Thursday, May 15, 2014

Joe Jackson Knows, And Gets, What He Wants: A Horn Section

One interminable sleepless night, sweating and fidgeting in his luxurious king-size bed, in his elegant Upper West Side apartment, a vision came to Joe Jackson: "Horns!"

My God. So simple and yet ... no one had thought of it before. What I'm talking about, of course, is Jackson's follow-up to Night And Day, 1984's Body And Soul. He could have just called the album Night and Day: Extra Horns Edition, as it boasts the same mixture of Tin Pan Alley jazz, salsa, and pop ... except there's a big horn section. Actually, there's a lot less synthesizer on Body And Soul, and yet strangely I wouldn't say this makes the album sound less dated than its predecessor. Some of the horns, as the live clips from the tour demonstrate, were even played by none other than his royal Joeness. It's like he was trying to be the Steely Dan of the '80s, but ended up being more like a one-man Squeeze. There are also two long, quasi-classical instrumentals called "Loisaida" and "Heart of Ice" that sound dangerously close to Yanni.

It's not all new age indulgence however. I dare you to resist "Happy Ending," a charming white soul duet with a female (A female! On a Joe Jackson album!) that would have turned Paul Weller green with sophisti-pop envy. Along the same lines, "Be My Number Two" is a relatively pleasant piano ballad that bears a bit of resemblance to Joe's earlier "It's Different For Girls."

But I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to talk about Body And Soul's main hit single "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" (which, peaking at #15, was Joe's Top 40 swan song), perhaps a sequel of sorts to the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," in spirit and title, if not in sound. I think by 1984, Joe had finally come to terms with the fact that, in the immortal words of Ringo Starr, "It don't come easy":
Sometimes you start feelin' so lost and lonely
Then you'll find it's all been in your mind
Sometimes you think someone is the one and only
Can't you see, it could be you and me?
But if there's any doubt
Then I think I'll leave it out

'Cause I'll tell you one thing
You can't get what you want
Till you know what you want
Said you can't get what you want
Till you know what you want

Sometimes you keep busy reaching out for something
You don't care, there's always something there
Sometimes you can't see that all you need is one thing
If it's right, you could sleep at night
But it can take some time
But at least I'm here in line
Me too, Joe, me too. I feel like "You Can't Get What You Want" is one of those rare '80s singles that is punchy and snappy and ingratiating and yet is simultaneously a bit philosophical and meditative. Or, as a somewhat funkier musician once put it, "Free your mind, and your ass will follow." I mean, this band is tight. Check out the nimble, almost minute-long guitar solo that starts around the 2:34 mark. And the bass. Whoever is playing the bass is really slapping the hell out of that bass. The "official" video is actually a live clip, but less discerning listeners might not even notice, as the performance sounds so similar to the studio version it's almost scary. And you thought James Brown was the hardest working man in show business.

But that's the thing. Although it's sort of an uptempo jazz-funk workout, whenever I hear "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)," I hardly feel like shaking it out on the dance floor. Instead, the song always transports me to a smoky, wistful, yearning late-night sort of place - as a lot of Joe's music does.

Of course, the song's true claim to fame is that it appeared on my '80s Tape, sandwiched between "Kiss On My List" and "Head Over Heels," a killer sequence that led me to dub that section of the tape its "sweet spot." The version on the tape must have been a radio edit, however, as it chopped off the entire guitar solo and a big chunk of the closing vamp as well. I have never found that version anywhere. I'm not even sure if it was a "single edit." Joe must have been so pissed off at having his Yuppie Rock masterpiece chopped up like mincemeat that he made certain it would never appear on CD. Ever. That said, I still haven't become completely used to the flow of the unedited version, but thankfully, even the radio edit still included the tasty burst of saxophone that kicks in behind Joe in the middle of the third verse (at 3:27), as well as his distinctively garbled variation of "It can take some time," which comes off as more like "But it cay-un tu-hayyk suu-ahm trrii-ee-aymm." Also, extra points for the falsetto "Wah-hah-wah-hah" around 4:33. If what you wanted was to hear Joe Jackson attempt to sing like Ray Charles, then you definitely got what you wanted, and you may have even known it.

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