Story behind the record cover – Look Sharp! (1979) – Joe Jackson

“Would he wear these shoes when he is to be married soon? After living together for 40 years, some good friends of mine decided to get married. As a token of love. She is seriously ill. He was a big Joe Jackson fan in the late 1970s. She also liked the music and socially engaged lyrics of ‘Angry New Wave Young Men’ like Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and Joe Jackson. But they were especially fond of Joe Jackson; it runs through their lives like a common thread.

It all started with “Look Sharp!”, Jackson’s brilliant debut album, with a cover that is regarded as one of the most artistic of its time. On this LP, Jackson delivers a set of prickly and catchy pop songs that bubble with energy and frustration. It oozes cynicism. Jackson, for example, the sensationalist Sunday press is ripped apart in the song Sunday Papers. And with beautiful women who go out with ugly and/or stupid men. He denounces their short-sightedness in displaying these types of gorillas on the street, just for the sake of appearances. These ladies do not think, says Jackson, who tries to open their eyes: ‘Look sharp and look around you’.

On the one hand, these lyrics are a mirror, on the other hand, I’m not particularly fond of cynicism. Trust nothing in this world, is the premise of a cynic. But I do go for that glimmer of light, like on this record cover and don’t just see the negative. Still, Joe Jackson’s music grabs me. He is influenced by all kinds of music styles, which he performs in his own way. Jackson is averse to compromise. He totally goes his own way in the music world. He is not influenced by success formulas. Therefore, his message for young musicians is: if you really want to squeeze your feet into Cinderella’s glass slippers you’re bound to stumble. Be yourself and don’t trust any prince to come and rescue you.

After the success of the first albums, Joe Jackson left for New York to take a completely different approach. He wanted to make a swinging record without guitars. Everyone thought he was crazy. He just didn’t care. “Night and Day” was released in 1982 with Latin American rhythms and became a worldwide hit record with a mega circulation. My good friends, the loyal Jackson fans, even took salsa lessons because of this album. That wasn’t for me. But “Night and Day” is truly a guilty pleasure. It actually doesn’t fit in my collection of prog rock LPs, but secretly I sometimes put the record on and let my hips sway.

Back to the album cover of “Look Sharp!”. Joe Jackson was furious that the record company decided in favour of the photo with only the shoes and not a picture with Jackson’s face. He blamed photographer Brian Griffin and never worked with him again. While Griffin was one of the most sought after photographers of his time. Many pop musicians were photographed by him, such as Kate Bush, Brain Ferry, Echo & the Bunnymen, and drummer Bill Bruford.

I saw Joe Jackson live once, in 2015 in Ahoy in Rotterdam during a corporate party at the Night of the Proms. Unfortunately, that proved to be a major setback. Chagrin was three feet deep, he did three songs, completely uninspired, and then suddenly disappeared from the stage. The toll of cynicism? The next artist tried to keep the spirits up by trying to get the audience to put their ‘Hands in the air’ most of the time, but the atmosphere had already been completely ruined. My friends’ wedding is going to be different, I think. There will probably be a lot of dancing and swinging to beautiful music, with lots of Joe Jackson. Love will conquer cynicism. Always will.”

By  Gerrit-Jan Vrielink

Translation Alex Driessen