Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Steppin' Out" / Joe Jackson

Night and Day was the first Joe Jackson album I fell in love with, and I mean IN LOVE -- I played it night and day, indeed. The Cole Porter reference in the title always seemed particularly appropriate; there's a certain champagne-cocktail sophistication here that was new for a Joe Jackson album. I had just moved to New York and I loved the downtown elegance of this record, a quirky thing in 1982 when all the other New Wave types were going for downtown grit and squalor. Yes, it does have that techno-synth pulsing like traffic in the rhythm track -- a very 80s touch -- but it feels totally different here; it just makes the tone sparkle even more. And that vibraphone chattering away, like street lights glinting off chrome taxi bumpers -- perfect.

Joe Jackson must have absolutely huge hands; these are big chords he's playing here, pounding out octave spans in rapid-fire succession. All those key shifts make me think of a car shifting gears, or perhaps the way a synchronized series of traffic lights down the avenues change color in tandem (the electric piano makes this even more metallic and glittery). It gives this song a sweep and majesty that's truly thrilling.

Playing against all of this comes the tender poetry of these lyrics: "Now -- the mist across the window hides the lines / But nothing hides the colour of the lights that shine / Electricity so fine / Look and dry your eyes." So there's been a fight, or some sort of upset, and this whole foray is meant to cheer her up -- how sweet. He coaxes her gently, "We, so tired of all the darkness in our lives / With no more angry words to say, can come alive, / Get into a car and drive / To the other side." Will they really get to the other side just by driving? Maybe not, but the way those chords keep fighting upward makes me root for them (for us) with all my heart.

"We are young but getting old before our time," he admits, and I love that rueful line, that world-weary note which makes the retro feel of this album so perfect. "We'll leave the TV and the radio behind / Don't you wonder what we'll find / Steppin' out tonight?" It's an adventure, and old as they feel, they CAN be young again: "You can dress in pink and blue just like a child / And in a yellow taxi turn to me and smile/ We'll be there in just a while / If you follow me." I think of John Hiatt's "Have A Little Faith In Me," which holds out its hand with the same sort of determined we-can-make-it trust. It's a transforming, life-affirming song with no false promises.

The chorus, with its soaring short phrases, says it all: "Me babe / Steppin' out / Into the night / Into the light / You babe / Steppin' out / Into the night / Into the light." Two people, heading into darkness, staking everything on finding something brighter and better.

In 1982 I wasn't much of a grown-up yet myself, but I could tell this was music for grown-ups -- I could tell it was a song I would never outgrow. Twenty-five years later, it sounds as fresh and modern as it did the day it was recorded. I knew then that Joe Jackson was the real deal . . . and that I'd just have to wait and see how he'd surprise me next.


Julie said...

I love the high gloss finish to this song."Look Sharp" is great, but this album hooked me,too. I've been a fan ever since.

Anonymous said...

My junior high English teacher loved Joe Jackson and I loved my English teacher, so I guess I started loving J.J. by association. I like the way you describe the feeling you had, that you could tell it was a song you'd never outgrow. Ditto here. I love the fast-paced glamourous feel of it...