Joe Jackson's first pop hit, arriving in '79, "Is She Really Going Out With Him," could have been written and recorded by Elvis Costello and that may have been the problem. Not content to live in anyone's shadow Jackson soon embarked on an eclectic career.
The New Wave styled debut "Look Sharp!" containing "Is She Really Going Out With Him" was recorded in under two weeks. The follow-up "I'm The Man" was released a scant six months later.
Jackson, who started playing violin at age eleven before moving to piano as a teen, left the safe confines of New Wave on his third album. The Reggae/Ska "Beat Crazy" was greeted with negative reviews and poor sales in '80. Undaunted and even more determined, the Big Band influenced "Jumpin' Jump" came a year later.
Ironically, Jackson found his greatest chart success with a sophisticated pop approach. "Night and Day" featured the bubbly "Steppin' Out" which MTV played into the ground. The ballad "Breaking Us In Two" also did well. After a successful, if inconsequentially foray into pop, Jackson returned to the Jazz/Big band concept with
"Body and Soul" featuring the stellar "You Can't Get What You Want ('Til You Know What You Want).
Jackson rounded out the '80s with a couple of "experimental" albums and the fairly accessible "Blaze of Glory" (with the title track and "Down To London") before leaving A&M for Virgin Records. "Laughter and Lust," Jackson's first Virgin release had a strong pop orientation but failed to find an audience beyond Jackson's faithful.
Blending classical with showtunes and other avant-garde projects kept Jackson busy through the '90s.
Joe Jackson's first incarnation, as a New Wave Rocker, is his best. While he may have found New Wave limiting it's where his freshest and most vibrant work resides. "Look Sharp!" and "I'm The Man" nail it. "Blaze Of Glory" and "Laughter and Lust" each have top notch songs while the jazzy "Body and Soul" has some punch to it.
Digging deeper can get dicey. "Night & Day" is just a pop record and Jackson's hybrid projects don't Rock.