A Closer Look

Joe Jackson – Look Sharp! (1979)

A&M Records

Joe Jackson’s classic 1979 debut album “Look Sharp!” didn’t only place him on the map as being one of the greatest songwriters from his era, but it also strengthened the commercial peak of power pop (which basically became easy marketable punk) during the punk rock and new wave takeover of the late-seventies and early-eighties. Jackson’s debut album even contains grooves of punk (“Got the Time”) and new wave-social commentary (“Sunday Papers”), but he was mostly feeding into the melodic sharp hooks and agitation fueled in the updated power pop sound of the late seventies. Sadly, critics grew to condemn power pop, especially acts like the Knack and soon record labels began to ignore these types of bands.

However, this didn’t really affect the power pop and new wave inbetweeners like Jackson and Elvis Costello, who were always changing their sound. After Jackson moved on from new wave, he eventually got into big-band swing music, smooth jazz and classical music. And as much as Jackson has changed styles, his best era remains during his early days. Sure, it was sometimes just straight forward rock ‘n’ roll, but the consistent emotion and energy captured on “Look Sharp!” is unforgettable.

The opening track, “One More Time” really sets the tone for rest of the album. Jackson’s snarky attitude and choppy riffs through the verses and driving bassline stir the song, which both seem highly advanced for where power pop stood at the time.

Everybody knows his big hit “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” which made the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1979 and also dominated college air-waves. Jackson’s snarky tone on the hit song assigned him the label as being one of rock’s “angry young men” alongside other Brits like Costello and Graham Parker.

On the highlighted track, Jackson sings about gorgeous girls dating “gorillas,” (ugly or dumb men) which any underdog seeking love can relate to the tone of this hit. Not only was does this song sound fresh today, but with the moody bass riff and biting hooks it sounds like it could’ve been one of the best Weezer songs from the 1990s, which shows how influential Jackson was.

Like stated before, Jackson incorporated many styles into his songs. Towards the end of the album, you’re hit with the punchy and stomping “Pretty Girls.” It opens with memorable and catchy lyrics including “down do be do do wop a do do wop a do do wop” that are almost impossible to not get stuck in your head when hearing them. “Pretty Girls” is like if the current “Conan” theme was redone as an old Motown pop hit from the mid-sixties—with a slight touch of reggae somewhere in the mix.

Stay tune for a full review.

Listen to Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp!” below.