Joe Jackson - “Cancer” (6.89MB mp3 file)
(This is a guest post from my brilliant friend Chip Pope, responsible for the genius character and music of R.O. Manse.)
When I was 13, the Joe Jackson album Night and Day expanded my view of “hit” music. It drew from a variety of sources I had never heard in pop music, or had heard but didn’t seem to notice. Jackson managed to stuff Salsa, Bossa Nova, and even Classical (however limiting that blanket description) influences into easily digestible four-minute songs. Instantly, a lot of other pop songs I liked became insipid and simplistic in comparison. My friends didn’t particularly care for it, especially since Van Halen and other types of metal were in vogue at the time. I later learned that, as a child, Jackson had a love of all different sorts of music when his friends were primarily interested in the popular music of his day (Beatles, Stones, etc.). Jackson liked these, but wanted more, wanted to broaden his horizons; it’s part of why he started writing music. It’s fitting that almost 20 years later he would expand the musical horizons of a nerdy kid somewhere in Texas. I feel that as the sands of pop music have sifted over time, Jackson is an underappreciated flower in that soil, barely growing under the shadow of the similar (and more successful) Elvis Costello. But I remember. And I appreciate. (By the way, Jackson was veering off in different directions away from traditional pop much sooner than Costello, not that the “when” matters. But maybe it does.) “Cancer” wanders a bit more than most of the songs on Night and Day, but it’s notable for an amazing, deeply felt (yet playful) piano solo and its darkly humorous lyric. You can imagine this song being played at a really cool Lower East Side dance marathon (a dance marathon possessed of a modicum of wit?) in 1982. But it probably wasn’t.