This song was written by the production duo Jimmy Jam
and Terry Lewis. They had a lot of success on Jackson's previous album, Control
, in 1986 - the breakthrough album that helped Jackson break the pop mold and become a sex icon with a funky edge.
This was inspired by a breakup letter Jimmy Jam received from one of his old girlfriends, who signed it with what would become this song title. He thought it would be perfect for Jackson.
In the album title Rhythm Nation 1814, the "1814" was the project number assigned to the album on the A&M Records record label; that it shared the same number as the year the US national anthem was written was a coincidence realized and acknowledged by Jackson and producers later on.
This was one of seven Top 5 singles from the album. It was the first time any album produced so many hits, although Michael Jackson (Janet's brother) had seven Top 10 hits from his 1983 Thriller album.
magazine named this song the second best-selling single of the year (it sold over four million copies), between Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise
" at number one and Paula Abdul's "Straight Up
" at number three.
Although Jackson didn't receive a songwriting credit for this track, she had some worthwhile ideas, according to Jimmy Jam. He told Idolator: "When we got to Rhythm Nation, I had done the [instrumental] track to 'Miss You Much' and I just pointed at a note on one of the keyboards and she just walked in and hit the key and that became the string part on the song. She had lyric ideas walking into the studio."
This song was featured in the movie Ghost Dad, a 1990 comedy starring Bill Cosby.
Because her previous album, Control, was released three years earlier, Janet's vocals were a little rusty from the lengthy break, so Jam and Lewis didn't want her to record the lead for this song right away. Jam remembered: "The idea was to do the backgrounds first to get her voice back in tip-top singing shape, because she hadn't sung for probably two years."