[Review] Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive (1981)

Joe Jackson travels back in time and returns with the swingingest album of 1981.

Kronomyth 4.0: Is you is or is you ain’t my JJ?

On his last album, Beat Crazy, Joe Jackson sounded like he needed a vacation. For his next album, he didn’t just travel to another place, he traveled to another time. Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive is a collection of songs that were first popularized in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s an almost 180-degree turn from new wave. He ditched most of his band. He ditched the piano for the vibraphone. He ditched the skinny tie for a fat boy tie. And he released what was certainly the most surprising and arguably one of the best albums of 1981.

I love this record. Maybe even more than Look Sharp! It is an exuberant record that sounds like Joe Jackson is having the time of his life. The music leaps from the speakers, the arrangements sparkle and Joe Jackson dazzles with his charm (!) and spot-on delivery. Of course, it would turn out to be one of a series of sharp musical detours over his career, but at the time I was totally down with the idea of him sticking to swing for the rest of his life. In fact, forty years later, I’m still waiting for a followup.

In the liner notes, Jackson professes an affection for the music of Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway, both of whom are well represented here. From Calloway’s camp, there is We the Cats (Shall Hep Ya) and Jumpin’ Jive. On Jordan’s side, there is Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby, Five Guys Named Moe, What’s the Use of Getting Sober and How Long Must I Wait for You. While I’ve found myself singing “Jumpin’ Jive,” “We the Cats” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” to myself hundreds of times over the years, the entire album is a joy.

I’ll admit, I enjoy swing music. But Joe Jackson and his band infuse it with a crisp, modern sound that improves upon the original formula. As a singer, Jackson is at the top of his game. And the band is crackerjack sharp, from drummer Larry Tolfree to the sultry horn section. On paper, this probably looked like a bad idea. On plastic, it is a revelation. Whatever Joe Jackson did next, I was confident it would be brilliant and unexpected. Turned out I was right.

Original elpee version

A1. Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid (Clarence Beeks/Lester Young) (2:42)
A2. Jack, You’re Dead (Dick Miles/Walter Bishop) (2:45)
A3. Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby (Bill Austin/Louis Jordan) (5:02)
A4. We the Cats (Shall Hep Ya) (copyright control) (3:18)
A5. San Francisco Fan (M. More) (4:28)
A6. Five Guys Named Moe (Jerome Bresler/Larry Wynn) (2:14)
B1. Jumpin’ Jive (Cab Calloway/Frank Froeba/Jack Palmer) (2:42)
B2. You Run Your Mouth (And I’ll Run My Business) (Louis Armstrong) (2:32)
B3. What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again) (Bubsy Meyers) (3:48)
B4. You’re My Meat (Skeets Tolbert) (2:55)
B5. Tuxedo Junction (Buddy Feyne/Erskine Hawkins/William Johnson/Julian Dash) (5:19)
B6. How Long Must I Wait for You (copyright control) (4:06)

All songs arranged by Joe Jackson.

The Players

Joe Jackson (voice and vibes, horn arrangements), Davie Bitelli (tenor sax and clarinet, backing vocals, horn arrangements), Graham Maby (bass, backing vocals), Raul Oliviera (trumpet, backing vocals, horn arrangements), Pete Thomas (alto sax, backing vocals, horn arrangements), Larry Tolfree (drums, backing vocals), Nick Weldon (piano, backing vocals). Produced by Joe Jackson; associate producer: Norman Mighell; engineered by Norman Mighell.

The Pictures

Design by Joe Jackson and Anton Corbijn. Photography by Anton Corbijn. Logo by Pete Convington.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in July 1981* in the UK (A&M, AMLH/CAM-68530), the US (A&M, SP-4871) and Australia and New Zealand (A&M, L37630). Reached #14 on the UK charts and #42 on the US charts. (*First appeared in 7/11/81 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in the US (A&M, SP/CD-3271).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1993 in Germany (Karussell, 550062).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc on January 12, 1999 in the US (A&M, 540 991).

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