One for Friday: Joe Jackson, “Tomorrow’s World”

When I think back on the artists and albums that were decisively, definitively ours during my youthful days in college radio, I almost always conjure up memories of the bands and performers that started on the left end of the dial and probably never managed to creep up to the higher frequencies: Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, the Smithereens. They certainly represented a central part of my musical experience, but there was a whole other batch of artists that got regular play at 90FM who were more like reclamation projects. These were the performers who had experience some commercial success, unlikely and fleeting as it may have been, and continued making records–good records at that–despite rapidly mounting indifference from the bigwigs of the music and broadcasting industries. I’m thinking of people like Jackson Browne, Marshall Crenshaw, Bruce Cockburn. These were the “old-timers” that we proudly played. And during the stretch of the late eighties and early nineties when I regularly signed off (and signed on, for that matter) a student-run radio station, the clearest favorite who fit into that category was probably Joe Jackson.

Jackson had a bunch of sizable hits to his credit by the time I had an FCC license, but it had been a little while, in part because Jackson had concentrated on other commercially questionable endeavors such as putting out a classical music album and composing the score for a Francis Ford Coppola movie. When he brought out Blaze of Glory in the spring of 1989, it had been a decent stretch (for that era, anyway) since he’d released a proper pop album.

He compounded whatever reluctance radio programmers might have had about embracing the new record by making it clear that it was a concept album, a song cycle about the life of a rock ‘n’ star and treating it in concert and in interviews as a singular work that should almost be approached like a novel or some other piece of long-form storytelling (Lou Reed had taken a similar approach earlier in the year with New York, but it was clear he was at least somewhat joking). Truth is, the tracks didn’t interlock in some impenetrable way, but enough may have steered clear of the album, thinking they did. Instead, it was characteristically exquisite songcraft from Jackson, buffed up with full instrumentation and radiant with a sheen of high-end studio production values.

Much as I liked the whole thing, there were a few songs I kept coming back to, led by “Nineteen Forever,” which had a pleasing symmetry given my age at the time. Probably just as often, I dropped the needle down on the very first track of the record, my own way of honoring Jackson’s intent that Blaze of Glory be treated as a singular work, figuring that it’s better to read the first chapter rather than one in the middle when sampling a book. Besides, the album opener, “Tomorrow’s World,” was–and is–a hell of a song.

Joe Jackson, “Tomorrow’s World”

(Disclaimer: It appears to me that Blaze of Glory is out of print, although the recommendo-bot at Amazone was quick to tell me that I could purchase a matted print of the advertisement for the release. So that was nice. Several excellent tracks from that album are available on one of Jackson’s “best of” compilations and there’s really no shortage of fine albums from the performer that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I feel pretty content that I’m not stealing bread from anyone’s table by posting this song here and that sharing it also falls well within what should be viewed as fair use. However, I don’t get to make the rules. Therefore, if anyone with due authority to request the removal of this track from the interweb contacts me with such a request, I will gladly and promptly comply.)