Night And Day

Joe Jackson

A&M Records, 1982

REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman


Joe Jackson recently released Night And Day 2, a supposed sequel to his 1982 record of the same name (without the "2", of course). Other than the fact that it's a pop record, which is something Jackson hasn't done in nearly a decade, I don't really quite see the connection between the two albums, but I thought it would be a good idea to introduce this enigmatic artist to "The Daily Vault" by going back to the first Night And Day and seeing what it was all about.

Night And Day was Jackson's fifth album in only three years, and by then his musical career had already taken several left turns, from the anrgy young Elvis-Costello-ish post-punk of Look Sharp and I'm The Man to the more soulful Beat Crazy to the swing-influenced Jumpin' Jive. But even those who thought they were prepared for anything must have still been shocked by Night And Day. Suddenly, the man had moved to California, had presumably come out of the closet (we'll get to that later), and was (at least for the most part) happy.

Side one, the "Night" side, evokes the feeling of a bustling, crazy city. "Another World" leads off the album on a bright note with a funky salsa-influenced beat, some crazy piano playing that Billy Joel would be proud of, and an infectious, sing-along chorus. This is the sort of song that would be just plain fun to play yourself. "Chinatown," the sad story of a lost tourist in search of a Chinese restaurant, recalls Steely Dan in its black humor and incorporation of far-eastern musical sounds and chords.

Jackson moves onto some social commentary with "TV Age" and "Target," the former a dark look at our growing addictions to the boob tube, including a prophetic statement about HBO when it really was a new thing, and the latter an ode to that crazy, bustling city which we've already begun to visualize merely by listening to the album. "Target" also uses that same crazy, jazz-like piano we heard in "Another World," once again showcasing Jackson's ability to combine several musical influences into a coherent song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And speaking of combining, Side one is brought to a close with the classic single "Steppin' Out," Jackson's invitation to a companion to join him in that city. Don't deny it, you know the words; "In a yellow taxi turn to me and smile / we'll be there in just a while / if you follow me." This is one of the few big hits of the early '80s that doesn't sound even the smallest iota out of date. A subtle but steady thump keeps the song going, but one of the catchiest four-measure keyboard lines in the history of pop music propels this song into overdrive repeatedly, and you never get sick of it. I have heard that four-measure line used by many a TV newscast or sportscast in cuts to commercials, and I applaud their choice of a soundtrack every time.

The "Day" side opens with the line "Don't you feel like trying something new?" which introduces the other instantly-recognizable single "Breaking Us In Two." I've often heard the accusation that this is the same song as "Steppin' Out" just slowed down to half the speed. And while it's true that the two hits share what is most likely the same synth patch, percussion kit, and of course Jackson's unmistakable voice, that is all in all an unfair accusation. "Breaking Us In Two" is a lilting, vaguely Latin-american-esque, every-note-means-something ballad that holds its own with most of the '80s bubblegum it shared the charts with at the time.

In general, side two takes longer to grow on you, but is eventually even more complex and rewarding than the first side. "(Everything Gives You) Cancer" comes next as Jackson ruminates on the overprotectiveness resulting from an epidemic. "Don't work hard, don't play hard / you'll head for the graveyard." And of course he exclaims "Don't play that piano!" as he launches into a killer solo.

We are treated with the two most difficult-to-get-into tracks at the album's close. "Real Men" is one of the most blatantly honest tunes of the rock era, acting both as an anti-homophobia statement, and a cutting jab at society's attitudes of what constitutes "manliness." This song was the third single from the album, and of course was banned from many radio stations' playlists because it had the word "faggot" in it, testimony to how little censors really listen to the context of rock lyrics. "You don't want to sound dumb," Jackson sings, "You don't want to offend / so don't call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend." From a personal standpoint, I was ten years old when I first heard this song (fortunately, MTV was a little more daring), and it was largely responsible for the exorcism of my own homophobia at a nice early age. Shouldn't radio stations be promoting this sort of thing?

"A Slow Song" concludes the album and releases the tension of "Real Men" quite nicely; it's Joe Jackson's torch song of sorts, a steamy, almost bluesy, slow jam / waltz that torturously builds up and quiets down several times, and ends sweetly with a music-box-like fade-out.

Night And Day has all one can possibly ask for in a pop record - infectious beats, clever and sometimes controversial lyrics, fantastic musicianship, and plenty of variety. Several other of Jackson's recordings, such as the angry-young-man debut Look Sharp (1979), the funk and jazz-influenced Body And Soul (1984), and the cosmopolitan Big World (1986) are worth listening to as well, but this album is still Joe Jackson's biggest must-own.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2001 Mark Feldman and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A&M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.