Joe Jackson: Best When Beating Costello At Own Game?

As I sat listening to Joe Jackson's 1979 debut album Look Sharp! for the first time, I realized that somebody other than Elvis Costello had succeeded in making the album Elvis Costello had been trying to make since he started putting out albums in '77.

Though Costello had taken two valiant stabs with My Aim Is True and This Year's Model, one can imagine the light bulb over the head of a young unsigned Joe Jackson flickering to life.

Had Jackson merely been astute enough to see what Costello was going for and just musically adept enough to know that, if he hurried, he could get there before Costello?

If so, Joe Jackson has balls the size of Mount Everest.

A&M Records, of course, went one step beyond by issuing Joe Jackson's Look Sharp! on the exact same day as Elvis Costello's Armed Forces.

Had it arrived, say, six months later, I'd have dismissed Look Sharp! as yet another entrant in the 2-Tone movement that would soon have everybody in the UK dressing like gangsters, but, instead, listened with absolutely no idea what to expect.

What quickly emerged from the grooves was short, sharp, and shockingly potent pop with the same punk edge as Costello, but with a K-Tel-sized calling card by the name of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" that Armed Forces just didn't have.

While his follow-up effort I'm The Man seemed to derive its only pleasure from stealing as much of XTC's thunder at the time as possible, Beat Crazy and Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive saw Joe setting his sights on the ska and big band movements, but with diminishing returns.

With the success of Look Sharp! having bested Costello at his own sound, Costello responded with the self-consciously retro Get Happy! and Almost Blue.

Once again, Jackson must have found inspiration in Costello's ambition. having broken up his own band prior to Jumpin' Jive, Jackson saw that Costello was outgrowing the Attractions, recognized the seedlings of what would one day blossom into a serious Bacharach fetish, and knew exactly what he had to do.

The resulting album, Night & Day, preceded Elvis's equally ambitious Imperial Bedroom by less than one month, arriving in June of 1982. First single "Steppin' Out" dominated radio airwaves through the spring and summer, pushing the album into the Top 5 while Costello's effort, lacking a noteworthy single, floundered at #30.

In hindsight, Costello's next effort, Punch The Clock, would see Costello attempt to match the wit, sophistication, and chart success of Jackson's Night And Day. While it may not have matched the album song-for-song, it did deliver Costello's first Top 40 US hit in "Everyday I Write The Book".

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