Unsung Classics Pt. I: Joe Jackson’s “Night and Day”

There are numerous ’80s classics that I could mention that never seem to get their due as far as popular music criticism goes. But one of the most galling is Joe Jackson’s 1982 gem Night and Day.

Sure, it has its supporters and it’s not dismissed as a terrible record by any means, but do you see it in those ‘Best of All Time’ lists? Well, no, you don’t.

But I love it. I love the piano, the interpolating rhythms, and the alternately exotic and driving percussion. Jackson’s melodies are quirky and offbeat (“Chinatown,” “TV Age”), funky (“Another World,” “Target”), and beautifully romantic (“Breaking Us In Two,” “Real Men”), all topped off with a genius composer’s flourish. The lyrics are insightful and different, subtle and poetic and real all at once.

“Steppin’ Out” was the hit, and rightly so, but the entire album works as a glorious concept piece. From that stylish cover shot, casting Jackson in a vintage Cole Porter role, you can ascertain it’s a sleek, sophisticated, metropolitan pop album. Numerous influences abound: jazz, New Wave, early synth rock in places, adult contemporary, traditional singer-songwriter – but it never sounds like anyone other than Joe Jackson.

Back in 1982, it was a commercial success, reaching UK No. 3 and US No. 4 on the back of the transatlantic Top 10 hit status of “Steppin’ Out,” which went on to earn Jackson two Grammy nominations. But 28 years later, it’s almost forgotten amid the shuffle of ’80s classics. A similar fate has been suffered by Rickie Lee Jones’ early, Grammy-nominated, commercially successful records. Forgotten classics. It’s a shame.

Night and Day is a record that remains pristine, beautiful, inventive, quirky, and utterly relevant today. The arrangements and production were sophisticated then and are sophisticated now, and it doesn’t sound like it’s stuck in an early ’80s time-warp. I’m hopeful that this record will one day get the credit it’s due, but for now, those that do own it and do love it as I do, we can sit back and rejoice in some delicious, undervalued pop music goodness.


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