Of the three angry young men that emerged in the British new wave movement of the early '80s, Joe Jackson was perhaps the most idiosyncratic. Classically trained, he went to considerable lengths to prove himself as a composer—often, he even seemed to have contempt for pop music itself. After establishing himself as a gifted songwriter with a pair of edgy new wave pop records, he quickly set out to prove his eclecticism, recording album-length tributes to reggae, jump blues, traditional pop and jazz. He has ventured into classical music several times. Following his 1987 classical album Will Power, Jackson's audience began to decline, and by the early '90s, his cult was a fraction of its size a decade earlier. Despite his shrinking audience, Jackson was even less compromising in the '90s than he was in the '80s, eventually abandoning pop altogether.
Jackson began playing music as child, learning violin at the age of 11 and convincing his parents to invest in a piano by the time he was a teenager. He began writing songs as an adolescent, and he studied percussion and oboe in school as well. Following high school, he received a scholarship for London's Royal Academy of Music, and he studied composition at the institution between 1971 and 1974. Following his graduation, he performed with a band named Arms and Legs, and was then hired as the musical director for the Portsmouth Playboy Club. Within a few years, he recorded a demo album of original songs that landed him a publishing deal with Albion Music. By 1978, he had secured a record contract with A&M. Released in early 1979, at the height of new wave, Jackson's debut album Look Sharp! was a collection of nervy, edgy pop songs recorded in just a week and a half.
Jackson stretched the boundaries of pop with the 1986 album Big World, yet few observers would have predicted that his next album would be a full-fledged symphony. Will Power was poorly received upon its 1987 release, and Jackson, who was contemptuous of the bad reviews, nevertheless backed away from its complexities on his next album. Following the double-disc set Live 1980/86 in 1988, Jackson released Blaze of Glory, a collection of pop songs designed to tell a semi-autobiographical story, in 1989. Blaze of Glory was moderate hit, producing the album-rock hits "Down to London" and the title track. It was also his last album for A&M—he signed to Virgin for 1991's straight-ahead pop/rock record, Laughter & Lust. Despite strong reviews, Laughter & Lust wasn't the hit it was designed to be, and Jackson abandoned pop music once and for all with 1994's Night Music, a fusion of classical music and show tunes that was greeted with mixed reviews and poor sales. Confirmed nevertheless in his individualistic inclinations, Jackson released his Symphony No. 1 in 1999.