Hey there! Welcome to Teatro Triste del Clown.
This site started out as something else and then a few years ago, we got it into our head that we were going to write about every song in our music collection. Memo and I have been doing this for years – I’m going forward in the alphabet and just recently started on the letter J and Memo, as it happens, is also on the letter J. As of this writing. It might be a while before I update this pinned announcement again, so, well, yeah.
Our Webmaster, Christoph, joins us from time to time.
The Index of what we’ve done so far keeps growing.
If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line.
Album cover video:
“We The Cats (Shall Hep Ya)” is a classic Cab Calloway tune:
That clip is from the movie Hi-De-Ho, a 1947 race movie – essentially a film made for a black audience with an all black cast. Even the movies were segregated in a more obvious way back in the day.
I first encountered the album Jumpin’ Jive because two of my best friends from high school both loved it so much. I purchased it, at first, because I wanted to seem like I “got it.” I didn’t get it and rarely listened to it. Later, I bought the CD to give it another chance and absolutely fell in love with it. Its easily my favorite Joe Jackson album – high praise since I like a ton of his work.
Album cover video:
Another Louis Jordan classic, “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” was made famous to my generation because of this version by Tom Cat:
The lyrics are pretty much explained by the title – the man doesn’t know if his woman loves him or not. I was wondering how much the phrasing of the title was drawn from the minstrel show tradition, but the Wikipedia entry on the song explains that it was derived from the work of Octavius Roy Cohen, a white man who wrote in “humorous black dialect.” So not quite minstrel show, but pretty close.
Anyhow, Jordan’s version is, once again, the mold from which all other versions are formed:
Listen to that sweet guitar! Pre-rock, man.
One thing I really love about Jackson’s version is that he has the whole band singing along with him on the chorus – it gives it a real feeling of the big band era. Jackson knows his stuff, man.
Odd fan video:
Louis Jordan is one of the most important figures of 20th century music. He’s been called the father of rhythm and blues and the grandfather of rock and roll (he once famously stated that rock and roll was just rhythm and blues played by white artists – a point that’s actually pretty accurate).
Jackson doesn’t pretend that his versions of these songs are superior to the originals – he and his bands approach them with such verve and joy that it’s impossible not to love them. That said, watch how the real deal plays this song:
Jordan’s voice is smooth as silk.
I hope its fair for me to simultaneously acknowledge that Jordan and his band do the superior version of this song but that I still tend to enjoy Joe Jackson’s version better – I like the pace and the spirit. Great to have two fabulous versions of a wonderful song to listen to!
Jumpin’ Jive (sometimes called Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive for obvious alliterative reasons) is an absolute delight of an album. Though its essentially a covers album, Jackson and his fantastic mini-big band make every song their own.
The album opens with a fabulous Lester Young track, “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid”:
Jackson and his band> significantly increase the tempo. His arrangement allows the music to really take focus before he adds the words of jazz vocalist King Pleasure:
It a very satisfying opening number that sets the stage for the whole album. If you’re not swinging already by the end of this song, well, as the next song states, “Jack, you dead.”
Best place to hear it as at Joe Jackson’s official site. Scroll down and click play on Track #14. You can hear about a minute of it. I can’t find it anywhere else.
This is an acoustic version of “Is She Really Going Out With Him” featuring the Body and Soul band. Its a small delight. The edited track means you miss the musical joke Jackson makes at the end (he plays with the rhythm of the song singing the faster version while the slower acoustic music continues – its really very funny).
I appreciate that Jackson wants to make sure his audiences get a different experience live than they get listening to the album. While I equally enjoy hearing artists playing the songs the way I expect to hear them, I would love to see a concert featuring Jackson reinventing his songs.
Album version of live performance:
Video of a different live Performance:
I have three versions of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” kicking around in my library. This is a reflection of how much I like the song and of the fact that Joe Jackson has performed it several different ways.
In 1988, Jackson released Live 1980/86, a double live album that featured Jackson playing at four points in his career with four different backing bands. I purchased it on cassette – it was a double cassette with the two cases glued together. Try filing that with your other cassettes. I think I finally pulled the two sides apart.
Anyhow, this album had a number of alternative versions of Jackson’s songs, some of which were intriguingly different. I recall the Live version of “Stepping Out” was a long, slow number that edit the lyrics down to one verse and one chorus. Of course, memories lie so I could be wrong.
This a capella version of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” is a delight from the Night and Day tour. Great arrangement, strong voices and a great song.
The sarcasm might not be obvious, but “Nineteen Forever” makes a pretty strong statement about how those of us who’ve reached middle age sometimes resist recognizing that we’re not longer kids. Here’s the Kids in the Hall version of the same concept:
Currently, I’m part of a musical act that purports to have been huge when we were younger (its a fiction – we’ve only been together a few years) and the idea of us sort of desperately trying to hold onto our youth is part of the shtick. Jackson more or less laid out the whole thesis behind our act in this song and I’m just realizing that as I’m typing this.
To his credit, Jackson has aged very gracefully. He hasn’t bowed to trends or ever tried to visually deny his age. Well played, Jackson.
I should, one day, give Joe Jackson’s 1989 album, Blaze of Glory, a more complete listen than I did when it first came out. Blaze of Glory was released in April of 1989 – about a month before I graduated – so I didn’t really pay as much attention to it as I had to his previous records. Furthermore, since WRBC found itself having some major technical issues, I was unable to play much of it on the air (the main way I became familiar with new music). While I have four songs from this album in my library (including two specifically on the greatest hits package), I can’t say I ever really listened to it the whole way through. According to Jackson (on his website), this was the strongest of his three late 80′s albums. As I said, I should give it some more attention.
My favorite part of “Down To London” are the backing (and occasionally lead) vocals of Joy Askew. She serves as an extremely effective match to Jackson’s voice and takes over the lead with confidence and power.
Apparently, Blaze of Glory is also a bit of a concept album about the process of aging from youth to maturity. The lyrics of this song largely seem to express the frustrations and ambitions of youth. Refreshingly, it didn’t sound like anything that was being played on the radio in 1989 – in part because this song itself wasn’t being played on the radio in 1989. I blame myself.
When Jackson wrote and recorded the melancholy “Forty Years,” it had been that many years since the end of World War 2. The song details how much things have changed since the end of that war. Each verse addresses how a specific Western power has changed since the end of the war – in order, Germany (with a nod to the USSR), the United States and the United Kingdom. The choruses start with a bit of upbeat music and celebratory lyrics regarding the end of the war before acknowledging (both lyrically and musically) that “that was 40 years long ago.”
Jackson has written his share of lyrics with social and political commentary, but what makes this song so effective is that he’s taken a journalistic approach with these lyrics. He’s not pointing out how to solve the problem or what might have caused it, just sharing the details and lamenting that something wonderful has been lost.
I was 19 when I first heard this song. I’m 46 now and realize what a short, short period of time 40 years actually is.