Joe Jackson: Look Sharp! (1979)

Look Sharp! is one of those great albums I take for granted, something I don't play all that often, but now and then I'll stumble across it while flipping through the "J"s in my collection (The Jam... Jazz Butcher... Tommy James...) and kinda slap my head and think, damn, I really oughtta be listening to this more than I do.

In hindsight, it's easy to see this one getting overlooked.  1979 was an absolutely insane year for music.  If you're in the mood for something from that year, you could go with London Calling or Unknown Pleasures or Elvis's Armed Forces or Talking Heads' Fear of Music or the Jam's Setting Sons or Wire's 154 or Rust Never Sleeps or even The Wall... and somewhere in there is Joe Jackson's debut, lost in the shuffle.

I remember when "Is She Really Going Out With Him" first came out.  I was in seventh grade, and for a lot of us in my junior high, this was probably our first introduction to what was being lumped into the broad "new wave" category.  Very little punk or new wave made it into our sheltered little Chicago suburb (unless you count the Cars), and most of us were largely limited to the top 40 pop and disco hits that we'd hear on the radio or that we'd dance to at Bar Mitzvahs, but this song was everywhere.  I didn't buy the album right away -- I was 12, I didn't have a lot of cash -- but at some point, maybe in high school, I finally picked it up.  And I was surprised by how many stellar songs there were, songs at least as good as the single.

Album opener "One More Time" is one of those songs with a riff so basic and distinctive it's surprising nobody had come up with it before.  Add in the punchy bassline, and it's just a killer of a song, one of the great side one-track ones of the era.  And it's followed by "Sunday Papers," biting cynicism and colorful lyrics with a nifty ska beat, also great.  And then you've got "Is She Really..." and "Happy Loving Couples," a poppy little nugget that would have fit perfectly on Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, and the punk-ish "Throw It Away," and the pure power pop of "Baby Stick Around," and damn, that is one fantastic run of songs.

Side two may not be quite as densely packed, but really, the whole record is solid.  And I realize Jackson himself preferred later releases, as he increasingly introduced jazz and soul into the mix and outgrew the youthful Costello-esque exuberance, but for me Look Sharp is essential listening.  And I'm happy to say that I find "Is She Really..." as great at 53 as I did at 12.

Here's a badly-dubbed tv lip-sync of "Is She Really Going Out With Him":
 Here's an early live take on "One More Time":
...and a live "Sunday Papers":