AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #196 : JOE JACKSON BAND

It is important to note that this ICA is by the Joe Jackson Band, and is drawn entirely from just three albums, all of which were released in under two years in 1979/80. The four musicians involved are Joe Jackson (vocals, piano, harmonica), Gary Sanford (guitar), David Houghton (drums) and Graham Maby (bass), with the last-named being a particular hero and influence on Jonny the Friendly Lawyer of this very parish.

David Ian Jackson was born to be a musician, spending his formative years and youth initially learning the violin and later the piano, on which was proficient enough to earn money playing in pubs and bars from the age of 16 (this would have been around 1970). He would later win a scholarship which enabled him to study at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London, drawing on his love for and appreciation of all genres. He was a restless, non-conforming individual to the extent that, where many of his academic contemporaries remained wedded to their art, Jackson hooked up with a cabaret act in an effort to make a living, as much out of need than anything else as his upbringing was far from privileged and bordered on the impoverished.

It was during his time on the cabaret circuit that he gained the nickname Joe, allegedly on the basis of the cartoon character Joe Piano, who occasionally featured in the Charlie Brown/Snoopy/Peanuts comic strip. He used some of his savings to record a number of self-penned demos, the contents of which impressed record industry insiders enough to lead to him signing to A&M Records in 1978, with the bosses determined to have him replicate the career path and success of Elvis Costello, with many of his lyrics and tunes covering similar ground.

The demo was made with a band in tow, and all four of them would stay together over the next few years. The demos were polished up and formed the basis of debut album Look Sharp, released in January 1979, although by now there were many more songs in the locker which is why follow-up I’m The Man came out just nine months later. Both albums benefitted from having a smash-hit single, leading to Joe Jackson (as the act was known) gaining fame and a bit of fortune, headlining sell-out tours in the UK and many other parts of the world, including the USA and Australia.

The third album, Beat Crazy, was released in October 1980 and was credited to Joe Jackson Band. There had been a conscious effort to switch sound on the third album, with some ska and reggae influences brought to bear, but all that seemed to do was have the critics accuse the frontman of having made an initial career as a Costello-mimic now trying to become something akin to Sting-lite. It was an unhappy time with the album selling poorly and the audience numbers dwindling, so the decision by Houghton to leave the band made it easy for Jackson to call a halt to things entirely.

He was still on a long contract with A&M Records and throughout the 80s he would write and record a number of albums, some of which sold well while others quickly found themselves in the bargain bins. It was a period when I paid no attention to his music as it, to be honest, bored me. Joe Jackson has remained very active in the music industry going into the 90s and the new century, constantly shifting direction and being impossible to pin down into one particular box/genre. In 2003, he got his old band together and released the aptly named Volume 4 which was accompanied by a lengthy tour in which the old material featured prominently…..I didn’t make the effort to get a ticket, nor get my hands on the record.

I really did like the songs Joe Jackson and his band were releasing when they burst onto the scene, and I listened to the albums a fair bit in my late teen years. As I said above, I went off him fairly soon after, being disappointed and bored by the new sounds and not helped by seeing him perform on shows like The Tube where he seemed old and dated in comparison to the new kids on the block emerging at the onset of the 80s. But I do reckon I can offer up a decent enough 10-track ICA from the stuff that I did, and still, like.

NO SUCH THING AS TOMORROW
AN ICA by JOE JACKSON BAND

SIDE A

1. One to One

Thought I’d begin with a bit of a curve-ball, taking a very melancholy piano-based ballad from Beat Crazy and putting it as the opening track. I’m doing so on the basis of it being the song with which Joe opened the live shows promoting the album, coming on stage alone to take us through this real heart-breaker before the others ran on to take their places on stage and get the crowd going.

2. Happy Loving Couples

From the debut album, this is one of the tracks which would have caught the ear of those who thought Joe could be the next Elvis (new wave version) or indeed were determined to ensure that someone who owed a debt to Graham Parker would crack the mainstream. A bittersweet pop song that makes fun of the subject matters of sickly pop songs.

3. Kinda Kute

A fun anthem for smitten blokes who can’t dance. The third and final single released off I’m The Man and a monumental flop as the record-buying public made it clear once and for all that they only loved the songs where Joe’s heart was breaking. Talking of which….

4. Is She Really Going Out With Him?

This made the lower reaches of my 45 45s at 45 rundown back in 2008. It would still find a place in a similar rundown today. The song which perfectly captured the 16-year old JC who just couldn’t catch a break trying to find love at school. A genuine bona-fide classic pop song in anyone’s book. An initial flop when released in 1978, it got all the way to #13 in the UK singles chart the following year

5. I’m The Man

He might have been famed for his ballads, but the first two albums in particular were full of new-wave influenced pop songs, delivered at a frantic pace with clever, almost all-knowing lyrics, akin in many ways to what Andy Partridge was doing with his run of flop singles for early XTC. It’s a song which enables the band to show off their playing abilities and back in the day it was always a highlight of the live shows, often extending out in a highly energetic form that, gasp, saw some pogo-ing down the front.

SIDE B

1. On Your Radio

Opening track from I’m The Man. Joe spits out his venom for those who said he’d never make it big.

2. Sunday Papers

A biting satire on life in the UK in the late 70s. It’s really hard to imagine in this era of fast-moving news across so many medias, just how much influence newspapers had in terms of forming public opinions. News on the radio was broadcast for a few minutes every hour, news on the television a couple of times a day, lasting maybe 45 minutes all in. The printed press was king, and whatever was in the headlines I the morning was all that everyone talked about at home or work. Sundays were the day when the salacious tales were told – the ones which were planned and devised over a previous week-long period with the aim of bringing maximum embarrassment or shame to those who were the subject matter.

It’s a song of its time and contains language of its time that nowadays is deemed as unacceptable, but I’ll make no apologies for featuring a song in which the word ‘spastic’ is used as an adjective. Joe, along with others such as Tom Robinson and later on Billy Bragg, were among those who had the courage to actually challenge the bully boys and girls of the UK press, and for that he should be applauded.

3. It’s Different For Girls

The other big UK hit, indeed it eclipsed Is She Really Going Out With Him? by stomping all the way up to #5 in February 1980. Unusually, there is no use of the piano, meaning that Joe contributes only a vocal while his colleagues bash away at the complicated tune in which there are tempo and volume shifts on a number of occasions. It’s a clever song, which goes totally against the grain of ‘man wants six and woman needs love’, which form the basis of so many romantic tales. Joe, again, captured perfectly the feelings of Mr Loser, of which there are many more out there than Mr Winner.

4. Pretty Boys

A kind of throwaway number with a nod to ska which features towards the end of Beat Crazy, it’s one that I feel just fits in perfectly at this stage of the ICA. Joe knew he wasn’t much of a looker, and things weren’t helped by him being very prematurely bald, and he knew too that he was in an industry, like that of film and TV, where stardom isn’t always based on talent.

5. Got The Time

It closed out the debut album in an energetic and frantic fashion. No semblance of a clever smart-ass lyric, just an effort to pen a tune which was in keeping with the new wave style of the time. But it does provide the words for the title I’ve given to this ICA.

JC

14 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #196 : JOE JACKSON BAND

  1. Good to hear some of those again. I noticed a few weeks back that he’s doing a few UK dates in 2019 with London Palladium already sold out. Trying to convince Mrs TGG to join me at the Manchester date.

  2. I have the first two albums which are excellent. Not that familiar with Beat Crazy.
    Sadly went rapidly downhill thereafter

  3. I found a place for Night and Day, the fifth album he released. It was an album that you could put on when you needed to come down or just needed a bit of background music. As a 19 yo in ’82 it was good to have an album on my shelf that wasn’t the Jam, Clash or PiL or reggae for that matter.
    Not sure if I were to now build an album collection spanning the late 70’s early 80’s, I don’t believe it would be high on the list at all. But at the time it had a place.

  4. A good selection I would have struggled to compile just from those three albums. I noticed you didn’t include the stand-alone ska cover from that time, but as I can’t remember what it was for certain off of the top of my head, that’s the explanation. The Harder They Come? I liked two songs from the Night & Day album, Real Men and Stepping Out, and that’s really where my knowledge of his career stops. Maybe I’m missing something, which would be a pity.

  5. At the time I was all about Elvis Costello with little time for Joe Jackson, whom I viewed as an also-ran, or the one who started it all – Graham Parker. Yet Joe jackson was my first ever rock concert in 1983 at the not so tender age of 20 because NO ONE I REALLY liked ever made it to Central Florida in the early 80s! The major promoter thern was a company called Fat Harry Productions and they booked the likes of Ted Nugent, not this New Wave crapola! I had to take what I could get!

    I have the first Joe Jackson CD and it’s pretty good by my reckoning. I have never had “I’m The Man” and I only got “Beat Crazy” on CD a few years ago and liked it more that I expected to. I bought “Night + Day” on LP when it came out and that was the tour I saw, but I got rid of the LP in the Great Vinyl Purge ® of 1985. I later bought “Body + Soul” when it came out on CD, but have’t listened to it in decades. The last Joe Jackson album I bought was “Big World” which was good by my reckoning, but I still haven’t listened to it in many years.

    40 Years later, iI lost interest in Jackson, and even Elvis Costello [who has not done much for me post ’86] – thought the latter is always a must-see in concert! Even if you hate Costello’s latest album, you should go [except for in 1984… that was a mistake]. But Graham Parker? In the last 20 years I’ve come to recognize him as the one of the Angry Young Men Of New Wave® who I would be more than fine with owning all of his albums. He’s way less pretentious and willfully eclectic than Costello or especially Jackson can be.

    Finally, Jackson’s second career as an embittered “smoker’s rights” contrarian gets RIGHT UP MY NOSE [as Brits would say] and I am content to write him off for all time just for that offense.

  6. JJ was the second ever band I saw live after 10cc (I went to what my older brother took me to in the early years). Loved the early songs but was shocked to see massive hoardings up saying ‘no photo’s… talented guy but just seemed a bit arrogant and up himself…would be great to find out he really wasn’t like that..

  7. YEEESSSSSS! GRAHAM MABY!! Beautiful comp, JC! I am on tour with the Aces again, this time in Arizona and New Mexico, so I am just getting to check this out. Glad to see you included my all time favorite JJ tune, Kinda Kute. It’s a bit of a shame that, like Costello, Jackson’s later output was a bit self-indulgent and dull but, man, that early stuff was good. I loved the Jumpin’ Jive album and also Night and Day (which has no guitars on it at all). He’s squeaked out some worthwhile tunes over the last years but nothing that approaches the first ones. The titanic Maby was the one musician that was present on everything Jackson did. When he reformed the band I took the wife and kids to see them and was not disappointed.

  8. I too had a soft spot (at the time) for Night and Day. Not listened to any of his output since about that time so I’ll look forward to dipping back into this ICA.

    But, postpunkmonk – what exactly did Costello do so wrong in 1984?!

  9. “Goodbye Cruel World!” Even he called it his worst album [in the liner notes to the DLX RM], but he’s wrong by a mile. His worst album will always be “North,” which didn’t exist for as much as a decade later at that time in the early 90s. At least “Goodbye Cruel World” had “I Wanna Be Loved.” That tour was awful and the only time I ever saw The Attractions. Good thing Nick Lowe was the opener – he was great!

  10. Jacques, PPM might be referring to 1984’s ‘Goodbye Cruel World,’ which Costello called his “worst record” and which marked the end of the mighty Attractions until 1987’s Blood & Chocolate (after which they were gone for another 7 years). Personally, I never understood the loathing for GCW. It’s miles better than Spike or Mighty Like a Rose, or anything EC recorded after 1990. But I guess I should let PPM speak for himself…

  11. I like Beat Crazy – and I’m quite surprised that that was the case at that age. Jumpin’ jive (curiously erased from the above post even in a mention) started me doubting JJ and Night and Day wasn’t much cop, although I didn’t begrudge him Steppin’ Out being such a big hit.

  12. I wondered if it was the GCW effect. Irrespective of the album being toured, I still thought it was a decent overall show back then. I may not have been entirely ‘focused’ in those days, mind you. Happy days… what I can remember…

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