- Breaking Us In Two
- Dear Mom
- Glamour and Pain
- Home Town
- Real Men
- Right And Wrong
- Rush Across The Road
- Shanghai Sky
- Steppin’ Out
- The Verdict
- Wild West
- You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)
David Ian “Joe” Jackson is an English musician and singer-songwriter born on 11 August 1954.
He subsequently relocated from England to New York and then to Berlin, where he still resides. He recorded 19 studio albums and garnered 5 Grammy Award nominations in a career extending from 1979 to today. After years of studying music and playing clubs, Jackson became an overnight success with his 1979 hit “Is She Really Going Out with Him?“, his first release, which was followed by a number of new wave singles. He then moved to a more jazz-inflected pop music, and had a Top 10 hit in 1982 with “Steppin’ Out“. He has also composed classical music.
Born in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, David Jackson spent his first year in nearby Swadlincote, Derbyshire. He grew up in the Paulsgrove area of Portsmouth, where he attended the City of Portsmouth Boys’ School. Jackson’s parents moved to nearby Gosport when he was a teenager.
Jackson learned to play the violin but soon switched to piano and prevailed on his father to install one in the hall of their Paulsgrove council house. Jackson began playing piano in bars at the age of 16, and he also won a scholarship to study musical composition at London’s Royal Academy of Music.
Jackson’s first band, formed in Gosport, was called Edward Bear, later renamed Edwin Bear and then Arms and Legs, but the band broke up in 1976 after two unsuccessful singles. He was still known as David Jackson while in Arms and Legs, but around this time he picked up the nickname “Joe”, based on his perceived resemblance to the puppet character Joe 90. Jackson then spent some time performing on the cabaret circuit to make money to record a demo.
In 1978 a record producer heard his demo tape, and got him signed to A&M Records. The next year the newly formed Joe Jackson Band released their debut album, Look Sharp!. Its mix of energetic New Wave rock and bitter British punk was in a similar style to the music of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. The album enjoyed wide critical success: in 2013 Rolling Stone magazine named Look Sharp! number 98 in a list of the 100 best debut albums of all time. Some commercial success also followed, as the debut single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” reached the top 40 in 5 countries, and no. 9 in Canada.
The Joe Jackson Band released I’m the Man in 1979. The album followed a similar musical pattern, and received good, though not as strong, reviews. It did produce the single “It’s Different for Girls“, which became Jackson’s highest charting UK single, peaking at no. 5.
In 1981, Jackson produced an album for the British power pop group The Keys. The Keys Album was the group’s only LP.
The Joe Jackson Band toured extensively until it broke up. Jackson subsequently recorded an album of old-style swing and blues tunes, Jumpin’ Jive, with songs by Cab Calloway, Lester Young, Glenn Miller, and Louis Jordan. The album, and associated single release, was credited to the band Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive.
Jackson’s 1982 album Night and Day was his only studio album to reach either the UK or US Top 10, peaking at No. 3 (UK) and at No. 4 (US). Two singles released from the album, “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two”, were US top 20 hits. The tracks “Real Men” and “A Slow Song” referred obliquely to New York City‘s early 1980s gay culture. “Real Men” also became a top 10 hit in Australia.
By 1984, New York had become Jackson’s home base, and he recorded Body and Soul there; an album he later said was “from the point of view of a relative newcomer”. Heavily influenced by pop and jazz standards and salsa, it had the US No. 15 hit single “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)”.
Jackson’s next album was Big World, with all-new songs recorded live in front of an audience instructed to remain silent while music was playing. Released in 1986, it was a three-sided double record; the fourth side consisted of a single centering groove and a label stating “there is no music on this side”. The instrumental album Will Power (1987), with heavy classical and jazz influences, set the stage for things to come later, but before he left pop behind, he put out two more albums, Blaze of Glory (which he performed in its entirety during the subsequent tour) and Laughter & Lust. In 1995, Jackson contributed his version of “Statue of Liberty” on a tribute album for the English band XTC called A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC.
In the late 1990s Jackson expanded into classical music; he signed with Sony Classical in 1997 and released Symphony No. 1 in 1999, for which he received a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2001.
In 2003, he reunited his original quartet for the album Volume 4, and a lengthy tour. In 2004, he contributed a cover of Pulp‘s “Common People” with William Shatner for Shatner’s album Has Been. In 2005 he teamed up with Todd Rundgren and the string quartet ETHEL for a tour of the US & Europe. A dedicated smoker, he gave up his New York apartment in 2006 partly in protest over the ascendancy of smoking bans, and made the Berlin neighborhood Kreuzberg his new home. It was there that he recorded, with longtime collaborators Graham Maby and Dave Houghton, his eighteenth studio album, Rain (Rykodisc, January 2008); the album was followed by a five-month tour.
In 2015, Jackson announced the completion on his follow-up to 2012’s The Duke via his official website. The album’s title, Fast Forward, and tracklist were confirmed in addition to North American tour dates. The titular first single was released for streaming via his official Soundcloud page. The entire record was briefly posted before being taken down a day later.
Jackson was married to his wife, Ruth, for two years, but the marriage ended in divorce and was later called a “disaster” by Jackson.
Jackson has actively campaigned against smoking bans in both the United States and the United Kingdom, publishing a 2005 pamphlet (The Smoking Issue) and a 2007 essay (Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State), and recording a satirical song (“In 20-0-3”) on the subject.
Jackson wrote an autobiography called A Cure For Gravity, published in 1999, which he described as a “book about music, thinly disguised as a memoir”. It traces his working-class upbringing in Portsmouth and charts his musical life from childhood until his twenty-fourth birthday. Life as a pop star, he insisted, was hardly worth writing about.