Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback for November 15, 2013

[Joe Jackson] -- Last week I provided a sneak peak into this week's Flashback by posting Joe Jackson's video for "Sunday Papers." Now, that song isn't part of this week's lineup, so you'll still get three tunes. No repeats this week. Anyway, Joe Jackson is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (piano, keyboards, organ, saxophone, harmonica, melodica, synthesizer, accordion, vibraphone, etc.) who has a recording career that spans from 1979 to the present. His more recent material focuses on pop/jazz/classical hybrids (check out his tribute to Duke Ellington). These recordings earn critical acclaim, but they have not reached the commercial success of his past efforts. His musical heyday was really from 1979 through 1991, during which he earned five Grammy Award nominations. I always liked him because of his voice and how he blended pop rock and New Wave (with a few jazzy trappings). Jackson's voice -- clear and distinctive with almost a jazzman's intonation -- could run the gamut from wispy to pleading to angry, but it never broke. It is difficult to pick just three tunes from the sixteen singles he released in the 80s. However, if you want to step out and learn what made this week's cut, you can read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"But nothing hides the colour of the lights that shine."

Joe Jackson's 1982 effort, Night and Day, pays tribute to the wit of Cole Porter, as well as New York City. Most of Jackson's musical virtuosity (keyboards, vibraphone) is on display, but he also embraced elements of the New Wave movement, specifically the drum machine. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Steppin' Out." This song really showcases his maturing songwriting. Here, he takes a deceptively simple R&B piano line, jazzes it up slightly, and layers it over a synthesized bass line and a sequence of drum machine fills. Lyrically, "Steppin' Out" is an ode to the anticipation of a night on the town. Geared toward the Adult Contemporary market (by the label, naturally), "Steppin' Out" was embraced equally by older teens and some college age kids. A top 10 hit in both the U.S. and the UK, it received multiple Grammy nominations: Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. 

Flashback #2"What’s a man now | What’s a man mean | Is he rough or is he rugged | Cultural and clean?"

Night and Day (1982) was Joe Jackson's only studio album to reach the Top 5 in both the UK and U.S. It is likely best known for the single, "Steppin' Out" (which I recall having on a K-Tel record whose title escapes me). However, the song that really impressed me was "Real Men." The penultimate track on the second (or Day) side of the album, "Real Men" was sandwiched between "Cancer" (a song about how everything good is bad for you) and "A Slow Song" (in which the narrator pleads with a DJ to play an appropriate song for his romance). This placement is rather poignant if you consider the 80s and the rise of AIDS. You see, "Real Men" not only questions the masculine gender role, but points to early 80s gay culture. And although the song is now just over 30 years old, it is still asking relevant questions because, even today, sometimes we do "wonder who the real men are."

If you have time, click over to Going Forward for some great analysis of gender roles in "Real Men" (and a few other pop songs). 

Flashback #3"Tonight's the night when I go to all the parties down my street | I wash my hair and I kid myself, I look real smooth."

If you're familiar with Joe Jackson, then it's probably because you've heard "Is She Really Going Out WIth Him?" which was released first in 1978 on his debut album, Look Sharp! It did not, however, generate any enthusiasm until it was re-issued in the summer of 1979. It reached #13 in the UK, and #21 in the U.S. "Is She Really Going Out WIth Him?" can still be heard on the radio today as it is the constant refrain of a person who loves someone just out of reach. As this is an 80s post, I am going to close out this week's playlist with the live, a cappella version that appeared on Jackson's double live album, Live 1980/86, released in May 1988. Enjoy! (Oh, if you want the original version, just click here).

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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