Turn Back The Clock, by Johnny Hates Jazz
It is rare when an album helps to create a new subgenre of music. It is even more rare when this album remains relatively obscure decades after it is released, and it is even more rare when the artists who help to create a genre are as unaware of what they are doing as was the case here. I have written about Johnny Hates Jazz before, but it bears repeating that a band named Johnny Hates Jazz was fundamental in the creation of the smooth jazz subgenre of music. How a band was unaware that it was making jazz music while claiming to hate it in their name is striking. The group is best known for their smooth song “Shattered Dreams,” one of my all-time favorite songs, but the band’s music was far deeper than this song. Is it a worthy if obscure classic, though? Let’s see.
The album begins with its big hit, “Shattered Dreams,” and this song of heartbreak still holds up more than 30 years later, a real standout track. “Heart Of Gold” continues the jazzy instrumentation and tells a story about an indiscreet but genuine young woman, a hooker with a heart of gold. The title track follows, with a smooth beat and a feeling of nostalgia that really hits the spot sometimes. “Don’t Say It’s Love” gives a mid-tempo tale of a relationship that has fallen apart due to infidelity and cruelty, a companion track to “Shattered Dreams,” it seems like. “What Other Reason” deals with the frustrating reality of only one person wanting to fight to save a troubled relationship. “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero” tells a story of someone souring on sacrificing themselves for their country given the horrors that result from trauma, an unusually catchy song about being a conscientious objector. “Listen” gives a jazzy exploration of someone whose changeable moods are easier to take when she communicates what is in her heart. “Different Seasons” then gives a reflective and melancholy perspective about the cruelty of missing a partner. “Don’t Let It End This Way” is a jazzy tune about a breakup that seeks to deal with reality but change the way that it is happening. “Me And My Foolish Heart” closes the original album with a gorgeous and melancholy song about reflecting back on the mistakes one’s heart has made in love and relationships. The next five songs after this are 12″ dance remixes of Shattered Dreams, Heart Of Gold, Turn Back The Clock, Don’t Say It’s Love, and Me And My Foolish Heart that give longer dance-appropriate versions of the album’s songs, and an unreleased version of Turn Back The Clock that is a pleasant demoish version.
It is really surprising to me that the group Johnny Hates Jazz were not aware that they were making jazz music with this album. In listening to this album nowadays, with the passage of time, it is clear that this album is truly a smooth jazz classic. Perhaps in the late 1980’s, when this album helped to create smooth jazz as a viable subgenre and radio format, this was less obvious. The group may have only thought that they were playing sophisticated pop, not realizing what made it sophisticated was precisely the jazz elements that were included, especially in the instrumentation. There isn’t a dud here on this album–even if every track is not as good as songs like “Shattered Dreams,” “Heart Of Gold,” “Turn Back The Clock,” “Don’t Say It’s Love,” “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero,” and “Me And My Foolish Heart,” that still makes up more than half of the album, and the rest of the songs are at least solid tracks that are worth listening to and appreciating. If you like the sound that this album provides, there is a lot here to appreciate, and certainly enough to make it worthwhile to see the rest of the band’s body of work–which includes four studio albums, a best-of collection that includes material from their first two albums, as well as a live album.