KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – JOE JACKSON “BIG WORLD”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: JOE JACKSON
Album: BIG WORLD

Joe Jackson - Big WorldBig World
isn’t just one of the musical highlights of 1986 for me, it’s probably my favorite Joe Jackson album, and considering his music has been such an important part of my life for more than 35 years you’ll understand why I consider it an all-time classic. His seventh studio album (not counting a 1983 film soundtrack) wasn’t recorded in a studio, but is actually a collection of 15 brand-new songs captured in front of a live audience (that was asked to remain silent during each performance) at New York’s Roundabout Theatre. The digital recording represents exactly what was performed with no additional mixing or overdubs, making it one of the least ‘80s-sounding records of that decade. His intention was to combine the spontaneity of a live performance with the clarity & precision of a studio recording, but none of this technical detail would mean anything if he didn’t come up with a strong batch of songs. Fortunately he was still at a creative peak, so although it doesn’t include any of his best-known songs (“Right And Wrong” was a minor FM radio hit) it’s stacked from top-to-bottom with great tunes.

Much of the material has a cosmopolitan vibe, most notably on “Shanghai Sky,” “Tango Atlantico,” the World War II remembrance of “40 Years” and the exquisite “Fifty Dollar Love Affair.” However, the energetic new wave energy of his earlier recordings was still evident on tracks like “Precious Time” and “Survival,” the latter featuring these deceptively uplifting lyrics:

“Life’s a bitch and then you die,
Nothing you can do about it.
Anything you steal or buy,
You’re gonna be leaving here without it”

Other highlights include album opener “Wild West,” the funky “Soul Kiss,” the Middle Eastern-tinged “(It’s A) Big World” and his sentimental ode to growing up in Portsmouth, England, “Home Town,” which might be the most beautiful song in his entire discography. The musicians on this record (guitarist Vinnie Zummo, bassist Rick Ford and drummer Gary Burke) deserve special mention, always playing exactly what the song calls for while subtly showcasing their distinct talents. Zummo is an especially tasteful player, and prior to joining Joe Jackson for 1984’s Body And Soul he taught guitar to two of my high school friends/bandmates. It was fun for us to see someone we knew (even though I never met Mr. Zummo) playing in the big leagues. I’m trying to keep these Thirty Year Thursday posts to a single paragraph but I couldn’t resist sharing my enthusiasm for an album that has amazed and inspired me for three decades. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Here are a few samples, but I highly recommend buying the CD or the 3-sided LP.

For another perspective on Big World, check out Wardo’s review here:
http://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com/2008/06/joe-jackson-2-big-world.html

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31 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – JOE JACKSON “BIG WORLD”

  1. mikeladano
    January 21, 2016

    Oooh, tell us more about the 3 sided LP!

    Like

    • Since this was Joe’s first album recorded during the CD era, he had 60 minutes of music for the digital disc. When it came time for the LP pressing, though, he offered to edit some of the songs but the record company (A&M) told him they would do a double album for the price of a single album. All the songs fit on 3 sides of vinyl, so the fourth side was blank (with maybe a single groove) with a note that said something like, “There is no music on this disc.” I never owned the vinyl so some of the details might be slightly different.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        January 21, 2016

        FASCINATING nonetheless. I love odd quirky vinyl releases like that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If I ever find a decent copy for a reasonable price I might pick it up. I believe there was a booklet that included the lyrics in multiple languages (a la “Big World” on the album cover), and I don’t think the CD had that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        January 21, 2016

        Interesting. Well if you like, Aaron and I can certainly keep an eye peeled if we see one in Toronto. We could at least let you know what we saw it priced at.

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      • Thanks for the offer, Mike, but this is a low priority and it would probably more fun for me to stumble across it at a yard sale or thrift store.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Daddydinorawk
      January 21, 2016

      I own one. Its very cool.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You own the vinyl? Nice. Had this come out a year earlier I would have bought the vinyl as well, but I got my first CD player in July 1985 and any new CD releases were my preferred format.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Daddydinorawk
        January 21, 2016

        Yeah in the early 90’s I went on a huge vinyl kick. I picked up darned near everything I could get my hands on. Got a decent turntable. Went to town. Picked up a ton of things for $2-5 when a cd could cost like $14 -15. Big World was one of my finds. I may have paid $5 for it and it wasnt even available on cd!! One of my prize possessions along with my complete Brand X and my Genesis Match of the Day blue vinyl.

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      • I love this story. I never stopped buying vinyl but there was a period in the late-80s when it was mostly CDs. Then I did the same as you, finding a bunch of bargains on vinyl. I miss those days now that record hunting has become a sport.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Vinyl Connection
    January 21, 2016

    Just took photos of S4 and booklet (what you describe is correct, Rich) but can’t add them to a comment. Rats!

    Have lots of Joe J, but really only like the first pair. So after this, Rich, I better play the three sides of Big World!

    Like

    • Sorry you can’t link to those photos, Bruce, but thanks for trying. See below for a video I found on Youtube of someone “playing” Side 4 of the record. Hope you find a lot to like whenever you check out this album.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Van Orden
    January 21, 2016

    Why…. oh WHY don’t I have this album???? Live, with studio crispiness …. I won’t even be snide and say that my favorite part is playing side four, and calling it Joe’s cover of THE SOUND OF SILENCE….because that would be an easy gag to write. yes….yes it WOULD.

    Like

    • Well done, Bill. I always enjoy pretending not to make a joke when you’re actually making it. I’m very surprised you don’t own Big World. I think you need to remedy that very soon. Looking forward to hearing what you think of it. Oh, and see my reply to another comment that includes a video of someone playing Side 4 of the vinyl. You gotta love YouTube.

      Like

  4. Bill Van Orden
    January 21, 2016

    Oh…I have several JJ albums…. but they are smattered from different points of his career, and a few live LIVE discs found at Flea Markets….. you’d be very surprised at some of the cool stuff you’ll find that are in the bins that the KIDS aren’t looking through. (I also love going to record STORES if you can still find ’em…. like VINTAGE VINYL… and combing through the used bins or IMPORT bins for stuff never released here…. it’s like finding a little treasure for me at times. )

    Like

    • For some reason I assumed you were a need-to-have-it-all Joe Jackson fan like me. I’m glad you’ve made some great discoveries over the years, especially the ones at nice prices. Anytime I go into a thrift store, flea market or other used-goods shop, I can usually sense whether or not they have records. Sadly, these days almost everyone has them overpriced so true bargains are fewer & further between.

      Like

  5. Bill Van Orden
    January 21, 2016

    I guess I am an ‘ALL OR NOTHING” kind of guy…since I can’t have it ‘ALL’…I guess I get….NOTHING. Actually….I would LIKE to have all of JJ’s catalog…but there are always things from like England, that fall through the cracks….Heck..I still need to see him LIVE…..ONCE AGAIN…. an all or nothing kind of guy, me. Mayhems for my BIRTHDAY…. I saw Steely Dan and the NY ROCK AND SOUL REVIEW for a birthday treat, and …yes… t’was one of my favorite nights out.

    Like

  6. Jeff Kempin
    January 22, 2016

    I have the vinyl version too. The blank side 4 actually comes in handy for balancing the tone arm and the anti skate on my turntable. Since there is no groove, there is nothing to pull the arm. Johnny Winters “Second Winter” album also has a blank side 4 which serves the same purpose.
    As for the album itself, it’s one of my favorites by JJ. I need to give it another spin soon.
    Thanks for the great posts. I especially liked your series on Hall & Oates and I’m really digging the 30 year Thursdays too. Keep up the good work!

    Like

    • Hi Jeff. Thanks for checking out my blog and for the kind words. I hadn’t considered the turntable benefits of Big World‘s Side 4, but that makes sense. Is there actually no groove, or is it one wide groove that takes you to the inner groove relatively quickly? That’s what seems to happen in the video I posted in a comment above. I had forgotten about that Johnny Winter album being only 3 sides. I never owned it but I remember seeing it back in the ’70s & thinking it was pretty cool. I believe the vinyl version of Robert Plant’s latest album (which is excellent) has an etched (and blank) Side 4.

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the Hall & Oates series. I had a lot of fun revisiting their catalog. Please let me know if you still feel as strongly about Big World the next time you play it.

      Thanks again.
      Rich

      Like

  7. Sounds interesting. Haven’t heard any of his stuff.

    Like

    • Ovidiu, you’ve never heard anything by Joe Jackson? If so, you’re in for a treat. His first two (Look Sharp and I’m The Man) are a great place to start. Big World is probably my favorite but may not be the best entry point for someone hearing him for the first time. Then again, maybe it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ianbalentine
    January 25, 2016

    Fantastic choice, Rich. Interesting that it’s your favorite JJ album, though. I would have thought you’d be a Body and Soul guy!

    I break up JJ’s catalogue into two “sections” from Look Sharp through Body and Soul, and then what came after. From the former I’d have to pick Night and Day or Jumpin’ Jive, and from the later it would be Volume 4 and then Big World. But c’mon, really I’m just splitting hairs here, because aside from maybe NIght Music I’ve found much to enjoy on each and every release.

    You’re right, though, this is a stand out amongst stand outs!

    Like

    • Thanks, Ian. I probably should have stated that Big World “might” be my favorite JJ album, since on any given day he’s got at least a half dozen others that could be my #1 (and the others would “Be My Number 2″…pun intended). I am a Body And Soul guy, and that tour was the first time I saw him (at Madison Square Garden, believe it or not). I was slightly disappointed by Volume 4 after being excited about his reunion with the original JJ band. It’s a solid album but the songs don’t utilize the band’s talents like those first three records. I wasn’t expecting (nor did I want) another Look Sharp; I was just hoping for a little more energy. I’ve had the same issue with the two albums Graham Parker has released after reuniting with The Rumour.

      So, not a fan of Night Music, eh? I love that record. Any album whose first lyrics are, “the older I get the more stupid I feel” will always make me smile. It really is perfect late-night music for me.

      I’ve been considering a series on the JJ discography since I need to focus on artists/albums I know well right now (until I buy a new house & life is a bit more settled), but I have a few other series ideas I might tackle first…along with this weekly Thirty Year Thirty series. So many good albums in 1986. Not all of them have held up well, but most of them have.

      Like

      • ianbalentine
        January 26, 2016

        I’ll have to give a night a music another chance, I think. I think it’s odd that I pretty much love everything ve ever heard from JJ, so maybe I just missed something.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t guarantee you’ll change your mind but if you can’t find some late-night alone time to focus on nothing but “Night Music” I have a feeling its charms will sneak up on you.

        Like

  9. wardo68
    January 26, 2016

    You hit another of my favorites, Rich. I taped a friend’s copy when it came out, including the fourth side, just to make sure. Here’s my take:

    http://everybodysdummy.blogspot.com/2008/06/joe-jackson-2-big-world.html

    Like

    • Thanks, Wardo. You must have missed the link I provided to your post on “Big World” at the bottom of this post. I wanted to make sure my readers had access to your write-up on this great album.

      Like

      • wardo68
        January 26, 2016

        I did miss that! Shame on me. And thanks!

        Like

  10. Jeff Kempin
    January 27, 2016

    I second the vote for a series on JJ. You would do it up right, Rich.

    Like

    • Thanks, Jeff. I have a few other series in the works so a potential JJ series will have to wait, but I’ve been known to shift gears depending on my mood. Nice to know there will be at least a couple of people who will join in that conversation.

      Like

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