Thursday, January 9, 2014

Song #466 of 9999 - Is She Really Going Out With Him? by Joe Jackson

Song #466 of 9999

Title: Is She Really Going Out With Him?
Artist: Joe Jackson
Year: 1979
Album: Look Sharp!

A song that begins with the line "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street" gets my respect and attention immediately. Revisiting "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", I particularly enjoyed being reminded of that line, which would have meant nothing to me in 1979 but certainly resonates today. (Although, in retrospect, this is probably exactly what Luke Skywalker was thinking when Princess Leia kissed Han Solo. But I digress.) My record collection's equivalent is probably "Radiation Vibe" by Fountains of Wayne, which opens with the couplet "Are you alone now/Did you lose the monkey".

I suppose the way for Joe Jackson was paved by Elvis Costello, a fellow Englishman whose sardonic wit and penchant for American-style rock and roll was well-established by 1979. While Jackson's songs didn't have quite the sting of Costello's, they had a uniqueness to them that I believe emanates from his being a pianist rather than a guitarist.

The evidence in "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" is present not in the verse, where a typical guitar-rock progression is utilized (I-V-bVII-IV in the key of Bb), but in the chorus and bridge. The chord that strikes me as being so idiomatic to the piano occurs at the end of the hook on the word "out":
                                      Eb                          F/Bb    Bb
                                      Is she really going out___ with him

It's a wonderful moment. The F Major over Bb is such a well-placed dissonance and, while it's conceivable that a guitarist comes up with this idea, it's such a natural fit for the piano.

The bridge offers even more pianistic delights:
                       Dm7                     Eb                 F7sus4                G7sus4               Dm7
                       But if looks could kill, there's a man there who's marked down as dead...

Again, there are plenty of guitarists with the skill and intuition to grab those suspended chords but they fall so easily into the hands of a pianist (even one as bad as me!) who can simply play them as stacked fourths (F-Bb-Eb for F7sus4 and G-C-F for G7sus4—go ahead and try them!). These colorful sonorities lend a richness to the bridge that works quite well in contrast to the thin texture of the verse.

Of course, it's hard to be a piano player in a rock band and eventually Jackson's tendencies led him down the dark path of jazzy pop. So sad. ;)

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