UP THERE WITH THE WORST COVER VERSIONS OF ALL TIME

I was a fan of Joe Jackson when he first enjoyed success in the late 70s and was lumped into the genre of new wave. Aside from the fact that he had a few fast tempo numbers and at other times his bitter lyrics and vocal delivery could be an occasional reminder of same-era Elvis Costello, there was nothing vaguely new wave about this prematurely balding singer-songwriter, a fact that would be confirmed many years later by the story he tells of his struggle and efforts to make the big time in his entertaining autobiography A Cure For Gravity which stops abruptly in 1978 just as he finally becomes a star.

The first two LPs and accompanying singles had been credited solely to the front man but then, in June 1980, there was a new 3-track single released attributed to Joe Jackson Band. I dutifully bought it, took it home, played it and went uh-oh….it just wasn’t very good at all.

Now I knew from reading the label that this was a cover version but had no idea that it was of a reggae song, and a bona-fide classic at that, which had soundtracked a film back in 1972. I had never heard of Jimmy Cliff and actually assumed on hearing the JJB version that he was some sort of American singer-songwriter long he lines of the blokes out of The Eagles or Steely Dan such was the sort of sound emanating from the turntable:-

mp3 : Joe Jackson Band – The Harder They Come

My apologies for inflicting it on you.

The two tracks on the flip side of the 12″ were originals and demonstrate the two contrasting styles more typical of the band – one is a thrash-through at 100mph and the other a more reserved ballad:-

mp3 : Joe Jackson Band – Out Of Style
mp3 : Joe Jackson Band – Tilt

The single was a monumental flop, not selling anywhere near enough copies to get close to the Top 75. None of the songs were included on the later LP Beat Crazy, which itself sold poorly and proved to be the last album recorded by the four piece. Joe would return to the spotlight the following year with an album of jazz and swing that I just didn’t take to at all, and then in 1982 it was all a bit Billy Joel clever piano pop music that led to a million-selling LP in Night and Day and a massive hit single in Steppin’ Out.

By this point I was past caring.

I’m still reasonably fond of the first three LPs, and indeed have toyed with the idea of an ICA from that era – but there is no way the cover version would have found its way on.

And just a heads-up that the two-week period between Christmas and New Year will see this place devote itself entirely to cover versions.

10 thoughts on “UP THERE WITH THE WORST COVER VERSIONS OF ALL TIME

  1. I have had this as a 12″ for many many years. Have never ever read a good word about it anywhere. Thinking I might be the only one on the planet who likes it. I stuck with JJ quite a bit longer that you did. I like almost everything through Big World (especially Big World), and I have continued to dip back into his discography off an on in the ensuing decades. Like Costello, he is a true artist who just happened to play rock ‘n’ roll as the medium for his most widely known work.

  2. I hadn’t heard Joe’s version of ‘The Harder They Come’ for decades, but was a big fan at the time and was all ready to wade into the debate in his defence. Then I listened to it. What a stinker.
    I’m with Brian on ‘Big World’ – a great album.

  3. I’m with Brian, as per usual: stuck around until at least Big World. But I’ve got no issue with this EP or, for that matter, anything Joe Jackson did with these band members. Gary Sanford and Dave Houghton measure up to anyone playing guitar and drums, respectively, during this era. And the amazing Graham Maby is the second best bass player of the past 40 years (after Attractions god head Bruce Thomas), and the only member of the original group that played on all of Jackson’s recordings over the years. This EP is worth the price of admission just to hear the band rip on ‘Out of Style’. What contemporary band makes tracks of this quality (relegated to a b-side no less)?

  4. I know it’s cowardly but I just can’t bring myself to listen to this!
    Loved the first two albums though

  5. Ok, JJB version of The Harder They Come is just dreadful. That it got passed the record company and was released is quite amazing.
    I get where you are coming from JC, but I will have to say as much as I love the first two albums, I really love Beat Crazy. There is a real psychedelic vibe mixed into the band’s attempt at skank and the pop songs are just gems. Also what came off as anger and frustration on the first two album bloomed into a bitterness that is palpable.
    I also agree that the Jazz/Pop Era for Jackson may have been appealing to the masses, but it left me underwhelmed. Finally when the very fine and stripped back Big World came out in 86, it seemed that Jackson had found an honest an sophisticated Pop sound and I was back on board.

  6. As someone who doesn’t like his music anyway, it’s easy to be predisposed to dislike this cover. But it’s not nearly as bad as you and the others are saying, although the instrumental break at ca. 2 mins leaves a lot to be desired.

  7. Not heard that in years. I quite liked it at the time, without buying it. Like you I’d not heard the Jimmy Cliff original when JJB’s version was released. The continued exposure to the original over the years does now make me appreciate that the JJB effort ain’t great. Rockers Revenge also had a go at covering it, with a lot less commercial success than their cover of Eddy Grant’s Walking On Sunshine.

  8. I always quite enjoyed this in a “pub band covering a classic from a genre they can’t understand” kinda way…

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