Joe Jackson (born Aug. 11, 1954) is an English pianist, songwriter, vocalist, author, and occasional bandleader, active since the late 1970s. Emerging on London’s New Wave scene, he achieved fame with the 1979/80 albums Look Sharp!, I’m the Man, and Beat Crazy. Over the years, his music has incorporated rock, reggae, salsa, jump blues, Tin Pan Alley, big-band vocal jazz, and avant-garde classical forms. His best-known songs include “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, “It’s Different for Girls,” and the Billboard hits “Steppin’ Out” and “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want).”
Born David Ian Jackson in Burton upon Trent, he spend his childhood in Portsmouth and his teens in Gosport, where he learned violin and piano. At age 16, he started playing piano in local bars and won a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he studied musical composition. He earned the nickname “Joe” when cabaret audiences noted his resemblance to Joe Cool, the piano-playing guise of Snoopy in the comic strip Peanuts.
In the early ’70s, Jackson formed the band Edward Bear with fellow Gosport musicians, including bassist Graham Maby and guitarist Mark Andrews. Upon learning of the namesake Canadian band, they changed their name to Arms & Legs and issued three 1976/77 singles on MAM: “Janie” (b/w “She’ll Surprise You”), “Heat of the Night” (b/w “Good Times”), and “Is There Anymore Wine” (b/w “She’ll Surprise You”). With the advent of New Wave, Andrews formed Mark Andrews and the Gents. Jackson formed his own band, comprised of Maby, guitarist Gary Sanford, and drummer David Houghton.
Through 1978, Jackson played the London club circuit, where he was spotted by producer David Kershenbaum (Tarney–Spencer Band), who secured the singer a deal with A&M.
Jackson issued his first single, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” (b/w “You Got the Fever”), in October 1978.
Joe Jackson released his debut album, Look Sharp!, in January 1979 on A&M. It opens with “One More Time,” a strident lover’s standoff (in G minor). In the ska-tinged “Sunday Papers,” Joe lampoons the public’s blind acceptance of printed sensationalism with mocking irony (“Well I got nothing against the press, they wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true”).
“Is She Really Going Out with Him?” has a snapping four-note bassline with retro R&B vibes. Joe supplants the melodramatic subtext (romantic jealously) with bathos about women dating gorillas. In “Happy Loving Couples,” Joe — unimpressed by the ‘picture perfect’ domesticism of his peers — defies coupling pressures with a high-minded refusal to settle.
On the title-track, Joe stakes his turf in the street-style wars: “And you gotta’ look sharp… and you gotta have no..o.. illusions, just keep going your way, looking over your shoulder.” He takes further jabs at ‘perfect couples’ in “Fools in Love,” a slow number with a lurching reggae-rock riff. Sanford plays a spiky, distorted guitar riff on “(Do the) Instant Mash,” where Joe lampoons the blandness of mass entertainment (muzak, disco, big budget action films) and its robotic effect on humans. On “Pretty Girls,” he jokes about the power of female beauty and asks “god” to equip men with an on–off libido switch.
Each side ends with a punk song: “Throw It Away,” Joe’s advice regarding critical dotted-line papers; and “Got the Time,” about coping with deadlines. The side two opener “Baby Stick Around” is a bopping new wave cut with flashes of the recent trend: “Pushin’ and shovin’ and sweat wet weather; up and down, we go chained together.”
Sessions took place in August 1978 with Kershenbaum, who produced Look Sharp! in succession with Three’s a Crowd, the first of two A&M albums by the Tarney–Spencer Band. This was the first of two credits for engineer Rod Hewison, who also worked with Aussie new wavers The Dugites. The assistant engineer, Aldo Bocca, worked earlier with John Entwistle, Dr. Feelgood, and Lene Lovich.
A&M Photographer Michael Ross took the Look Sharp! cover image: a below-the-knee down-shot of Joe in white side-laced winklepickers. On the back cover, Joe points to the camera (wrist upside) in a pinstriped suit. Ross photography also appears on 1978–79 label releases by Budgie, Joan Armatrading, Live Wire, The Police, and Squeeze.
.Jackson lifted “Sunday Papers” as the album’s second single, backed with the title track.
In mid-May, “One More Time” appeared as the third single, backed with the non-album “Don’t Ask Me.”
The fourth and final Look Sharp! a-side, “Fools In Love” (b/w “Throw It Away”), appeared in June as a Dutch-only single.
Look Sharp! reached No. 13 in New Zealand and No. 20 in Australia and the United States, where A&M pressed the album as a 12″ standard LP and as a 10″ double-EP. The latter has a gatefold sleeve with a picture of Joe in a multi-mirrored lavatory.
I’m the Man
Joe Jackson released his second album, I’m the Man, on October 5, 1979, on A&M.
Jackson issued “I’m the Man” in September 1979 as the namesake album’s advance single, backed with a cover of the 1961 Chuck Berry rocker “Come On.”
In late November, Jackson lifted “It’s Different for Girls” as the second single (b/w with “Friday”).
In March 1980, “Kinda Kute” appeared as the third and final I’m the Man single (b/w “Geraldine and John”).
“The Harder They Come”
In June 1980, Jackson and his band released “The Harder They Come,” a non-album cover of the 1972 reggae song by Jimmy Cliff. The b-side contains two new Jackson originals, “Out of Style” and “Tilt,” both exclusives to this release.
Joe Jackson released his third album, Beat Crazy, on October 10, 1980, on A&M. This is his final album with his original backing group (Maby, Sanford, Houghton) and their sole release as The Joe Jackson Band.
“Mad at You” was the album’s first single, backed with the exclusive “Enough Is Not Enough.”
Dutch A&M lifted “Pretty Boys” as a November 1980 single, backed with “Someone Up There.”
In January 1981, Jackson lifted “Beat Crazy” as the second UK single, backed with a live version of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” In late March, “One to One” appeared as the third single (b/w “Someone Up There”).
On June 19, 1981, Jackson released Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive, an album of 1940s-era swing and jump blues covers.
“Jumpin Jive,” a 1939 swing tune by Cab Calloway, became the first single, backed with a non-album cover of the 1941 blues-jazz ballad ‘Knock Me a Kiss,” originally popularized by by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.
“Jack, You’re Dead,” a 1946 jump blues also popularized by Louis Jordan, also appeared as a single, backed with “Five Guys Named Moe,” a hopping 1943 Jordan jump blues that inspired a namesake musical.
Night and Day
Joe Jackson released his fourth album of original material, Night and Day, on June 25, 1982, on A&M.
“Real Men” appeared two weeks earlier as the album’s first single, backed with “Chinatown.”
In mid-August, Jackson lifted “Breaking Us in Two” as the second single, backed with “Target.”
The third UK single, “Steppin’ Out,” appeared in October (b/w “Another World”). Stateside, the latter two singles appeared in reverse order.
In June 1983, “Real Men” reappeared in the UK as the b-side of “Slow Song,” which A&M lifted as the final Night and Day single.
In September 1983, Joe Jackson released Mike’s Murder, the ostensible soundtrack to an upcoming neo-noir mystery film starring Debra Winger.
The opening track, “Cosmopolitan,” appeared as the soundtrack’s only UK single, backed with the instrumental “Breakdown.” Stateside, A&M selected “Memphis” as the a-side.
Body and Soul
Joe Jackson released his seventh album, Body and Soul, on March 14, 1984, on A&M.
“You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” appeared in April as the album’s first US single, backed with “Cha Cha Loco.” It reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Happy Ending” was the album’s first UK single (b/w “Loisaida”).
Jackson lifted “Be My Number Two” as the second single in both territories (b/w “Heart of Ice”).
Joe Jackson released his eighth album, Big World, on March 24, 1986, on A&M.
An edit of “Right or Wrong” appeared as the album’s first single, backed with a live version of “Breaking Us In Two.” In June, Jackson lifted “Home Town” as the second Big World single (b/w “Tango Atlantico”).
Joe Jackson released his ninth album, Will Power, in April 1987 on A&M.
- Look Sharp! (1979)
- I’m the Man (1979)
- Beat Crazy (1980)
- Jumpin Jive (1981)
- Night and Day (1982)
- Mike’s Murder [soundtrack] (1983)
- Body and Soul (1984)
- Big World (1986)
- Will Power (1987)
- Blaze of Glory (1989)
- Laughter & Lust (1991)
- Night Music (1994)
- Heaven and Hell (1997)
- Night and Day II (2000)
- Volume 4 (2003)
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