Joe Jackson Reissues From Intervention Records

Joe Jackson's "angry young man" stance came late in the cycle and so at the time was less than fully convincing. Elvis and Graham had already been there and done that. The picture of Jackson on the back cover of his debut Look Sharp (IR-005) just wasn't convincing.

More importantly, the music and especially the lyrics seemed derivative but boy, could the band play and cut those sharp-edged rhythms! Songs like "Sunday Papers" covered familiar territory but the hook on "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" dug in and the songs were generally tightly sprung and well crafted though "Happy Loving Couples" sounded way too much like "Less Than Zero". On the Reggae rhythmed "Fools in Love" Jackson is a cynical outsider looking at love from a particularly jaundiced and needy point of view. Overall, his social commentary lacked focus and bite, while his relationship songs came across as bitter. Jackson knew how to modulate the dynamics and exhibited a musical sense that indicated he was low-balling his abilities to fit the time's stripped down '50's derived musical fashion.

Look Sharp! was simply but cleanly recorded in what sounds like mono. If you like the original, you'll love the reissue, which offers sharper, cleaner transients, improved transparency and focus and greater dynamics. It preserves a pulsing energy the original softens and diminishes. Cymbals chime smartly, Graham Maby's bass lines are tautly drawn, and Dave Haughton's drum kit produces slam the original blunts. Plus the pressing quality helps produce blacker backgrounds.

Jackson's follow-up I'm The Man features a cover showing Jackson as consummate flim-flam man and while the title song is about a material goods salesman, it can also be seen as Jackson getting ready to slough off the Get Sharp! "musical hula-hoops" image, though the title tune may be Jackson's pinnacle as a hard rocker.

The album opens with "On the Radio", a sweet revenge song that also indicates the production has softened and warmed somewhat the debut album's hard and bright edges. In "Geraldine and John" Jackson cynically observes a cheater and a break-up. "Kinda Cute" again cuts too close to the bone of an Elvis Costello song. Later on "The Band Wore Blues Shirts", which has in parenthesis (a true story), Jackson paints an empty picture of being a musician in a nightclub house band. In "Don't Wanna Be Like That", Jackson paints a negative picture of the L.A. scene from his particular point of view, again as an outsider. At the end his bitterness sharply pokes through his observational stance as he hints at his own predicament: "And the Playboy centerfold leaves me cold/And that ain't 'cause I'm a fag". The album's final few songs are lyrically unfocused, or rather, inconsequential relationship observations as if Jackson's attention span on the subject was spent—though "Amateur Hour" features a lovely melody.

Again, this Intervention reissue smokes the original in all of the ways that matter on a drum'n'bass'n'guitar driven record: sharper, cleaner transients, greater dynamic slam, and bass that digs all the way down. The perspective is again nearly if not fully mono, which increases the importance of the instrumental separation and clarity.

I'm the Man came across then and now as a "bridge" album to either more of the same next time, which would have been a career-stall, or something new demonstrating musical and personal growth. Still, probably few fans were prepared for Night and Day, where Jackson basically said "fuck this angry young man shit, here's who I really am (musically and otherwise)."

On the front cover Jackson is seen at the piano (where he dared not previously go) in a Hirschfeld-like pen and ink sketch, looking very much like the Cole Porter toward which the album's title points. The newly liberated Jackson is shown in the gatefold "deal with it" photo standing before a plethora of keyboard and mallet instruments—all percussion—plus a couple of bass guitars. Not an electric guitar in sight but plenty of latin rhythms packed into the grooves.

The album opens with Jackson stepping into a rhythmically sophisticated "Another World" backed by congas and xylophone. Jackson's liberation continues song by song as he's moved beyond "boy/girl" to more sophisticated fare. "Stepping Out" presents the newly liberated Jackson in full sophisticated flower but not before the embarrassing Talking Heads rip-off "T.V. Age", which I bet Jackson wishes he could take back.

"Real Men" gets to the heart of where Jackson's been heading—the sexual liberation and another dose of tearful bitterness because he's not one of the pretty boys he's observing and in any case, liberation is leading to confusion. It's a powerful song and worlds away from "Is She Really Going Out With Him?". It's Jackson being really tough but without shouting and on the final tune you hear Jackson finally singing satisfied about his relationship instead of observing others—though he's still got a bitch, but it's about the club D.J..

The Intervention reissue again beats the original A&M in every way as above. I think Mobile Fidelity once issued this years ago and I had it but got rid of it I can't remember why, but probably because the old Mo-Fi regime laid on the excess bass and muddied the middle.

Fans of these records will want all three but more casual fans looking for one should get Night and Day both for the music and far more sophisticated 'recorded in New York City' sound.

As we've come to expect from Intervention, the Tip-on packaging is first rate as is Kevin Gray's mastering from analog tape, pressed on 180 gram vinyl at RTI.

luvvinyl's picture

I bought all three immediately when they were released. I agree, much better than the originals. If you like Joe Jackson, don't hesitate to pick up these reissues. You won't regret it!

IR Shane's picture

Kevin Gray and the the folks at RTI and Stoughton did amazing work on these for me, and of course Universal had great sounding tapes for us to work with. I felt like there would be room for improvement on the first two especially, but the tapes exceeded my wildest dreams. This band had a kick-ass rhythm section with Maby and Houghton, and I just love that you can really hear their wonderful playing on these LPs with such force and clarity!

Auric G's picture

Can you reveal some upcoming releases?

IR Shane's picture

Of course there are more in the works not ready for announcement, but This is Big Audio Dynamite is in stores on 8/12, and after that I have two Erasure titles that have not yet been officially announced: Wonderland and The Circus. I'm quite thrilled about this as 2016 is Wonderland's 30th Anniversary! Both are AAA, we got great sounding tapes and I'm thrilled with how they came out, cut by Kevin Gray.

Anton D's picture

Love Erasure!

Interestingly, I bought new release pressings of Wonderland and The Circus via a link at their website to Lexer Music in February! (It also included The Innocents.) Was that you?

If not, I'm buying yours, anyway, to compare!

Thanks for these great pressings!

IR Shane's picture

I don't know what they cut their vinyl from. We used US cutting copies, which according to Warner are the best analog sources available. Ours is 100% AAA analog.

Anton D's picture

Then, I am in as soon as they hit!

Thanks for the reply, I will report back.

I think you will have much success with the way you are approaching this endeavor. All the best!

Michael Bear Arlt's picture

I'm seeing this a lot in reissues, but a number of reissues of 1980's albums are remastered using a cutting copy, or a copy tape. Why is that? Issues with sticky tape which is a problem with the synthetic lubricant on Ampex 456 or Scotch 206 breaking down, theft? A number of MFSL 1980's titles are mastered from copy tape (Lauper, Judas Priest, Men At Work, Sisters Of Mercy, Dead Can Dance, B52's). It's kind of odd that masters that are somewhat recent are not being used for reissues. It's too strange to see tapes so current go missing.

Mr Olsen's picture

Looks very interesting. I'd love to try a few IR titles but guess they are US only (or very expensive import)? JPC.DE has B.A.D. priced at 50 euro + shipping.

IR Shane's picture

But you can buy from Amazon in the US. I don't know how that works out cost wise but retail for BAD is $30 US.

Mr Olsen's picture

As a European it's very expensive ordering goods from countries outside the EU. Unfortunately.

Chemguy's picture

Just got I’m The Man. Your UPS shipping got it to me in Canada in two days! I was floored...I just ordered it!

This is another triumph, Shane. Perfect sonics, beautiful tip on jacket...a pleasure for all senses. Keep up the super job!

IR Shane's picture

So glad you love the LP! I also love the artwork expanded to a single gatefold!

Anton D's picture

Talk about albums that have been assimilated into my DNA!

I am looking forward to more releases from this label.

okiejerry's picture

I hope the reissues extend to "Body and Soul" which is notorious for being a very well-recorded album.

IR Shane's picture

I would love to revisit more of JJ's catalog!

melody maker's picture

Shane, speaking of the best of this genre and referencing the first line of MF's review, is there any chance you guys might consider "Squeezing Out Sparks" for a reissue? I know Graham Parker's not exactly a household name these days, probably even less so than Joe… but that album almost ranks up there with "This Year's Model" and "Armed Forces" as a New Wave tour de force, and it's incredibly well played and pretty powerfully recorded (I can hear a solid analog recording peeking out from the crappy vinyl on my original…)

IR Shane's picture

thank you!

immltng's picture

I would love to see Jumping Jive & Beat Crazy reissued

dbowker3d's picture

It's album that was pretty well recorded already, and obviously more money was available, but still. If given the love these first three got I'm sure it'd be amazing.

melody maker's picture

"Body and Soul" would be interesting because it's "good early digital," if that's not an oxymoron. I haven't pulled it out in years but if I remember right, the liner notes featured Joe talking about how he prized great sound quality, and found this killer-sounding old church to record in... With a fabulous new digital system. I was like "but..." But as I remember it sounded surprisingly good. Of course then there's the music, which is about half good, half pretentious... MF in reviewing some Springsteen reissues said that Bruce was often "too Broadway" for him, which I agree with, and Joe even more so in his mid-period... there's some long overblown stuff on "Body and Soul" but also great love/breakup songs like "Not Here Not Now" and "Be My Number Two." Back on the topic of this review, MF is right that the first two albums are mixed bags but "Night and Day" is def Joe's masterpiece. Of course the original pressing of that one already sounds damn good, the first two not so much, so which to buy? Incremental improvement of great music, or big improvement of merely good music? I think I may need a world-class AAA copy of "Got the Time" from "Look Sharp".... Graham Maby stakes his case as an all-time great rock bassist on that song along with "Geraldine and John" and "I'm the Man" from the second album!

IR Shane's picture

which of the two early ones best shows off Maby's work. If pressed I'd say that he's just a bit more buried on Look Sharp than I'm the Man, but again if you read the mastering notes on my website the biggest improvements in both early LPs was in the bass and rhythm section. by far. At the risk of being self serving, why not both??

melody maker's picture

Shane, that's a classy and well-written sales pitch - I may go for both! I think the second album has both better songs, and the musical plus of Joe's weird melodica oozing all over stuff like "Gerladine and John" like a mad hybrid of harmonica and Hammond...

melody maker's picture

MF, I totally agree with you here on "Night and Day":
"Jackson's liberation continues song by song as he's moved beyond "boy/girl" to more sophisticated fare. The title tune presents the newly liberated Jackson in full sophisticated flower but not before the embarrassing Talking Heads rip-off "T.V. Age", which I bet Jackson wishes he could take back."
Yes the mostly-sophisticated songs are great, yes "TV Age" is the worst song on the album…. but what title tune? Ain't no title tune!

Michael Fremer's picture
I so associate the album with "Stepping Out" I made that mistake. Will correct..
Neward Thelman's picture

"...Jackson basically said "fuck this angry young man shit...". Is that a direct quote? Oh - it's you putting words in an artist's mouth. Of course, being a Stereophile "writer", profanity - pimply-faced, adolescent-brained profanity - is de rigueur. I'm sure glad Stereophile's around for us to introduce children to the world of higher fidelity. Kids - and adults - can learn so much and improve their lives and character with words such as "fuck", "shit", "piss"...and so on. Nothing better to demonstrate the depth of your intellect and the your powers of expression.

melody maker's picture

Neward Thelman, I favor verbal elegance as much as the next guy (more than most), but MF has an effective and well-established writing style that includes this type of language. Surely you can't have been as shocked as you make out, at least if you're a regular around these parts.

Neward Thelman's picture

Thanks for your interesting reply. Allow me to respond that it's not a question of elegance - it's a question of intelligence and decency. As you walk down the street you don't expect to be shoved or punched in the face by anyone passing by. You don't expect a waiter bringing your plate to the table to spit into your food. You don't expect a car to ram your vehicle at will. All of those acts may be dismissed as merely "well-established" behaviors, and therefore acceptable as such. But, I disagree that in a stable society they have any place at all. Stereophile, under John Atkinson's long tenure, has become a haven for aging and aged [an overweight] former hippie types who pathetically yearn to recapture their youth. It's disgusting watching [or reading] them in action. Who uses profanity in excess? Hands down adolescent males. Every other word is a profanity. It's the coolest thing, talking that way. Stereophile's "writers" think so to. Except that they're old farts - really old, in some cases. It's sad. Fremer, to his credit, usually doesn't stoop to that level [as he said in his reply below]. So, it's particularly distressing that he did so in this case. especially when the profanity was completely unnecessary. I've noticed that Stereophile readers aren't a particularly well-read, literate group. Names such as Ezra Pound, Langston Hughes, or Henry James have as much meaning to them as calculus does to your dog. Yet those are just a few names of hundreds of writers and commentators who managed to write with verve, style, and intelligence, and who's contributions continue to be remembered. They didn't rely, or sink to, 14-year old profanity to make their points. If only Atkinson and his band of fat old geezers would take them as examples, rather than 1969 issues of Rat magazine.

IR Shane's picture

I find neither intelligence or decency lacking, occasional curse words notwithstanding. I have a sense reading your posts here that there are many other issues with the state of the world disturbing you and you'd like to drag all of us down with you and your dour attitude about many things, not just the publications we read.

In modern parlance, the kids you worry so much about would point you out as a troll before they'd be offended by what they read here or in Stereophile.

If both Stereophile and Analog Planet aren't something you enjoy reading, feel free to move on without insulting those of us who do (and before you claim you didn't insult us you wrote "I've noticed that Stereophile readers aren't a particularly well-read literate group"). Those of us who read and enjoy these publications don't want them altered to suit you and your tastes. An older word for that is censorship.

dbowker3d's picture

Come on, you can't be THAT sheltered! And besides, Michael Fremer for one thing is in his 60's and hardly a pimply kid. Plus, he's writing about a rock musician and sorry, but swearing comes with the territory. Actually, it comes with being an adult.

And are you really so worried "our children" are going get get exposure to swearing HERE? Right here at Analog Planet? OK, but if they are past the 4th grade a school they have already heard it, not to mention movies or TV. Or are you teenagers going to still be watching PG rated movies until they leave home at 18?

Anyway, since when does mere exposure equal automatic corruption? My son has heard it all before through media, but we don't swear in the house and neither does he (or outside the house either of course).

Neward Thelman's picture

Bowker - Stereophile's really made for you. Very low IQ demands; all attempts inquiry, analysis, and dissent are ridiculed. Reading it's like walkng into some small town bar where all of the [drunken] patrons talk the same way and think the same way. Sigh.

Firstly, where'd you get the idea that I expressed any degree of shock at Fremer's use of profanity? Shock? If I respond to some slob attempting to snatch a lady's purse by confronting the aggressor - am I expressing shock, or just doing what any strong, decent guy would do by coming to her aid? In the same vein, was Fremer's "F-bomb" necessary? If not, why should a reader put up with it? Apparently to you, regular and frequent profanity are the norm. Go ahead, finish your 20th beer - you've got gallons more to go before you pass out.

Reading and reading comprehension appear to be challenging to you. You said: "Fremer for one thing is in his 60's and hardly a pimply kid...". Gawrsh - sure couldn't tell from his photo. I didn't say that Fremer was a pimply kid. What I said - very clearly - was that the use of profanity was pimply-faced and adolescent-brained kind of thing. See? You do see the difference, right? Ah, probably not. Drink up.

Moving on to the children part - again, you continue to display a lack of simple reading comprehension. The point I was making was that audiophiles in general - and Stereopile in particular - complain of the lack of interest of young people in audio. To combat that, parents could endeavor to introduce their children to the world of audio. Allowing a child to read Stereophile would be a natural part of that experience. But - how would any responsible, sane parent do that if in doing so, children will be reading "ass wipe this" and "fuck that", and the like? Why make profanity a part of the audiophile experience? In my opinion, it's no different from predatory homosexual priests making child rape part of the religious experience. Again - do you see my point? Yeah - probably not.

Instead, you seem unable to think your way through your own logical error, dismissing the issue by saying, "My son has heard it all before through media...". So, let's see. According to you, if children hear profanity in other venues, then it's OK for them to find it in publications and websites devoted to music and audio. Maybe even desirable. Absolutely. Rock on, Bowker.

melody maker's picture

I do take your point: coarsening of the culture. While profanity is hardly the worst evil we run into on a daily basis, the "broken window theory" applies: you don't want an Anything Goes attitude. Having said that, many people close to me don't get this (or do get it and just don't consider it a high priority), and I don't wish to ostracize them. Plus I occasionally use said language myself, just rarely in print or in front of kids. For me, this is a lead-by-example thing rather than a lecture-others thing. But I get your point and respect your passion. I myself hate people who walk around in restaurants and malls with F and S-bombs on their t-shirts, since that's not as ephemeral as a word in conversation... plus they look like morons

Michael Fremer's picture
I use such language sparingly. You fixate on it.
dbowker3d's picture

Based on Mikey's review I sprung for Night and Day and Holy Sh**! it sounds good! From the first few seconds of the title song it sounds like REAL instruments now, with serious (and realistic) bass drums and all the the other nice details jumping out of the mix. It sounds almost like a whole other album practically, in all the best ways! To my ears nothing was over enhanced or pushed beyond what was probably always right there on the tapes, just this time it has very little compression, real dynamics and some nice spatial air. Not artificially warm nor overly "sharp" or bright; to me the tone is perfect for the songs and band.

Of course the content really is just a GREAT set of songs. But the old original was, as so many early albums of up and coming artists, obviously made on the cheap and the record I have from back then is wobbly and thin (both physically and sounding). I will most likely pick up the other two JJ re-issues because seriously, this is the way they should sound.

IR Shane's picture

Thanks for the kind words, but I did want to clarify your comment that it sounds like there is "very little compression." There was NO dynamic compression applied during mastering at all nor any evidence that compression was embedded on the tapes we used already. Kevin's cutting system doesn't need any artificial kick!

dbowker3d's picture

I stand corrected- and it's great to know that we're getting everything that was really there on the recording! Great work guys- much appreciated. The sleeve and album art reproduction were also outstanding.

IR Shane's picture

These were great sounding tapes to begin with! I attend every single mastering session, so I hear the tapes myself and work directly with the mastering engineer. I can absolutely tell you that NO compression has been applied to any of my titles, and honestly, there's yet to be a session where there's been a hint that anything like that was needed. It's been absolutely thrilling hearing these tapes, and I'm pretty blown away at how good they've all sounded!

Dane Henas's picture

Shouldn't you all just seek out original pressings? You can find them all for under 5 bucks, and they sound great! Even my double 10-inch version of Look Sharp (still with the button!) sounds pretty good!

Muso's picture

But these sound freakin' fantastic! Much more punch than the originals. This is particularly important because the bass is so forward in all three records (especially the first two).

IR Shane's picture

but no, the first two LPs especially do not sound great. They are thin and bright and edgy. Trust me, you have not heard Gary Sanford and Graham Maby on these records until you've heard our cut! Night and Day's orig. US is much better than the first two, but Kevin Gray dug out more midrange detail and better bass still. And of course RTI's 180G vinyl is flat, on-center and dead quiet and our packaging is second to none- I don't think anyone in the US got a cover for Look Sharp that was actually black and white (my orig. US copy is Kermit the Frog green), and only the first UK copies had their attempt at the matte texture everywhere but the sharp white shoes. Our Look Sharp is what they originally wanted to do done right finally. The gatefolds on I'm the Man and Night and Day are also amazing. Premium reissues aren't for everybody, but if what you value is the best sounding version of these LPs with archive-quality pressings and jackets you will not be satisfied with anything less.

If I'm not going to blow my own horn who will!

Rudy's picture

I realize Jumpin' Jive might have limited appeal, but it would be cool to see Beat Crazy get the reissue treatment. I could also mention that Body and Soul would be a good sounding record also--I have the original CD of course, and recently bought an original pressing of it on vinyl (A&M issued this on the KC-600 vinyl back in the day) and it sounds wonderful. I could say the same for Will Power, but I'm probably one of the three or four people on the planet who actually like and "get" that album. ;)

melody maker's picture

I appreciate Rudy's JJ fandom and his knowledge of the obscurities... but I think "Jumpin' Jive" is much better than "Beat Crazy" and it's extremely well recorded... the originals sound quite good but maybe Intervention could do even better. Actually the one that's really in the sweet spot of "strong music but sound needs improvement" is "Big World"... musically almost as good as "Night and Day," BUT I think it's a digital recording... but maybe there's enough there to work with... ??

melody maker's picture

Rudy, I respect your obvious knowledge of the JJ catalog, but I think "Jumpin' Jive" is much better than "Beat Crazy," and it's extremely well recorded. Actually it's almost too well-recorded and pressed to justify an audiophile reissue. The Joe album that really hits the sweet spot of "strong music but sound needs improvement" would be "Big World," which is musically almost as good as "Night and Day"… I think I remember it's a digital recording, but maybe there's enough there to work with… ??

IR Shane's picture

I would suspect that what would be archived would be analog stereo mix downs not the original digital captures. That's just a guess. I hope to find out! I am hopeful I'll get the chance on a few more of these.

melody maker's picture

Shane, what is meant by "capture" in this context? Do you mean digital recording of instruments and vocals, followed by analog mixdown? That seems surprising, but perhaps so in the Wild Wild West of early-digital excitement. I think "Big World" was recorded live in front of an invited audience of Joe fans (who remained quiet for the recording). So although my extreme digiphobia-Spider Sense is always tingling, I believe that album has the countervailing benefit of being recorded direct and simple, in a real room- I think few or no overdubs. But also no Graham Maby: not sure where he was but I remember being bummed to see some other guy's name on the credits. Of course, Graham's manic bass is less essential on this type of sophisticated/tightly-arranged music… and "We Can't Live Together," perhaps the best song on the album, has that superb painfully-groaning fretless-bass intro...

IR Shane's picture

My understanding of many of those early digital recordings is that they were recorded digitally, but as LP and cassette were still king the stereo mix downs were analog. I should look into this more deeply before speaking in public. I've peronsally eyeballed one such tape that was very clearly marked as a Master Tape when I know in fact the instruments and vocals were captured digitally.

I'm very open minded about it. I've heard such examples where the original LPs are quite good. And again, if the original analog stereo master is available for such a recording I expect the improvements to be stellar in terms of cutting on a more transparent system and pressing on 180-gram vinyl at RTI.

melody maker's picture

Pardon the two almost-identical posts there

rl1856's picture

I attended a Big World concert during the winter of 1984. JJ admonished the audience to remain quiet between song breaks because he was recording the concert for use in his next album. The album itself was created by using the best captures from the tour concerts. Very good sound that did not suffer from early digititus. The content of the album has aged very well, and the themes are still relevant today. Big World would benefit from a premium reissue.

As other have pointed out (but not addressed in the review), JJ did not move directly from I'm The Man to Night and Day. He released 2.5 albums between. A 3 song EP, Jumpin Jive and Beat Crazy.

The EP is for fans and completists only and consists of 2 covers of Reggae tunes and one original. It may be suitable as additional tracks on a reissue of Beat Crazy, as it sounds like it came from the same sessions.

Jumpin Jive was his throwback album to the music of his youth, and introduced many young listeners to the music of Louis Jordon, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. It was intended as a party album, and not well recorded as a result. I don't think a premium reissue is warranted.

Beat Crazy is a divisive album, even among fans. It was the last release to feature the original quartet (until "4"), but also incorporated Reggae and African Rythyms to an extent not done on previous albums. If one wants to explore the bass of Graham Maby and the drums of Dave Haughton, this may be the album as low notes are prominent, but muddy. While considered a minor album, it still had a few stand out tracks. One to One is a ballad that remains a part of JJ tours, and Pretty Boys was a viscous indictment of TV talking heads. Overall this one is worthy (IMHO) of a premium reissue.

I recall purchasing Night and Day shortly after release and was very surprised at what I heard. I was listening to jazz by then, so some of what I heard was familiar, but it was such a departure from his previous releases. The album has become a marker for a specific time of my life. I was about to go off to college and I knew change was in the air, and looking back I was both excited and apprehensive about the transition. Listening to this album was like the first cold breeze at the end of August... you are sad that the summer was about to end, but you knew that better things may lie ahead. Nostalgia and anticipation.

bwright's picture

Thanks so much for tackling the Joe Jackson catalog. This was long overdue, and I think we're all grateful it was handled so well.

I'd love to see Big World given the same treatment. I think it stands as one of his greatest achievements, and an even more interesting story in terms of the recording session.

I saw him recently in San Francisco - he was brilliant. He spent the first part of the show solo on a piano, and did a rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" that blew us all away. Someone should take the time to record him solo in this manner. You'd have an astounding album on your hands.