Suzanne Vega: Five Essential Joe Jackson Songs

Suzanne Vega (photo by F. Holz, PR)
by Kara Manning | 08/09/2017 | 12:00pm

Suzanne Vega (photo by F. Holz, PR)

Suzanne Vega's self-titled debut was released in 1985, a full six years after Joe Jackson's first album, Look Sharp!, but the two gifted musicians were fated to quickly find each other as collaborators. The 1986 soundtrack for the now-iconic teen film "Pretty in Pink," directed by Howard Deutch and written by co-executive producer John Hughes, featured a brilliantly matched Vega on vocals and Jackson on piano for the outlier anthem "Left of Center," penned by Vega and Steve Addabbo. The single became a modest alternative rock hit in the UK and the States.

A decade after that inspired pairing, Jackson recruited Vega for his modern opera Heaven & Hell, an ambitious examination of the Seven Deadly Sins. Vega was cast as the coolly unruffled narrator of "Angel (Lust)," a driving seven-minute-plus dialogue of desire that also featured soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Thanks to those too-brief but memorable recorded encounters, there's an undeniable artistic kinship between Jackson and Vega, no matter what divergent paths they've taken over the years. Vega's most recent release is her collaboration with Duncan Sheik, Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers, a natural evolution from her 2011 play about the Southern writer, called Carson McCullers Talks About Love. This September, Vega will play two nights at New York's City Winery, covering 1987's Solitude Standing and 1992's 99.9F in their entirety in honor of the albums' 30th and 25th anniversaries.

So when FUV chose Joe Jackson as our FUV Essentials artist, and as Heaven & Hell celebrates its 20th anniversary this September, we reached out to Vega to write about her friend and the songs she loves best:

Suzanne Vega: Five Essential Joe Jackson Songs:

"Steppin' Out," Night and Day (1982)
A sophisticated song about going out for the evening all dressed up, leaving the strife of the day behind. It always reminded me of Sinatra somehow, with a gorgeous driving bass line.

"Is She Really Going Out With Him?," Look Sharp! (1979)
Perfect New Wave song. Brings me back to the late '70s in New York City. Back then I thought Joe Jackson was from Brooklyn because of how he sang this one.

"It's Different For Girls," I'm the Man (1979)
A gorgeous song about love, from the two perspectives of male and female, with a haunting guitar line. One day I'll cover this song.

"On Your Radio," I'm the Man (1979)
The ultimate revenge song of fame. Who hasn't been there and had those fantasies of rising above all the people who oppress you? "You can't get near me, you can only hope to hear me on your radio." What every songwriter hopes for.

"Look Sharp!," Look Sharp! (1979)
Joe Jackson at his deliciously cynical best with advice from the street. Still true today.

- Suzanne Vega
August 2017

Read all of FUV's Five Essential Songs and Albums.

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