Joe Jackson Band: Beat Crazy US CD 
- Beat Crazy
- One To One
- In Every Dream Home [A Nightmare]
- The Evil Eye
- Mad At You
- Crime Don’t Pay
- Someone Up There
- Pretty Boys
It’s funny about Joe Jackson. He was one of the first “New Wave” artists to get a toehold on the notoriously conservative Orlando FM Rock radio stations where I grew up. He was also the first rock concert I ever attended [“Night + Day” tour 1983]. But I’ve never really rated Joe Jackson all that much. I’ve got friends who are much more ardent in their fandom. Of the three legendary “Angry Young Men Of New Wave®” Joe rates a distant third behind Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. In the last 20 years, Parker and Jackson have basically switched places on that list, and let me owe up. The only one of them who I would like to own their entire output is just Parker!
Never the less, when my wife suggested stopping into Mr. K’s to while away an hour last Sunday [okay – throw me into that briar patch] one of the two CDs I was motivated to buy was Joe Jackson’s third album, “Beat Crazy,” which not only have I never owned before, I’ve never even heard it! Sure, sure. I was familiar with the title track, “Mad At You” and the pungent “Pretty Boys,” but the juxtaposition of those three songs, the insanely beautiful cover art [by Willy Smax], its ready availability at the right price, and the je ne sais quoi of my day off work conspired to move my hand for the first time in 35 years on this title. How was it?
Pretty interesting! First of all, I had never heard the amazing title track back in the day, but exposure to it over the years on Chas’ Crusty Old Wave® program gave me tantalizing glimpses of its dubbed out, feverish vibe. I was cool to ska in the ’79-’80 milieu of its contemporary ascendency. When Jackson’s third album dropped with ska coloring, I felt that it was about the trendiest thing that he could have done at that point, so I was not impressed. I was mainly into New Wave synth rock [about to coalesce into New Romanticism] so ska, at the time, was the retrograde enemy in UK pop. Exposure to “I Just Can’t Stop It” got me straight with second wave ska later in the year, so I came ’round eventually! I love this track for the crude, brash dub effects that producer Jackson troweled on with no subtlety at all. Also, his crafting of the song as a call-and-response duet between bassist Graham Maby with himself sounded fantastic! Gary Sanford’s deeply twangy Duade Eddy riffs that propel the tune forward were also a treat. The dizzy cover art managed to capture the frenzied vibe achieved here exceptionally well.
The next track, “One To One” was sagely picked by A+M US as the album’s lone single Stateside. With so much of the album swimming in ska and dub reggae, this made all of the sense in the world. It took Moon Records and another decade before ska was anything but a UK pop cult that didn’t really cross the big drink. What was fascinating about this song was the clarity with which Jackson telegraphed his future intentions at sophisticated, jazzy pop where he would have his greatest success. But “Night + Day” was a few years down the road. This track could have been released on that one, or even more appropriately, “Body + Soul.” Even so, the arrangement here was more electric than anything on those albums! It’s just voice, a bit of piano, and unrelenting, metronomic rim hits from drummer Dave Houghton, seasoned with the barest hint of organ. It’s one of the most minimal things from Jackson I’ve encountered and it makes me want more of this.
“The Evil Eye” was a surprise, in that Jackson wrote a odd bit of character study like that. It feels out of place on this album as it crafted a portrait of a paranoid young man who practices voodoo to strike back at all of the people who “crossed” him. This tune did win extra bonus points for name-checking The Cramps that early in their career in a song about voodoo.
“Mad At You” might have been the reason why I picked up this CD from the racks in the first place. I have very fond memories of the way over the top music video that I had seen in 1980 on “Rockworld,” years before MTV captured my eyeballs. I loved the scenes of Jackson emoting with a huge plate beans at the dinner table while Jackson in drag, portrayed the girlfriend rousing his ire. The violent guitar skank that the tune was built on was infectious, and the simplicity and directness of the chorus [“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, at you!!!” x 2] simply could not be beat. The song [and its video] had been burned into my brain for years. What I did not know, was that the album version of the tune was twice as long as the single edit I had heard 35 years ago, and it featured another three minutes of dub mix. That as fussy a musician as Jackson would indulge in three minutes of such musical “filler” did not seem like something that he would do.
“Side Two” began with “Crime Don’t Pay,” a strange number that seemed a little sloppy coming after the dubbed out excess of “Mad At You.” The construction and arrangement of this number was perverse in the extreme. After 1:15 of instrumental introduction, Jackson finally appeared to sing a narrative for about a minute that eschewed verse/chorus structure, and then reverted to instrumental vamping after a false stop at the 2:30 mark. If the last song were a bit indulgent, than this one seemed to be crossing a line. Due to its structure, it seemed far longer than it’s 4:24 length.
“Battleground” was a heated number than pulled no punches as it explored the dub poetry style of Linton Kwesi Johnson. Johnson received a dedication in the liner notes, so it was intentional. “Biology” was a real highlight and one of the cleverest songs here. Jackson was always up for pointed social commentary and this one delivers a strong payload. The man in the song explains to the woman why he cheated to the woman. The chorus featuring “B-i-o-l-o-g-y… can’t you see” is a kind of genius. I love it when the woman in the song pulls a reversal on the man and justifies her straying to the man in her own way. Quid pro quo.
I was familiar with “Pretty Boys” from the ubiquitously remaindered “Times Square” soundtrack. I didn’t remember the song packing such a powerful lyrical wallop though. It’s not just a screed against manufactured pop stars. That’s just the tip of the iceberg here! Jackson managed to extrapolate the roots of society’s many ills to the mindset that just began with empty, disposable pop stars. The nimble ska bounce here seemed pretty infectious. Maybe it was so upbeat that I never noticed where the lyrics actually went in the later verses. It’s hard to believe that the song only got a single release in The Netherlands.
This album actually managed to reel me fairly strong. I can’t say that it was something that ever happened with other Jackson albums I owned or had heard. The one factor here that seemed to stick out like a sore thumb was that it was Jackson’s first self-production, and as such, it sounded more raw and tentative than the much slicker albums that preceded and followed it. That rough vitality, coupled with the eclectic program of material that dallied with ska while telegraphing his forays into more sophisticated music seemed to be winning to my ears. However, I am all too aware, that this will probably not lead to a more common case where I want more Joe Jackson material in the Record Cell. I’m savvy enough to realize that this album, which I enjoy more than all of the other Joe jackson albums I’ve heard or owned, was a case of it being the awkward transitional album rather than being seen as an end to itself.
“This album represents a desperate attempt to make some sense of Rock and Roll. Deep in our hearts, we knew it was doomed to failure. The question remains: Why did we try?” – Joe Jackson, liner notes
– 30 –
Well, I guess that this is confirmation that Beat Crazy stands apart from the rest of his output. I love Joe Jackson, and this is the only one that I’ve never liked. But…. queuing it up now to see if my more matured tastes have come to appreciate it.
I’m with Johnny Dark on this one. I really like a lot of his 1990’s work, hardly any of which could be considered to RAWK. Night Music and the 7 Deadly Sins concept album come to mind.
…aaaaaannnd that’s why this is one of the few blogs that I follow. Really appreciating Beat Crazy for the first time ever.
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johnnydark – You have to admit, this was an album that never bored. The program of material went all over the map and went for broke. I sound like I didn’t like “Crime Don’t Pay” but that’s not really true. As a track it seems like a misstep. As part of the arc of the album, it was a somewhat daring and interesting move.
I’ve always loved “Pretty Boys” and its new wave-y ska bounce and lyrical bite (and know of the song from the “Times Square” soundtrack), but never really listened to this album (I’m much more familiar with “Look Sharp” and “I’m the Man”). Must explore it now!
Thanks for the Moon Records nod! I was their director of marketing/promotions/production for most of the 1990s!
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Steve – The Third Wave of Ska would not have happened without Moon [or college djs like chasinvictoria] from where I was sitting!
(aside: Steve, I think a few of the commenters here — at least myself — owe you a debt of gratitude for your work on Moon back in the day. I was one of the college DJs that played the heck out of that label!)
One of the things about Joe Jackson that keeps me hanging in there with him after all these years is his restlessness. He only rarely looks back and generally looks forward, and I like that in a pop star. His catalog is wildly diverse and there aren’t that many that are in for the whole ride, but if you liked the first three albums, then one more is definitely worth picking up — the JJB reunion disc Volume 4, for what should be obvious reasons. What I loved about that record was that it was, very much so, more of the first three albums. But I have loved most of what he’s put out over the decades, though some of it had to grow on me because it was so ahead/behind of its time (he got into swing jazz before Brian Setzer, and one of his more recent albums is a Duke Ellington tribute with no piano!).
I love the ambition of Big World, I love the sadness of Night Music, the concept of Heaven & Hell, and the maturity of the songwriting on his latest, Fast Forward. That restlessness is also what I like about John Foxx, though the two artists could hardly be more different. You never quite know what you’re going to get with him. I encourage readers to sample around a bit, see what you think about his post-Night and Day stuff, which is roughly half pop and half … other.
Well said Chas!
Thanks, Chas and PPM! Moon could not have achieved what it did in the 1990s without college radio! So, thanks so much for your support! (By 1997 or so, I think we were sending out promos of each new release to 400-500 college stations…)
Truth be told, Beat Crazy is my favorite Jackson album. Look Sharp was briliant pub rock inspired Pop/Punk, I’m The Man was great but didn’t move the needle a great deal. So when Beat Crazy came out the idea that Jackson would spin the needle so outside the safe zone and make a Dub/Ska/New Wave album was a surprise and one I was happy to enjoy.
The title track is like a Ventures song filtered through The Skatalites sound system. The opening few bars sound like it they fit on a John Carpenter soundtrack as well.
One To One is gorgeous and even if it was easy fodder for American Label A&M, it’s one of Jackson’s shining pop moments.
Next is the track I rate as one of Jackson’s best – In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare). Being a Roxy Music fan, of course I was drawn to the title, but there’s no suave delivery or dreamy illusions of love here. This is raw, rough and disturbing pop.
The bounce of The Evil Eye is addictive. Label mates The Police owned this type of sound, but Jackson added his edge to great effect.
Mad At You is brilliant New Wave, it swings, it’s angry and you can’t get it out of your head once you hear it. Gary Sandford’s guitar has a few detectable Post Punk element in there as well.
Crime Don’t Pay is one of Jackson’s wonderful storytelling tracks. The guitar coda that leads into a very odd organ solo that is almost like Morse Code is another of those fleeting moments of jazz that was beginning to creep into Jackson’s sound.
Someone Up There is a return to what made Jackson’s name, dark, angry Punk leaning New Wave.
Battleground would cause and uproar if it was released in 2015. But it’s got a dubby skank that makes up for any naivety of the lyrics. But maybe those lyrics aren’t so naive at all and more an indictment of the times it was written.
The penultimate track is by far my favorite Joe Jackson song. Biology is musically has elements of coffee house jazz, punk, reggae and psychedelia and wraps itself around me tight. The band plays with a tautness that you could serve a tennis ball from. Jackson vocal build threatens to explode but never quite does, even when it get to the chorus. He seems to fittingly exhaust himself by the end of the track.
Endiing the album where things started, some party ska and dub with an acerbic lyrics, was just perfect and keeps you humming the track or thinking about the album well after it’s ended.
I wouldn’t concern myself with Jackson for a few years – until the release of Big World – an album that helped get me through that awkward mid 80’s period.
Echorich – That Awkward Mid-80’s Period® sounds like a new sitcom. But the title speaks volumes. Volumes which I have yet to write because it will put the Simple Minds thread to shame!
Oh the regret and whining we would do!
Wow Monk! This time last year we were midway through Simple Mind’s Sparkle In The Rain! Time flies…
A quick vote for Joe’s newish album, Fast Forward, well worth hearing.
Monk this CD is becoming hard to find now (see the Amazon prices) so you were lucky to find it at a good price.
SimonH – Yeah, I noticed that. Not surprised that this album is falling through the cracks as it had no real hits. Here’s what I want: an app that tracks the market value for music you are planning to buy but haven’t yet. It would track prices at ebay, amazon, and discogs. Give average pricing with drilldowns to each separate vendor. You could set price value alerts that automatically notified you when pricing was beginning to inch toward your comfort zone so you could purchase before it was too late. You would create master want lists in the app that would monitor the three main vendors, with an option of adding any other vendors you wished to scan. Sound useful to you, too?
Definitely! I’ve been caught out before…I think for years CDs (in the main) showed little sign of price movement and I got blasé….now it seems fairly ordinary releases can end up demanding high prices. Discogs is definitely a better bet than Amazon though.
Ah….memories of seeing the band tour this album back in 1980 at Tiffany’s in Glasgow and getting into my first over-18s gig as an underage!! (The venue selling alcohol was the reason for the age restriction). I think it was also, from memory, the first gig I went to without any mates coming along as nobody else shared my love of JJ and his band. It was a tremendous show before what was a disappointingly poor audience numbers wise which made me think the end was nigh for the band.
Have to be honest and say that I haven’t really kept up with JJ all that much since. The Jumping Jive material was too much to take….
Must go and listen to Beat Crazy (on vinyl) again in its entirety. It wil be the first time in probably 30 years .
Happy New Year ppm.
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