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Joe Jackson (born David Ian Jackson, 11 August 1954, Burton upon Trentmarker, Staffordshire) is an English musician and singer–songwriter, now living in Berlinmarker, whose five Grammy Award nominations span from 1979 to 2001. He is best known for the 1979 hit song "Is She Really Going Out with Him?", which still gets extensive FM radio airplay; the 1982 hit, "Steppin' Out"; and for his 1984 success with, "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)".

Along with Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, Jackson was a part of the trio of Britishmarker based artists who challenged the punk scene and brought a new wave sound to the United Statesmarker in the late 1970s. He was popular for his earlier power pop and new wave music, before moving to more eclectic, though less commercially successful pop, jazz and classical music offerings.


Early years

Born in Burton upon Trentmarker, Staffordshire, David Jackson (as he was then known) grew up in Gosportmarker and Paulsgrovemarker, Portsmouthmarker.

His parents met when his father was in the Navy, and Jackson's mother worked in her family's pub in Portsmouth. They initially settled in his father's hometown, Swadlincotemarker, on the border of Staffordshire and Derbyshiremarker, but when Jackson was a year old, they moved back to his mother's hometown. His father, Ronald Jackson, became a plasterer. Jackson was afflicted with asthma, diagnosed when he was three and producing attacks that lasted into his twenties. Prevented from playing sports, he turned to books and eventually music and, by the age of eleven, he began taking violin lessons, later studying timpani and oboe at school. His parents bought him a secondhand piano when he was in his early teens, and Jackson played percussion in a citywide student orchestra. From the age of sixteen he played in bars, and won a scholarship to study musical composition at London's Royal Academy of Musicmarker in 1973. Jackson did not like the prospect of being a serious composer, and moved towards pop and rock. He switched from writing classical compositions to pop songs, and was invited to join an established band called the Misty Set, where he sang his first lead vocal on-stage.

After a spell playing keyboards in the Royal Academy big band under John Dankworth and keyboards again with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Jackson's first band was Edward Bear (not to be confused with the 1970s Canadianmarker band of the same name fronted by Larry Evoy). The band was later renamed Edwin Bear and then Arms and Legs, in order to avoid confusion with the Canadian group. Arms and Legs dissolved in 1976 after three unsuccessful singles. Although he was still known as David Jackson while in Arms and Legs, it was around this time that Jackson picked up the nickname "Joe", based on his perceived resemblance to the puppet character Joe 90. In 1977 he spent some time in the cabaret circuit to make money to record his own demos. In August 1977, he played his first gig as the leader of the Joe Jackson Band, singing and playing keyboards, backed by Mark Andrews (who was soon replaced by Gary Sanford), Graham Maby, and drummer Dave Houghton. At the same time, he became the pianist and musical director for a cabaret act, Koffee 'n' Kreme, that was beginning a tour following their triumph on the ITV talent show, Opportunity Knocks.


Jackson at the El Mocambo, Toronto
21 May 1979 Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

In 1978 producer David Kershenbaum heard Jackson's demo tape, and signed him to A&M Records on 9 August 1978. The album Look Sharp! was recorded straight away, and was released in January 1979. In an interview in February 1979 with NME magazine, Jackson talked about Look Sharp!; "I didn't want your typical 1977/1978 new wave band sound. I wanted more of a reggae mix, where you have a very upfront bass and drums and a thin sounding guitar that goes in and out. The idea is to leave a lot of gaps to let the song really come through". In March, Look Sharp! broke into the record charts, eventually peaking at #40 in the UK Albums Chart. The same month, A&M released the album in the U.S.marker, and it quickly charted, reaching the #20 in the Billboard 200, after "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" was released as a single in May (while Jackson toured North America) and became a Top 40 hit. In September, the LP was certified gold in the U.S., whilst in the UK, "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" was re-released in July and charted the following month, making the Top 20. Jackson was nominated for a 1979 Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, for the single. Equally, the album cover of Look Sharp! was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

Look Sharp! was quickly followed by I'm the Man on 5 October 1979. Critically, the album was considered a continuation of Look Sharp!, an opinion shared by Jackson himself. With the first bloom of his emergence fading, Jackson was beginning to be viewed by critics as the third in a line of angry British singer-songwriters, starting with Graham Parker and continuing with Elvis Costello, but his commercial success created resentment, especially because he was not as forthcoming with the media as Costello. Like other punk and new wave acts, Jackson used reggae rhythms on occasion, notably on "Fools in Love" on Look Sharp! and "Geraldine and John" on I'm the Man. In June 1980, he released an EP in the UK, which included a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come".

Beat Crazy followed in October 1980. It was a relative disappointment commercially, peaking outside the Top 40 in both the U.S. and UK, with its singles failing to chart. One reason for the reduced sales in the U.S. may have been that the group did not tour to support it there.

After the break-up of the band in December 1980, Jackson took a break and recorded an album of old-style swing and blues tunes, Jumpin' Jive, featuring the songs of Cab Calloway, Lester Young, Glenn Miller, and most prominently, Louis Jordan. The album, and associated single release, was credited to Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive.


Jackson then relocated to New Yorkmarker following the breakdown of his marriage, and Jackson's 1982 album Night and Day paid tribute to the wit and style of Cole Porter (and indirectly to New York). Jackson lived in New York for the next twenty years, incorporating the sound of the city into his music throughout the 1980s and beyond. Night and Day was Jackson's only studio album to reach the Top 5 in either the UKmarker or the U.S. Night and Day sold over one million copies, earning gold disc status. The tracks "Real Men" and "A Slow Song" have pointed obliquely to the city's early 1980s gay culture. A&M put considerable promotional muscle behind the album, and the resultant single "Steppin' Out" became a multi-format hit, eventually earning nominations for Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. The album also spawned a second Top 20 U.S. single, "Breaking Us in Two", finishing his Night and Day tour in May 1983.

Jackson contributed a track to a film, Mike's Murder, directed by James Bridges and starring Debra Winger. Jackson wrote several songs and a few instrumental pieces for a subsequent album with the music soundtrack. However, the film, which was scheduled to open in September 1983, was delayed until March 1984. During the interim, composer John Barry completely overhauled the soundtrack, so that only a little of Jackson's music remained. The film was a disastrous flop but the orphaned soundtrack album managed a U.S. Top 100 placing, and spawned a minor chart single in the Jackson composition "Memphis"; whilst "Breakdown" earned Jackson a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Jackson at the keyboards

In March 1984, Jackson re-emerged with the UK #14 album Body & Soul, heavily influenced by pop, jazz standards and salsa music, showcasing the U.S. #15 hit single "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)". The album was a modest commercial success, but after touring four months promoting the album, Jackson took a break after it concluded in July 1984, saying the tour had been "the hardest I ever did; it came too soon after the last one, and by the end of it I was so burned out I swore I'd never tour again".

Jackson followed with Big World (1986), a three-sided double record (the fourth side consisted of a single centering groove and a label stating "there is no music on this side"), however, the other three sides contained material which was recorded live over three successive nights. In 1986 he collaborated with Suzanne Vega on the single "Left of Center" from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack with Vega singing and Jackson playing piano.

In the winter of 1985, Jackson had been commissioned to write a 20 minute score for a Japanesemarker film, Shijin No Ie (House of the Poet), and the orchestral piece was recorded with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. Jackson adapted it into "Symphony in One Movement" and added other instrumental pieces to create Will Power, released in April 1987, which set the stage for things to come later. Jackson released two albums in 1988. The first of the two in May, 1988 was a live double album set, Live 1980/86, chronicling his tours over the years. The second was Jackson's soundtrack to a Francis Ford Coppola film, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, released in August. The album earned Jackson another Grammy nomination for Best Album of Original Instrumental Background Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV.

Before he left pop behind he put out two more albums, Blaze of Glory and Laughter & Lust. Blaze of Glory was another modest seller, although the resultant single, "Nineteen Forever", reached #4 in the U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. Jackson felt the album was one of his best efforts and toured to support it with an eleven piece band in the U.S. and Europe from June to November 1989, and was disappointed with both the commercial reaction and his record label's lack of support. He parted ways with A&M, who then released the 1990 compilation Steppin' Out: The Very Best of Joe Jackson, which became a Top Ten hit in the UK. In 1990, thrash metal band Anthrax recorded a cover of Jackson's "Got The Time" for their Persistence of Time album.


Jackson wrote his third movie score for 1991's Queens Logic, but no soundtrack album was issued. Signing to Virgin Records, Laughter & Lust appeared in April 1991, where Jackson expressed some of his frustration with the music industry with "Hit Single", while "Obvious Song" and his percussion laden cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" secured radio airplay. However, the release continued his gradual sales decline, failing to reach the U.S. Top 100, after which Jackson was not heard from on disc for three years.

In the interim, he wrote music for two more films, I'm Your Man (1992) and Three of Hearts (1993), but neither produced soundtrack albums featuring his music.

However, with Night Music (1994) and Heaven and Hell (1997), his retirement from the mainstream seemed permanent. Night Music attempted to fuse his pop and classical tastes, including instrumentals and guest vocals by Máire Brennan of Clannad, but it did not chart. After it was released, Jackson left Virgin and signed to Sony Classical, which produced Heaven and Hell, a song cycle depicting the seven deadly sins. Billed to Joe Jackson & Friends; the friends included Jane Siberry, Suzanne Vega and Dawn Upshaw.

In 1995, Joe Jackson contributed his version of "Statue of Liberty" on a tribute album to the English band XTC called A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC.

Sony released his Symphony No. 1 in 1999, for which he received a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2001. Symphony No. 1 was played by a band of jazz and rock musicians including Steve Vai and Terence Blanchard.

Jackson is also an author, having written A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage, published in October 1999, which Jackson has described as a "book about music, thinly disguised as a memoir". It traced his early musical life from childhood until his twenty fourth birthday; life as a pop star, he suggested, was hardly worth writing about.


With semi-classical pieces on his previous three recordings, Jackson proved he had not abandoned pop altogether in June 2000, with the issue of Summer in the City: Live in New York, an album drawn from an August 1999 concert. It featured Jackson playing the piano and singing, backed only by Maby and drummer Gary Burke, performing some of his old songs and several covers. Four months later came Night and Day II, a new set of songs in the spirit of his most popular previous recording. Touring to promote the album, Jackson recorded the live album Two Rainy Nights which was first released in January 2002 on his own Great Big Island label through his website, and then re-issued to retail in 2004.

In 2001, Tori Amos covered Jackson's song "Real Men" on her album Strange Little Girls. In 2002, "Steppin' Out" appeared in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, playing on pop radio station Flash FM. A loop of the instrumental portion of this song is used as the theme music for the WYES-TVmarker (New Orleansmarker, Louisianamarker) weekly arts and entertainment program, Steppin' Out.

In 2003, he reunited his original quartet for an album (entitled Volume 4, implying that it was the follow-up to his first three albums with the original band) and lengthy tour. As before the quartet consisted of Jackson, Maby, Houghton and Sanford.

In 2004 Jackson performed a cover of Pulp's "Common People", with William Shatner for Shatner's album Has Been. Another live album, Afterlife was issued in March 2004. As he made television appearances to promote the latter, he insisted that the quartet's reunion had been a one-off. Meanwhile, his recording of "Steppin' Out" was used in a television advertisement for Lincoln-Mercury automobiles

He prepared the score for The Greatest Game Ever Played, for its 2005 release. Jackson toured 45 U.S. and European cities in 2005 with Todd Rundgren and the string quartet Ethel, appearing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing their collaborative cover version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Thereafter, he embarked on a short tour in a piano-bass-drums trio format. He toured Europe in Spring 2007, again in a trio format.

Jackson's album, Rain was released by Rykodisc on 28 January 2008 in the UK and one day later in the U.S. The album included a CD and a bonus DVD containing over 40 minutes of material, including concert and behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Jackson performed two UK shows in Spring 2008, followed by a full UK tour.

In 2008, Jackson's "One More Time" was used in Taco Bell television advertisements in the U.S. Taco Bell used the same advertisements again in the fall of 2009. In an interview, Jackson said of the ads, "[i]t’s my song, and they didn’t change it or anything. Maybe it reminds people that I still exist, plus I get paid for it. . . . I don’t think people think Joe Jackson eat [sic] Taco Bell."

Jackson has actively campaigned against smoking bans in both the U.S. and the UK, writing a 2005 pamphlet The Smoking Issue, and a 2007 essay Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State, and issuing a satirical song ("In 20-0-3") on the subject. In 2003, soon after the New York smoking ban, Jackson left that city and returned to Portsmouth, England, where he has a flat in the oldest part of the city that overlooks the harbour. More recently, in the DVD interviews for Rain, it was stated that he had moved to Berlin in early 2007.

He has been quoted as saying he now spends most of his time in Berlin, but still has places in Portsmouth and New York. When at home in Portsmouth pubs he can be spotted in pubs that serve real ale, his enthusiasm for which is noted in his autobiography, A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage.



Year Title UK Albums Chart U.S. Billboard 200 Chart Record label
1979 Look Sharp!
I'm the Man
1980 Beat Crazy
1981 Jumpin' Jive
1982 Night and Day
1983 Mike's Murder
1984 Body & Soul
1986 Big World
1987 Will Power
1988 Live 1980/86
1988 Tucker
1989 Blaze of Glory
1991 Laughter & Lust
1994 Night Music
1997 Heaven and Hell
1999 Symphony No. 1
2000 Summer in the City: Live in New York
Night and Day II
2002 Two Rainy Nights
Great Big Island
2003 Volume 4
2004 AfterLife
2008 Rain

Compilation albums

Year Album UK Albums Chart
1990 Stepping Out: The Very Best of Joe Jackson
1997 This Is It!


Year Title Chart positions Album
UK Singles Chart Australia Canada Germany Holland U.S.
Billboard Hot 100
Hot Modern Rock Tracks
Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks
1978 "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" - - - - - - - - Look Sharp!
1979 "Sunday Papers" - - - - - - - -
"One More Time" - - - - - - - -
"Is She Really Going Out with Him?" 13 15 9 - 46 21 - -
"It's Different for Girls" 5 85 - - - - - - I'm the Man
"I'm the Man" - - 23 - - - - -
1980 "Kinda Kute" - - 91 - - - - -
"The Harder They Come" / "Out of Style" / "Tilt" - - - - 34 - - - Non-album EP release
"Mad at You" - - - - - - - - Beat Crazy
"One to One" - - - - - - - -
1981 "Beat Crazy" - - - - - - - -
"Jumpin' Jive" 43 61 - - - - - - Jumpin' Jive
"Jack, You're Dead" - - - - - - - -
1982 "Real Men" - 6 - - 17 - - - Night and Day
"Steppin' Out" 6 30 5 28 - 6 - 7
1983 "Breaking Us in Two" 59 90 40 - - 18 - -
"Memphis" - - - - - 85 - - Mike's Murder (soundtrack)
1984 "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" - 96 30 - - 15 - - Body & Soul
"Happy Ending" 58 47 - - 19 57 - -
"Be My Number Two" 70 - - - - - - -
1986 "Left of Centre" (Suzanne Vega featuring Joe Jackson) 32 35 - - - - - - Pretty in Pink
"Right and Wrong" - 64 - - - - - 11 Big World
1988 "Is She Really Going Out with Him? (Live)" - - - - 5 - - - Live 1980/1986
1989 "(He's a) Shape in a Drape" - 87 73 - 35 - - - Tucker soundtrack
"Nineteen Forever" - 79 58 - 44 - 4 16 Blaze of Glory
1991 "Obvious Song" - - 64 - - - 2 28 Laughter & Lust
"Stranger Than Fiction" - - 79 53 71 - - -
"Oh Well" - - - - - - 20 25
2001 "Stranger Than You" - - - - 91 - - -

See also


Joe Jackson - December 1979 - NME


  1. "NPR Weekend Edition Sunday: Gay Pop Music", 22 June 2003
  2. Rykodisc press release
  3. Doug Miller, "Joe Jackson Still ‘Steppin’ Out’ to His Own Beat," January 29, 2008, MSNBC website [1]
  4. website
  5. The Official Website of Joe Jackson
  6. Joe


  • A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage, 1999, autobiography ISBN 1-86230-083-6

External links

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