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New Wave Band:

Joe Jackson

by New Wave Dave


The line between "regular" rock and new wave is not sharp. Joe Jackson successfully mined the border territory with a series of popular albums, including hits familiar to anyone who listened to pop radio from 1979 through the '80's.

Following some youthful work in bands, Joe released Look Sharp! in 1979. Preceded by the single "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", this album gave a new wave shock to mainstream rock. Driving beats and edgy singing propelled songs like "One More Time," "Sunday Papers," and the title track into heavy FM rotation, and the music world took further notice of new wave's power.

This fast success created the demand for more Joe, and he obliged later the same year with I'm the Man, which built on his image as a sharp-dressed, energetic young musician. Although this sophomore effort had its share of catchy fast-paced rockers (including the title number), its most enduring song is the meandering and thoughtful (though far from dull) "It's Different for Girls."

Maintaining his prolific pace, Joe released Beat Crazy in 1980. While it fell short of his earlier albums' sales figures and left fewer enduring songs, this album introduced one of his best and most acerbic singles, "Pretty Boys," which rails cleverly against the beautiful but vapid pop stars of that (or any) time.

Joe started moving in other directions after establishing his new wave persona. 1981's Jumpin' Jive was a collection of swing tunes. Next came another sharp turn. Night and Day featured a bewildering mix of styles: old-style torch-song crooning as well as Latin and African rhythms. Most of the songs gained little traction, but the album roared into top-five positions in the U.S. and U.K. charts on the strength of two monster hits: the ballad "Breaking Us In Two" and the stylish, pulsating "Steppin' Out," his highest-charting single ever in the U.S.

Continuing to branch out in both mainstream and more experimental directions, Joe has released more than 20 albums. While never reaching those initial levels of fame and acclaim, he did have one more hit that hearkened back to his earlier days: the new-wave-tinged "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)", on 1984's Body and Soul album.

Today, Joe Jackson continues to tour to enthusiastic (if less than stadium-sized) audiences. He scored an "alternative" radio hit in 2008 with "Invisible Man" from the Rain album. Don't be surprised if he has many more treats in store for those of us who first knew and admired him through his groundbreaking new wave songs.