Joe Jackson was part of what I perceived at the time to be a great pop songwriting renaissance brewing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when UK acts as diverse as Squeeze, the English Beat, The Clash, The Jam, The Vapors, The Police, and XTC, among others, were cranking out all manner of small compositional miracles, in such quantity and with such apparent facility that I didn’t see why it would ever have to stop. At the time, all of these British artists tended to get lumped under the umbrella of the so-called “New Wave” (save the Clash, quite wrongly categorized as part of the Punk movement, even though comparing them to, say, the Sex Pistols, was a bit like comparing a killer whale to a hammerhead shark), a rubric that embraced all sorts of styles and attitudes. Jackson’s work could be thought of as being part of sub-genre that included the songs of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, and Dave Edmunds, pop with a certain edge, tending towards a somewhat skewed, but always trenchant, often socially relevant perspective, without abandoning any of the traditional virtues of straightforward songcraft. It’s Different for Girls, off I’m the Man, a very big album in the college circles I was just entering, was a typical example, and very much of a piece with Jackson’s own, earlier, Is She Really Going Out With Him? As with the prior tune, the theme was what might be described as “baffled romantic frustration”, with the male protagonist finding it nigh on impossible to figure out what women want, or why he obviously doesn’t have it, whatever the hell it is. This time around, Jackson set out to be a bit subversive, turning the old stereotype on its head by portraying the guy as the one who craves love and meaningful emotional attachment, while the girl, frankly horrified at the prospect, wants only the sex. Said Joe: It was something that I heard somewhere that struck me as a cliché. The sort of thing that someone might say, and again, I thought, what could that be about? And that maybe the idea was to turn it on its head and have a conversation between a man and a woman and what you’d expect to be the typical roles are reversed.
I find it hard to pin down what I find so appealing about this one. I guess I identify with the character. Plus, it’s got a bit of a jazzy swing to it, with a pleasingly chiming electric guitar part forming its backbone, while it walks a line between sadness and a sort of hard-done-by indignation, a feeling of how can you be so callous as to say that to me? when, in response to his soul-baring honesty, she pretty much throws it back in his face:
I can’t believe it
Possibly mean it
All want the same thing
Well who said anything about love?
“You’re all the same”, she concludes. He doesn’t say it, but we know what’s he’s thinking: No, we’re not.