Friday, January 30, 2009

Joe Jackson -- "Sunday Papers" (1979)

Late 70's England was a hotbed of angry young musical men, from the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten to the bespectacled and obsessed Elvis Costello. Joe Jackson came off this factory line too, but he abhorred the "new wave" tag and was very vocal about not being associated with Costello.

However, they both shared a penchant for biting satire and shifting musical styles like the weather. While Costello was all sexual frustration, voyeurism, and twisted psyche, Jackson had a comical purview of workaday England and going out for a pint.

His breakneck debut, Look Sharp!, fit into that nice neat short New Wave pop song blueprint of the time, and rarely has one just enjoyed the ride from the musical start. His signature hit, "Is She Really Going Out With Him," still resonates today and my young daughter loved it the moment she heard it for the first time.

When I played her the follow-up single, "Sunday Papers," which I've heard many countless times, I suddenly noticed that wonderful aggressive bass playing from Graham Maby. I don't know why I always took it for granted, but his counterpoint to the opening rhythm guitar chords was killer. But it didn't stop there. Maby's all over the place between the verses that it's practically a showcase for him as opposed to any other band member.

Jackson's band exemplified the sorely missed stripped down nature of the New Wave/punk movement, where all you needed were four musicians -- a drummer, two guitarists and a singer -- to get the point across.

I remember a cultural fascination with the tabloids began around this time and through the early 80's'. It was hip to dig them. Once the Talking Heads incorporated their aesthetic on their album and movie True Stories, that cemented it. However, you've got to credit Joe Jackson for taking a brilliantly funny icy look at them.

Mother doesn't go out any more,
Just sits at home and rolls her spastic eyes.
But every weekend through the door,
Come words of wisdom from the world outside.

If you want to know about the bishop and the actress,
If you want to know how to be a star.
If you want to know about the stains on the mattress,
You can read it in the Sunday papers, Sunday papers.

Mother's wheelchair stays out in the hall,
Why should she go out when the TV's on?
Whatever moves beyond these walls,
She'll know the facts when Sunday comes along.

If you want to know about the man gone bonkers,
If you want to know how to play guitar.
If you want to know about the other suckers,
You can read it in the Sunday papers, read it in the Sunday papers.

Sunday papers don't ask no questions.
Sunday papers don't get no lies.
Sunday papers don't raise objection.
Sunday papers don't got no eyes.

Brother's heading that way now I guess,
He just read something made his face turn blue.
Well I got nothing against the press,
They wouldn't print it if it wasn't true.

If you want to know about the gay politician,
If you want to know how to drive your car.
If you want to know about the new sex position,
You can read it in the Sunday papers, read it in the Sunday papers.

Jackson's first two albums were pretty much all of one piece, clever pop songs with his crack band (I saw Maby many, many years later accompanying Marshall Crenshaw at a small club in Piermont, NY). He then chucked that model, saw the reggae light for Beat Crazy and then did another left turn into swing for Jumping Jive, and yet again towards Cole Porter with Night And Day. He had more in common with Costello's stylistic shifts than he thought.

So let's take a look at the young Joe Jackson, smirking, on top of the world, performing "Sunday Papers" on the UK TV program, "Old Grey Whistle Test."

1 comment:

Aaron Barnhart said...

He came back to many of the same ideas an older, wiser fellow on 1986's live LP "Big World." I still remember his live (not on LP) version of "The Jet Set" from a concert in Chicago: Don't be f@%!in' with the/Jet Set ...