Joe Jackson was one of the most profoundly talented musicians to surface in the 1970s. With the release of both Look Sharp! and I’m the Man in 1979, Jackson and his band made a meteoric impact on the new wave scene. 1980’s release, Beat Crazy, found the band travelling in a more eclectic direction with some songs leaning towards reggae and ska, others featuring slow, dissonant music that one would not typically hear on a “rock” album. This captivating LP remains one of my favorites, one of the more unusual entries in my collection.
After recording Beat Crazy the band broke up and Jackson put out Jumpin’ Jive, an album of Cab Calloway covers! Because, of course, this is a natural career move after releasing two power pop/new wave albums and… No, I can’t finish the sentence. This was a really strange thing to do. As a fanboy (a Jacksonaut?), I was perplexed and none too pleased by this choice (until later in life when swing became one of my favorite genres). Jumpin’ Jive was followed by a pianocentric pop album, Night and Day. I enjoyed the album, but it was lacking in the edge that was so wonderful in Look Sharp!.
As is so often the case, my interest in Jackson’s music waned as time went on and I remained focused on his first few records. I still bought the new albums as they came out, but never seemed to listen to them quite as much as the early ones. But those first five records became an indelible part of my lifescape.
Is She Really Going Out With Him? from Look Sharp! is one of the songs that best represents my high school and college years. It is an obelisk commemorating the deluge of quirky music that opened my eyes to art’s possibilities. Or something like that. And there was the added bonus of having a friend named Jeanne who really hated to hear its lyrics:
Look over there! (Where?)
Here comes Jeanne with her new boyfriend
They say that looks don’t count for much
If so, there goes your proof
I can’t overstate how different, daring, edgy this music seemed in 1979. It was truly an exciting time to come of age, as it were.
Let us consider another great tune from 1979, this one found on the album I’m the Man. The song? It’s Different for Girls.
No, not love she said
Don’t you know that it’s different for girls?
You’re all the same
With slow and introspective music, the lyrics are a conversation about the differences between men and women, about a particular man’s difficulty in understanding women. The simple ringing guitar lead is invasive, a true earworm that immediately evokes this lovely song. You can hear this one on Joe Jackson’s Greatest Hits album.
Jackson also released other albums, but I don’t care about them.
But I joke.
Later in life Jackson wrote a symphony, reunited the band, and released many more albums. Some might call him a renaissance man, I call him Mr. Jackson. His music is well worth checking out, so make it so!
Finally, I leave you with philosophical and educational lyrics from Evil Eye, off of Beat Crazy. Enjoy.
I stack a pig’s head on the shelf
The boss comes along and says move yourself
I can’t move I’m hypnotized
Staring into a dead pig’s eyes