In 1979 I was in high school and a convert to the music that was quickly becoming dubbed “new wave”. Having already cut my teeth on Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, and the Ramones, I found Joe Jackson to be, well, a bit of a pop artist. Still, his first album, Look Sharp!, originally released as a set of ten-inch vinyl discs, proved irresistible, as did its follow-up, I’m the Man. By the time Jackson released Beat Crazy, I was in college and counted myself firmly among his fans. I continued to follow him until he left A&M records and pop records behind, which happens to be the same span covered by this collection. Sadly, I must report that the selections contained herein don’t really represent Jackson’s work from this period particularly well.
It would be difficult to do such a collection properly in 12 tracks, especially since Look Sharp! would probably need to be included nearly in its entirety. Still, all we get from that album is the anthemic “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” and the acerbic “Sunday Papers”. Where are “Happy Loving Couples”, “Baby Stick Around”, or the reggae influenced “Fools in Love”? The inclusion of “It’s Different For Girls” from I’m the Man is a great choice, but what about “On Your Radio”, “Geraldine and John”, “Kinda Kute”, “The Band Wore Blue Shirts”, or the title track? The same goes for Beat Crazy — we get the great title song, but what about the achingly beautiful “One to One”, “In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare)”, “Someone Up There”, or “Pretty Boys”? The poor representation of Beat Crazy is made worse by the fact that the original album is not available on CD.
Bad decisions were made at every turn. Why include anything from Jumpin’ Jive? Anyone wanting to hear anything from that album will probably spring for the entire disc, so why bother? It would have been better to throw in a track from Joe’s underrated (and ignored) soundtrack to the failed indie film Mike’s Murder, “Laundromat Monday”, perhaps. Night and Day was probably Jackson’s best-selling album, and it was inevitable that “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two”, the two singles, should be included, but how about the Latin-flavored “Another World”? I can’t argue much about the tracks from Body and Soul; it just isn’t one of my favorite Jackson albums. The tracks from Big World and Blaze of Glory are also OK. But if you are a Jackson fan, you’re going to want better than this. And it you aren’t familiar with much of his stuff (except maybe Night and Day), this disc will in no way demonstrate the extreme versatility of his work.
If you want some Joe Jackson in your collection, you can take two routes. You can splurge on the two-disc set Steppin’ Out: The Very Best of Joe Jackson, also released by Universal/A&M. This collection remedies most (though not all) of my gripes above, including more material from I’m the Man and Beat Crazy, Jackson’s single-only rendition of “The Harder They Come”, “Memphis” from Mike’s Murder, and a better taste of both Big World and Blaze of Glory. Or you can just buy Look Sharp!, I’m the Man, Night and Day, and wait for someone to wise up and put out Beat Crazy on CD. You’ll still be missing some good stuff, but hearing these three fantastic albums in their entirety should be compensation enough. Just don’t pick up this lame thing, unless, of course, all you really want from it are “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” and “Steppin’ Out”. In which case, don’t even talk to me. Really.