“Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson
(Words/Music: Joe Jackson, Album: Night and Day, A&M 1982)
Maybe it’s the lyrics, maybe it’s the Cole Porter inspired jazz pop, maybe it’s his haircut, but whenever I think of Joe Jackson, I think of maturity. Jackson, part of an anti-punk movement out of England which would eventually influence New Wave, infuses his brand of pop music and simplistic song structures with his own jazz piano stylings. The repetition of the main melody of the chorus, sometimes played on piano and sometimes on the background synthesizers or bass, keeps it in the head of every listener throughout: definitely rule number one for creating a successful pop song.
The lyrics, though, rise above the obvious and blunt lyrics of an ordinary pop song. Written about a night in which a couple tries to mask whatever problems lie behind the “mist across the window,” the singer asks his partner to “dry your eyes” as they go out for the evening. There is an implied hope that when they “Get into a car and drive/ To the other side,” everything will be better. The ironic part is that “Stepping Out” is often a term used for someone who is cheating on his/her lover. It’s almost as if they are “Stepping Out” on their house/apartment or their lives, looking for an adventure which will fix all of their problems. What that adventure is, is not clear, however, but it is a place/situation in which they will trade in “all the darkness of their lives” and leave the mundaneness of “TV and radio behind” for a place where his lover “Can dress in pink and blue just like a child” in an effort to regain the joyful innocence and wonder at the beginning of a relationship. Joe Jackson makes astute observations about the human condition and backs them with music which veers from the pop ideal. It’s a wonder his songs break through onto the pop charts at all.