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