Say It's Your Birthday: Joe Jackson

The iconoclastic Joe Jackson, who emerged out of Britain's

new-wave movement at the end of the '70s, was born today in Portsmouth, England

in 1954. Jackson's first three albums, 1979's Look Sharp and I'm the

Man, and 1980's Best Crazy, Jackson seemed to fit into the mold of

the fellow Brit new-wavers such as Elvis Costello; however, in the ten albums

Jackson has put out since then, he has emerged as a composer, a master of

numerous musical mediums, and an individual who had little time for the

intricacies of pop stardom. Growing up, Jackson played piano, violin, oboe, and

percussion, and in 1974, after graduation from London's Royal Academy of Music,

he formed a band called Arms and Legs. He recorded a demo of his own work, and

on the strength of that was signed to A&M, which would remain Jackson's label

until 1990. Look Sharp was an instant success, and "Is She Really Going

Out With Him?" hit #21. By the time of Beat Crazy, however, it was clear

that Jackson wanted to explore more than power-pop; that album was infused with

reggae rhythms and was followed by '81's Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive, a

collection of forties swing tunes, after which he toured America with a big

band. Night and Day, Jackson's most successful album, was recorded the

next year and was a wonderful mix of styles anchored by Jackson's plaintive,

evocative voice. Jackson's albums in the mid-'80s, 1986's live Big

World, 1987's instrumental Will Power, and 1989's autobiographical

Blaze of Glory highlighted Jackson's diverse abilities but did not

achieve commercial success, a fact that did not seem to bother Jackson as long

as he was able to keep making music. In 1991 he released his first Virgin

release, Laughter and Lust, followed by 1994's Night Music;

again, neither fared well commercially, however Jackson has built a solid

following of fans attracted by his eclecticism, especially on this side of the

Atlantic. Other birthdays: Manfred Mann's Mike Hugg (1942); the Guess Who's

Michael James Kale (1943); Iron Butterfly's Erik Braunn (1950); and guitarist

Charlie Sexton (1968). --Seth Mnookin.