Certain Songs #792: Joe Jackson – “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”

Album: Look Sharp!
Year: 1979

When Look Sharp! debuted, Joe Jackson was almost instantly compared to Elvis Costello, not just because they were both U.K. singer-songwriters who flirted with punk rock without ever fully crossing over, but also because they wrote barbed-wired songs about relationships.

As their subsequent careers showed, of course, they weren’t anything at all alike, but in the late 1970s, I guess we could be excused for trying to sort it all out by lumping them in together. If Jackson wasn’t quite as narsty as Elvis the C, he still sported still a pretty decent lyrical edge in songs like “Fools in Love,” “Sunday Papers,” “One More Time,” and the stone cold classic “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”

Over a simple “Hang On Sloopy” baseline and muted guitar, Jackson explains his dilemma:

Tonight’s the night when I go to
All the parties down my street
I wash my hair and I kid myself
I look real smooth
Look over there! (Where?)
Here comes Jeanie with her new boyfriend
They say that looks don’t count for much
If so, there goes your proof

The big hook, of course, was the “Look over there!” “Where?” call-and-response, which took the piss out of the dude-complaining-about-chicks-with-ugly-dudes, and kept attention away from the slightly-too-sophisticated music on the chorus.

Is she really going out with him?
Is she really gonna take him home tonight?
Is she really going out with him?
Cause if my eyes don’t deceive me,
There’s something going wrong around here

And that’s where “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” lives — the contrast between the almost-jazzy chorus (and the bridge, as well) and the drop-dead simple (and hilarious) verses, so you could either laugh along with the verses, get angry with the choruses, or both.

“Is She Really Going Out With Him?” was a pretty big single, making it to #21 on the Billboard charts, and helping to make Look Sharp! a relatively early “new wave” album — it was certainly a staple at my house, as my brother Joseph snapped it up — to be a big seller here in the U.S.

But, of course, Jackson was too restless to stay a straight-ahead singer songwriter: after a less-successful (except for one song) follow-up, he started exploring reggae, swing, cocktail jazz and every other damn thing that captured his fancy.

Fan-made video for “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”

“Is She Really Going Out With Him?” performed live in 1980

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