary breaking for any music artist to be doing at the time.

Of this, Janet said “Certain things may happen, and you just dismiss them instead of stopping and saying, “Why am I feeling this way? Why am I acting out in this way? … I never looked deeply at the pain from my past, never tried to understand that pain and work it through. It was a journey I had avoided. But one I now had to face.”

For the first time in her career, she was not concerned about The Velvet Rope becoming a major commercial success as her other albums had been to that point, saying “I needed to express who I was and what I’d learned. I found out who I really was… If that can inspire people who hear this album to do the same, I’d rather have that than the biggest selling album in the world.”

Happily, even though it was a secondary consideration, the success that The Velvet Rope saw upon its release in the autumn of 1997 was her audience responding enthusiastically to her more honest approach. The first single, the Joni Mitchell sampling “Got Till It’s Gone”, had gone top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

But it was the follow up, “Together Again”, which really solidified the success of the album. Co-written by Janet and worked on with her long time producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, it was originally written as a ballad inspired by both her grieving the loss of a close friend to AIDS, but also from a piece of fanmail she had received from a boy in England who had recently lost his dad.

It soon became a dance oriented pop song, and it’s universal chorus lyric of “Everywhere I go / Every smile I see / I know you are there / Smiling back at me / Dancing in moonlight / I know you are free / Cause I can see your star / Shining down on me” resonated with everyone who heard it and could identify with still feeling the presence of those in their lives who had passed on.

It was once again another Transatlantic chart success, giving Janet her eighth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States upon its release in December 1997. Meanwhile, here in the UK, it debuted in the top 5 in the run up to Christmas, and eventually climbed to its peak position of #4 at the start of 1998, whilst The Velvet Rope went onto sell 8 million copies worldwide.

And whilst “Together Again” is not her highest charting single here in Blighty – that honour falls to 2001’s “All For You”, which made #3 – with sales of over 800,000 copies it is by far and away her biggest selling UK hit to date. It also stands as a remarkable example of how iconic Janet Jackson has remained all these years later that a song of this vintage is still so timeless today.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1998. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1998.

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