70’s Pick of the Week
“I’m The Man”, by Joe Jackson (1979)
Right around the time when Nike were becoming popular, people danced sort of pogo-style and we were transitioning from punk to new wave, there came a guy from England that had something different. I had the good fortune to see Joe Jackson live that year and it was a superb show. Not the roughness of the punk band 999 that had just played a few months before, we knew there was something refreshingly original about the guy. It was almost a sensitive punk; a commentary on real life.
On the album cover of what was his second album, Jackson appears as what they call in the U.K. a ‘spiv’, and as Jackson himself said they, “always wears a gross polka-dot tie and a pencil-thin mustache, and he's always trying to sell you a watch or something like that real cheap. I think people always want to put a label on what you do, so I thought I'd be one step ahead of them and invent one myself - spiv rock.”
“I’m the Man” is really telling us that there is no difference between the spiv and the commercial machine that sells us crap we don’t really need. The sole purpose of this is to generate revenue for shameless profiteers. Fads can be fun but how many do you really need or could not live without?
Probably best known for his 1979’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him”, Jackson had a way of connecting with the listener on a very personal level. With Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, Jackson is somewhat credited with bringing new wave to North America.
Born David Jackson in Staffordshire he started out playing violin. He quickly changed to piano and by the time he was sixteen he had won a scholarship to study music at the Royal Academy of London, now called ‘Joe’ by pretty much everyone. He toured bars and then cabarets all the while saving money for demos he wanted to record.
In 1978 a demo that went to an A&M record producer resulted in him recording “Look Sharp” released in 1979, garnering him the hit, “Is She Really Going Out With Him”, but with some other reggae-influenced, great songs like “Sunday Papers” and “Fools in Love”. Later that year he released “I’m the Man” having a back log of material. Besides “I’m the Man”, it was a very solid album including “On The Radio” and “It’s Different for Girls”. In 1980 his “Beat Crazy” continued the trend but did not really produce any major hits.
In 1982 he released “Night and Day” which is the best charting album of his career going to number 4 in the U.S. and number 3 in the U.K.. The hits “Breaking Us in Two” and “Steppin’ Out” which pay tribute to Cole Porter. A very listenable album it also includes “China Town”, and “Cancer”, which are great in their own right.
Joe lived in New York City from 1980 to 2003 which he left after the smoking ban was instituted. He was an active campaigner against smoking bans in the U.S. and the U.K..
Joe has continued to explore music doing classical, jazz and other things as he has toured and recorded for many years. 2009’s “Live at the BBC” is an excellent compilation with brilliant versions of some of his best songs.