In episode seven of our podcast (which you can listen to right here!), we talked a lot about the expanding musical possibilities that Joe Jackson’s Night and Day album helped me discover beyond the borders of top forty pop. But in parallel, Joe Jackson himself was on a journey all of his own around the time he conceived this album.
By the early 1980s, Jackson was still being pigeonholed in reviews and write-ups as a part of the Angry Young Men of New Wave triumvirate, along with Elvis Costello and Graham Parker.
It’s true that his first three records exhibit the characteristics of that movement, imbued with dissatisfaction and fierce intelligence in the lyrics, and with a direct approach to guitars/bass/drums delivery in the music. He had an international hit in “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” to prove his best-in-class proficiency in that idiom at the end of the seventies. But by early into the next decade, Jackson was restless.
A music fan wandering off the path
Even though he’d garnered hit records, Joe Jackson was still a music fan with a fascination for all kinds of musical forms. He not only wanted to hear it. He wanted to play it, too. So, by the beginning of the new decade, he wandered off the new wave path. Initially, this curiosity helped inspire his 1981 excursion into the world late-forties Jump Jive, with Louis Jordan as its patron saint. That record, Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive preceded the jump blues revival of the late nineties by fifteen plus years. Jazz and pre-rock R&B was always on his radar.
His musical curiosity didn’t stop there. He was fascinated by the polyrhythmic nature of salsa music while studying percussion, piano, and composition formally at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He was equally fascinated by the music’s central geographical hub of New York City.
From there, Jackson scoured the racks in record stores where he found inspiration in the back catalogs of Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Rubén Blades, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, and many others, some of whom were a on the Fania label, including the Fania All-Stars. The latter’s Salsa! Live! album sparked off a journey that would eventually take him across an ocean.
When in New York, he went to Latin clubs like the Corso Latin Ballroom instead of going to the expected CBGB and Mudd Club destinations when on tour with his band. It was in these Latin clubs that he saw many of those same artists in a live setting he loved on vinyl. Eventually, he made the move to NYC permanently where new forms and rhythms seemed to suggest themselves when writing and arranging his own music.
Discovering a new musical world
As pointed out in our episode, the record that came out of that – Night and Day – is a reflection of all of these shifts, both stylistic and personal. It is a record full of darkness and light, and also full of alienation and the trepidation of being in a new place and feeling like a stranger, while also sensing that the possibilities were more open than they were before.
Night and Day also provides a document that sheds light on his excitement at discovering a new world, musical and otherwise, just by stepping out (pun intended? Of course!) of his comfort zone. Even through the rigours of his personal tumult which can also be heard very starkly on the album, it’s ultimately the joy of new beginnings and directions that comes through most in the music.
You can get Joe Jackson’s story of his love affair with salsa music and his move to New York in the early eighties direct from the man himself on his official site right here.
You can also read about the forces that drove his art in a new direction as a new resident of New York City in this article from Diffuser.
For even more about Joe Jackson, check out this fan site that includes links to articles and other interesting bits and pieces.