Joe Jackson – “Steppin’ Out”

I would have chosen Is She Really Going Out With Him purely for the excellent first line “Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street”. However, it was released in 1979, and therefore outside the scope of 80s45s. (Although I suspect this rule will be disregarded when necessary, and no doubt soon, by Mike.) I considered writing about Left of Center, from the soundtrack to the 80s brat pack film Pretty in Pink, on which Joe plays piano, but there was really only one possibility.

Joe Jackson - "Steppin' Out"

Joe Jackson – Steppin’ Out

Steppin’ Out is an iconic track from 1982, when Joe Jackson was moving away from the new wave towards a more jazz-influenced style. I did not at all like this type of music then, and still don’t much, but this is irresistibly catchy and Joe retains a pleasing lyrical clumsiness (of which the poignant but rather unfortunately-titled Be My Number Two is an example) that undercuts the gloss of the production.

Joe Jackson was and is an interesting artist; not contrived or extreme, but determinedly individual. He continues to make music, pursuing his interests in the jazz/”classical” direction, has written a moving, sharp and amusing memoir and occasionally shares his scepticism concerning the fairness and efficacy of smoking bans.

The video, shot in New York, is full of eighties style. There was a fashion in menswear at the time for retro dressing: hats and braces and slicked-back hair, I think inspired partly by the mini-series Brideshead Revisited. Joe sports the urban, noir-ish version of the look and he wears it well, but, sadly, the video has not dated as well as the song, and the overall effect to the modern eye is more “affordable glamour”. New York is a suitably aspirational setting, though, with both the surface glitter and dangerous depths suggested by the song.

The only places I’d have been steppin’ out to when this came out were the local park or someone’s house whose parents were away. This song conjured an elegant nightlife with bright lights and dark shadows. I didn’t exactly aspire to it, but I filed it away on the soundtrack of the way I expected adult life to be.

I feel I never will be grown-up enough to achieve the level of poise and sophistication conveyed so perfectly by this song, but I sometimes like to put it on while I’m getting ready to go out, to enjoy the sensation of the future you remember but that didn’t arrive.


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