Happy Wednesday! I’m back from a one-week hiatus and like to welcome you to a new installment of Song Musings. This weekly feature takes a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for today is Sunday Papers by Joe Jackson.
Written by Jackson, Sunday Papers first appeared on the versatile English musician’s and singer-songwriter’s debut album Look Sharp!, which came out in January 1979. Combining new wave and ska, the precursor to rocksteady and reggae, the tune also became the album’s and Jackson’s overall second single in February 1979 after Is She Really Going Out With Him?.
Just like the initial release of Is She Really Going Out With Him? in October 1978, Sunday Papers didn’t make the UK Official Singles Charts and also failed to chart in other countries. Unlike Jackson’s first single, Sunday Papers wasn’t reissued, possibly a mistake. When Is She Really Going Out With Him? appeared for the second time in 1979, the single received much more attention, reaching no. 13 in the UK, and climbing to no. 8, no. 9, no. 15 and no. 18 in Ireland, Canada, Australia and the U.S., respectively.
“It started out with this riff, which is really a standard sort of rhythm and blues riff,” Jackson explained in a 2011 mini-documentary about the making of Sunday Papers, posted on YouTube channel Top 2000 a gogo. According to their description, these mini documentaries are part of an annual Dutch television programme, made by NTR for NPO3. [Jackson playing piano] “I was putting it more on the off beats, so it has almost more like a ska reggae feel to it” [continues playing piano]. “And then the bass is going…” [continues playing piano, demonstrating the bass line] Here’s how the great song sounded live in June 2022, captured at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles.
I’ve really come to dig Sunday Papers and Jackson’s debut album overall. One important reason is the terrific bass playing by Graham Maby who continues to work with Jackson to this day and can prominently be seen in the above live clip. The other members of Jackson’s original band, Gary Sanford (guitar) and David Houghton (drums), certainly were no slouches either.
Look Sharp! did better in the charts than Sunday Papers, reaching no. 40 in the UK and no. 20 in each the U.S., Canada and Australia. It performed best in New Zealand where it peaked at no. 13. The album has since secured Platinum certification in Canada (80,000 units); Gold certifications the U.S. (500,000 units) and The Netherlands (50,000 units); and Silver certification (60,000 units) in the UK. While the chart performance and sales figures are pretty modest compared to Jackson’s most successful album Night and Day (June 1982), they aren’t too shabby for a debut.
Following are some additional insights for Sunday Papers from Songfacts:
One of the few songs on Joe Jackson’s debut album Look Sharp! that isn’t about interpersonal relationships and matters of love, “Sunday Papers” is a takedown of the Fleet Street press, the UK print media that were prone to cover sensationalistic and frightening news stories to boost readership. Jackson had his battles with the press, who often categorized him in ways that weren’t to his liking (New Wave?). His message here: don’t trust everything you read, and don’t let it affect your lifestyle.
In 2011, it was revealed that the British newspaper News of the World was involved in phone hacking, and it produced quite a scandal. In 2012, we asked Joe Jackson about this event and if his song was prophetic. His reply: “I think that what applied now applied then. I think that some of the worst people just got busted, that’s all. All that stuff with the News of the World, I think it was business as usual. There are certain publications in the UK that have gone down market, that have gotten trashier. And there are some that are still at least trying to maintain a certain dignity. But yeah, I’m not a big fan of the UK media in general.”
Jackson used a reggae beat on this song, which is something The Clash, The Police, and Elvis Costello were also up to. Another Jackson song with a reggae influence is “Fool in Love.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Top 2000 a gogo; Songfacts; YouTube