82. Jude Cole - Joe

I would say almost all of the songs on this list would be familiar to someone who has a pretty good knowledge of popular music of the last forty years. They tend to be popular songs that lots of people know. There's a reason these songs are/were popular - they're good! I know a lot of musical purists will say that popularity is the death of talent to a certain degree, but that can't argue away The Beatles, can it? Or even Mozart. Sure, you get your Gerardo and "Rico Suave" that was wildly popular, but for the most part, popular music is popular because it's good and lots of people can relate to it and enjoy it. So I'm not going to surprise you too much with these songs.

But this song is different. Jude Cole is a name most people don't know. He had a top 20 hit in 1990 with his song, "Baby It's Tonight" but that was his only real hit. I got the album that song was on, A View From 3rd Street, and really loved it. So when he came out with other albums, I got them and loved them, too. #83, "Joe," is from his fourth album, I Don't Know Why I Act This Way, released in 1995, and is perhaps one of the most depressing songs ever written. And I mean that in a good way.

The song is the story of Joe, a veteran, father, and complete asshole. That Cole can assume this character with conviction is a tribute not only to his songwriting ability, but his acting ability, too. The song opens with a simple acoustic guitar, with a piano that just twinkles through the song, almost as if it were an afterthought. But nothing about this song is an afterthought. The lyrics hit you fast and hard:

I go to church on Sunday morning
Come home and beat my wife
My name is Joe, and you know me
I've lived here all of my damn life
What a life

Jude Cole has a wonderful voice, and it makes the fact that he uses it to sing a song like this all the more powerful. You wouldn't expect a voice like his to sing a song like this. This is a Tom Waits song. But that's what makes it powerful. It makes you realize that the Joe in the song could be anyone, not just the grizzled loner who lives with his dog down the street.

Musically, the song retains the acoustic guitar and piano, only adding some toned down drums and the occasional wail of a trumpet, keeping you focusing on what Jude wants you to focus on, the blistering lyrics. He paints a portrait of a man who's seen his share of horrible things, and done them, too. Joe is a man who lives according to what he's told. You turn 18, you go to the army. You get back from the war. Then you get married. Buy the house. Kids are next. Joe's life is one of expectations, and he's falling short all over the place, because the expectations aren't his.

The thing that's scary about Joe is how close any of us could be to going down that path. Become traumatized from a war, or a tragic loss, get fired, have your wife leave you. Because all of us men could possibly become Joe if we let circumstances get the best of us.

Just in case the song wasn't dark enough for you, Joe continues:

Some nights I go down to the basement
With thoughts I do not understand
A purple heart and a loaded pistol
And I just hold 'em
Hold 'em in my hands

"Joe" isn't a song that you're going to tap your feet to. You're not going to put it on your "Party" playlist on your Ipod. It's a song in the same way that "Fight Club" is a movie. It's meant to make you think, and think hard. That's why it's on this list, because I just can't stop thinking about it, and it's been almost fifteen years since I first heard it.

(Fun Fact #331 - The voice who speaks the lyrics throughout the verses should sound familiar. It's Jude Cole's good friend and business partner, actor Kiefer Sutherland.)

I have to apologize to Jude Cole for the YouTube video below, because it makes it seem that Joe is Kiefer Sutherland's song. But it's the only one of "Joe" on there, so I didn't have much choice.)

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