Back in the Fall of 1982, when I was a stupid 19-year-old, I went down to the Village where a new quickie-type market had just opened, and they were advertising brand new albums at the joint for ridiculously low prices. So, as a college student who was looking for a bargain decided to check this joint out. And, sure enough, the place WAS selling new albums for basement-bargain prices. So, instead of purchasing one ten-dollar album, I was able to pick up three new albums for the same price! And, those albums happened to be Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, Daryl Hall & John Oates’ H2O, and Night and Day by Joe Jackson. When I got back to the dorm room, I started playing these albums, beginning with Joe Jackson. After an afternoon of music, I decided that my taste in music had immediately matured as these albums seemed like gateway music for my foray into jazz. As stupid as I was then, I was certain that these three albums immediately signified that I was an adult. Why? Hell, I have NO idea, but the story is true.
Instead, I was the same jackass I always was before who happened to stumbled upon some favorite artists dabbling in jazz-based soft rock. That alone would have never qualified me for maturity. What these albums signified was that the artists who had written, performed and recorded these albums were the ones whom matured in their songwriting and music craft, not me as a listener. Let’s delve into Joe Jackson’s Night and Day album.
Just three years earlier, Joe Jackson had released two albums of what was then described as angry-young-man punk-rock-influenced music. Jackson had risen to prominence with his 1979 hit song “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, a song that skinny nerds around the world could relate to. The single was released from his excellent debut album Look Sharp! That album, along with his quickly released sophomore album of similar-sounding music called I’m the Man, had critics quickly salivating over the man’s songwriting skills and were lumping with two other angry English rockers, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. By the end of 1979, many were expecting great things from this trio of similar-sounding punk-influenced rockers.
Yet, all three artists were gifted musically much more diversely than anyone had anticipated. So, the three departed from that same starting point and followed their muse where ever it led them. In the case of Jackson, his muse took him to New York City, where he took in the nightlife. And, when you listen to Night and Day, you hear the sounds of NYC nighttime jazz clubs and ethnic bars, where the music inspired him to expand his musical pallet.
While the album is known for two of Jackson’s biggest hit songs of his career, “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two”, the album is nearly a concept album as each song sounds as if the Englishman were visiting various ethnic bars in NYC and eventually sitting in with those musicians as they discover how Jackson’s rock-based piano work will work with a neo-calypso group in “Target” or how he works with a band of street musicians who use a steel drum in the album opener “Another World”.
As the album progresses, you can almost envision Jackson smiling as this new-found sounds begin to push his songwriting into uncharted territories. Songs segue into others, as if Jackson were taking a cab from one club to another during his Saturday night club-hopping quest for inspiration. It’s not often that this occurs on an album, Night and Day climaxes with the back-to-back hit singles on Side Two. “Steppin’ Out” describes the night of clubbing, dancing and performing and the anticipation of spending the night doing just that. Then, the album switches to the emotional “Breaking Us in Two”, where maybe, Jackson’s life as a musician may not be conducive to a long-lasting marriage and growing old together.
Eventually, Jackson finds his rhythm in “Real Men,” where he accepts himself for what he is, a serious musician and not a pop star. And, maybe, just maybe, under the right conditions, he too can find his true love. The album ends as the couple decides just to slow dance once more in the song “A Slow Song.” I have always felt that this was one of Jackson’s most personal songs of his rich career. And, maybe those songs with some truth in them are way more painful for the pop charts. To this day, this song remains as my favorite song of Joe Jackson’s career.
Night and Day remains as Joe Jackson’ biggest selling album. His next album, 1984’s Body and Soul, is another album done in this jazzy vein, yet it does not seem to be cutting through the crap and showing our hero as he truly is, a gifted musician with talents that extend well beyond the pop world. And, I wasn’t the person who was maturing back in 1982. No, that was Joe Jackson, and his 1982 album Night and Day was the proof.