Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Joe Jackson 5: Night And Day

A move to New York City invigorated Joe, and he recorded his next album of original material with a small group of players, not one of whom added a guitar to the recordings. On vinyl, Night And Day had two sides—“night” and “day”, naturally—but the designations didn’t necessarily apply to the music within, which could have easily taken place anywhere within a 24-hour cycle in the Big Apple.
From the beginning, he embraces the diverse ethnic culture of the city, with the Latin touches and percussion on “Another World”, followed by a search for “Chinatown”. There are no silences between the songs on this side; each fades into one another, just like the radio. But at least it’s not as abrupt as changing television channels, which would make “T.V. Age” even more irritating. “Target” wanders over the same Latin piano line for too long, but the side is redeemed by the hit single “Steppin’ Out”. Still catchy as ever, it was several years before we realized it, remarkably, has the same bass line throughout, except for the verses.
Ever a student of pop music history, “Breaking Us In Two” begins identically to Badfinger’s “Day After Day”, but he uses it to base a wonderful lovers’ lament. “Cancer” might be the best of the songs on the album with a Latin theme lambasting modern society; while that’s not saying much, at least the piano solo is more exploratory. The success of the album was such that the label even bankrolled a video for “Real Men”, which got lots of MTV airplay despite its easily misunderstood lyrics about machismo, racism, homosexuality and other stereotypes. It’s still a gorgeously sad song, an idea he expands on for the epic “A Slow Song”. This masterwork may as well be his theme song—indeed, he still closes his shows with it—a bold plea to cut through the disposable trends so that “real” music can transform our lives.
With its pop sound and attitude, exemplified by the cartoon on the front cover, Night And Day wasn’t about to please anyone who missed the edgy punk of his debut. But he was determined to be a working musician and composer, and enough people bought the album to keep his publisher happy. (It still cracks us up that drummer Larry Tolfree has the same look on his face as he did on Jumpin’ Jive. At least Graham Maby lost the beard.)
The album got a boost from its videos and a lengthy tour, yet Joe still found time to compose the music for the film Mike’s Murder. Despite starring Debra Winger at the peak of her popularity, the film had a lot of problems getting released, which meant the soundtrack album didn’t find much traction. Probably just as well, as one side of tepid vocal tracks was remarkable only for “Memphis”, which ripped off the hook from the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” (over the bass line from “Steppin’ Out”), and side two’s instrumentals were just dull.
Commercially, Joe had also peaked, yet Night And Day has remained popular since its release. The 2003 Deluxe Edition seemed promising—at the very least, to show that his old label still thought highly enough of him to bother. Six solo demos demonstrate how mapped out the songs were before the band was brought in, and the five vocals from side one of Mike’s Murder kept that music in circulation, for better or worse. While the inclusion of the entirety of side two of Live 1980/86 was all good and well in context, it took the idea of recycling a tad far.

Joe Jackson Night And Day (1982)—3
2003 Deluxe Edition: same as 1982, plus 16 extra tracks
Joe Jackson Mike’s Murder Soundtrack (1983)—2

4 comments:

  1. I love love love this album....went on a CD spree when they came out - Look Sharp!, I'm the Man, Body and Soul (recorded on the LES where I was living at the time). Also bought the live album at the same time as Sting's live album and they got a lot of play. Unfortunately lost the cd's in the divorce and have replaced only the live album. Saw him live in Boston in the late 80's/early 90s and then at Roseland a few years ago - surprisingly punk and energetic in NYC, especially on "Got the Time". Interested in what you think of "Night and Day II" of which I only liked 1 or 2 tracks

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  2. It probably makes me sound like a "Touch Of Grey Deadhead," but Steppin Out is still my fave tune by him.

    Breaking Us In Two is next on my JJ list.

    What's all this really mean? Not much, it just shows I spent some time in front of the TV during MTV's early, and relevant, period.

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  3. Indeed, Reggie. This album got a lot of MTV play.

    I recall the early days of MTV when they would show concerts on Saturday nights and movies on Sunday nights. One of those concerts was the Jumpin' Jive tour, and I haven't seen evidence of it since.

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  4. I loved this album when it came out but I've cooled on it since then. Steppin' Out still works, in no small measure because it's become ingrained in our minds. I like Another World but I'm glad the whole album wasn't like that. Used to like Slow Song but no longer. Breaking Us In Two would be my pick for the best here.

    Still favor the first two and Body & Soul.

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