Look over there! Where? There in wikipedia where it tells you that Joe Jackson has been putting out records (but not cigarettes) constantly since the late 70s. Not just those two songs once. Yes JJ is one of those unfortunate artists that you know more of their songs than you realise. “Stepping Out” that was him too — a song I know very well, but didn’t even know the title or that it was by him until 20 minutes ago. (Go find it on youtube.) But that was later, smoother 80s JJ — you don’t get more dinner-party-smooth than playing piano for Suzanne Vega, and Stepping Out is even on one of the GTA soundtracks – so perhaps the right phrase is “Mondeo Pop”. If it is I have to insist there are no pejorative connotations. Good, that’s settled.
Anyway. Earlier in 79/80, It’s Different for Girls, and Is She Really Going Out With Him?. These merge into one another in my head. Partly because, well , they do sound the same (they do!), but also because they are in a particularly malleable bit of my memory (someone find me a JJ megamix plz!). The late 70s was the environment that formed my own pre-teen musical tastes, and they were part of the furniture. Everyone knew these songs. Well in the UK – IDfG didn’t chart or wasn’t released in the US despite being his (still) highest charting single in the UK. Shame.
These two songs have a similar tone too — a ‘reportage’ sense of conversation. Something that seems prototypical of my favourite sort of indie — mid 80s shambolic uk guitar indie. “Relationship” conversations overheard/reported or from a dissociated 1st person is key to the songs of David Gedge for one. There is a strong “IT’S NOT FAIR” sulky injustice in common too.
Though ISRGOWH? is clearly a ‘what a bitch!’ conversation between Joe and his gang of mates (in which you are included), IDfG is more ambiguous and more generous to the ladies. It’s not certain how the narrator relates to the people in the song — he could be repeating what he overheard at a bus shelter, or he could be, more conventionally, the bloke in the story. But then that story is non too clear either:
“Don’t you know that it’s different for girls!? [sez lady presumably] You’re all the same”
Women, eh? Bless them. It’s as if they were, i don’t know, from another planet or something — as if Men were from Ceti Alpha Six, and Women were from Ceti Alpha Five. And guess what? THIS is Ceti Alpha Five! Because a close look at the verses can seem to imply a reversal of stereotypes — that it’s the girl here who is just out for no-strings ‘fooling around’. Or, looked at another way, perhaps she’s saying she just wants to be friends. WHO CAN BLOODY TELL WITH WOMEN?†
And perhaps that’s also the point. Negotiations are fraught when you don’t speak the same language. (Just like that episode of Star Trek where Picard… why do i keep coming back to star trek??) And because the title is one of those unreasonable trump-card lines to which there is no comeback, it’s a win-win — the boys get to sulk (yay, so indie) and the girls get to feel good (yay, so empowered).
†Unclear as it is, the story here has little in common with the film of the same name — Tony ‘TV drama’ Marchant’s transgender rom-com. You ‘eard. Being generous you could draw a gender role-reversal parallel. I don’t want to know about Jo Brand’s book of the same name. But the wide appropriation of the phrase in titles and headlines does make me wonder if JJ was the first to the presses of popular culture with it.