Reviews

Review / Johnny Hates Jazz: Turn Back The Clock 30th anniversary reissue

SDE editor Paul Sinclair reflects on a fine album, the career that could have been and assesses the new reissue

There’s that old adage that if you can’t knock out a song on an acoustic guitar or plonk out the chords on a piano, then it’s probably not very good. I’m not sure I totally agree with it – The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ probably doesn’t lend itself to such treatment, and is still a great track – but Johnny Hates Jazz have decided to put the ten songs on their 1988 debut to this test by including an acoustic version of the entire album as one of the bonus CDs in the recent 30th anniversary reissue of their debut Turn Back The Clock (the other disc is the more traditional mix of extended versions, B-sides and demos).

It’s an interesting exercise, although for this writer not actually needed because I’ve always regarded the album highly, anyway. If you put aside any musical snobbery, it’s the perfect pop album – there’s not a bad song on it, whether it’s the mid-paced melancholy of the title track and ‘What Other Reason’; the slick pop of ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ and ‘Don’t Say It’s Love’; and of course the radio friendly ‘Shattered Dreams,’ which was a top five UK hit single and so nearly a US number one (thwarted by George Michael‘s ‘One More Try’ and Gloria Estefan‘s ‘Anything For You’).

Almost any song on Turn Back The Clock could have been a hit – and indeed it does contain six singles if you count the pre-‘Shattered Dreams’ release of ‘Me And My Foolish Heart’ on RAK Records. Four were top 20 hits in the UK and I remember seeing the band on Top of the Pops frequently during this period.

Wet Wet Wet were emerging at the same time (spring 1987) and even though at 17 I should have had better things to do, I remember keeping half an eye on how each respective band was ‘doing’ in terms of chart success, fictionalising some kind of competition between them. It was a close run thing. ‘Shattered Dreams’ ‘beat’ ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’ by one chart place (no. 5 versus no. 6) so that was 15-love in JHJ’s favour. But then ‘Sweet Little Mystery’ was another top ten hit around the same time that ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ peaked at a slightly disappointing number 11 (15-all). The title track to ‘Turn Back The Clock’ did similar ‘business’ to the previous single and stalled at number 12 while ‘Angel Eyes (Home and Away)’ – fair enough, it’s a good song – was Wet Wet Wet’s third top ten hit in a row, so that’s 15-30 (JHJ are ‘serving’ if this is getting confusing). WWW’s stodgy ‘Temptation’ only got to number 12 so JHJ had a great opportunity to hit one deep into the corner of the baseline, but ended up with the unforced error that was the number 19 peak of ‘Heart of Gold’. The score was now 15-40 but the game was over – and in more ways than one. While the album Turn Back The Clock went straight into the album chart at number one in early 1988 (the only other Virgin Records debut to do this was the Sex Pistols‘ ‘Never Mind The Bollocks…’) it was Wet Wet Wet that went on to have a long and successful career and a trio of UK number ones –  including that 15-week reign at the top with ‘Love Is All Around’ – while frontman and songwriter Clark Datchler left Johnny Hates Jazz after just one album and the band became something of a footnote in story of 1980’s pop.


David Fincher directed this video for Shattered Dreams

For me, Turn Back The Clock is actually a much better album than Popped In Souled Out. There was always this feeling that Wet Wet Wet were obsessed with some kind of ‘authenticity’ and slightly embarrassed to have pop hits like ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’. They did self-indulgent, rock and roll things like going to Memphis (the resulting sessions not deemed worthy of release, initially, by the record label) while JHJ were more like students of pop and in Datchler had a naturally gifted songwriter that had hooks coming out of his backside (actually, scratch that rather painful image).

But when success came, the public seemed to warm to the natural bonhomie of Wet Wet Wet, and for the record label there was the easy marketing narrative of working class Glasgow mates who perfected their craft on the dole and escaped a pre-destined future by their virtue of their own musical talents.

Whereas there was a slight whiff of ‘industry’ about Johnny Hates Jazz (the ‘Climie Fisher factor’?) which perhaps made it harder for the public to warm to them. Calvin Hayes was the son of sixties record producer Mickey Most, Clark Datchler was a talented songwriter already with a publishing deal and Mike Nocito was a successful recording engineer and great friends with producer Phil Thornalley (who wrote ‘Listen’ on Turn Back The Clock and took over as lead vocalist when Datchler left).

I don’t recall seeing them larking around on Saturday morning TV and looking like they were enjoying it all that much and of course Clark left the band in late 1988 after they had achieved so much in such a short space of time, which was both disappointing and bemusing. Talking to SDE back in 2013, Datchler didn’t exactly clear up what happened, but pointed out that the worldwide success of ‘Shattered Dreams’ in particular created a “very pressured” situation and that “those things affect inter-personal relationships.” Incidentally, this departure and the career-that-never-was with Johnny Hates Jazz is explored in ‘The Road Not Taken’, a track from the band’s 2013 album Magnetized.

But enough dwelling on the past, the 30th anniversary reissue of Turn Back The Clock is now out and having seen the band play recently in London, I can confirm that they aren’t grumpy and aloof. On the contrary, they were refreshingly self-deprecating, exhibited no airs and graces and exuded a real warm and gratitude towards their audience. Clark is a witty and likeable frontman and most importantly is still in very fine voice.

The 30th anniversary edition comes as a deluxe three-CD, eight-panel digi-pak and boasts enhanced cover art with a new silver background. The original album has been remastered and sounds excellent and going back to that acoustic album, you really could imagine the band – in some alternative timeline – playing these tracks a few albums into their career, on a mid-nineties MTV Unplugged. ‘Heart of Gold’ takes on a lovely late night jazzy vibe, ‘Turn Back The Clock’ has a pedal steel guitar lilt, ‘Don’t Say It’s Love’ and ‘What Other Reason’ become intimate piano-led pleas while ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ is a more reflective downbeat take on the song when compared to the triumphant pop of the album version (in the notes for the reissue Datchler describes the original as “my favourite song on the album, but not necessarily my favourite recording”).

Once you’ve had enough of the ‘grown up’ re-interpretations, you can switch to CD 3, the rarities disc, and enter full eighties mode by blasting extended versions of all six singles (including ‘Me And My Foolish Heart’ and ‘Don’t Say It’s Love’). All the B-sides are here too, although for some reason Clark didn’t write any flipside, so these tend to be largely instrumentals, penned by Nocito/Hayes.

The four demos are interesting although there are no surprises. ‘Shattered Dreams’ is more or less all there, bar a spit and polish, as are the other tracks, including ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ and ‘Turn Back The Clock’.

There are few things missing; the odd seven-inch remix and an ‘unreleased version’ of ‘Turn Back The Clock’ from the 2008 album reissue, but despite that, and the lack of video content, this three disc set feels well-balanced and effectively supersedes all other variants. Band commentary on the tracks is included in the 20-page booklet (along with lyrics and photos) and this is ultimately a satisfying package, and great value at under £13 (a 2LP vinyl version includes the acoustic interpretation but omits the rarities disc).

The 30th anniversary reissue of Turn Back The Clock is out now on 3CD and 2LP vinyl.

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Johnny Hates Jazz

Turn Back The Clock - 3CD deluxe edition

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Amazon uk 6LP coloured vinyl box 10.69
Amazon de 6LP coloured vinyl box 14.61
Amazon usa 6LP coloured vinyl box 12.97
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Amazon it 6LP coloured vinyl box 14.45
Amazon es 6LP coloured vinyl box 15.2
Amazon ca 6LP coloured vinyl box 17.63
JPC de 6LP coloured vinyl box 17.99
HMV uk 6LP coloured vinyl box 12.99
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Johnny Hates Jazz

Turn Back The Clock - 2LP vinyl edition

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Amazon uk 6LP coloured vinyl box 17.95
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Amazon fr 6LP coloured vinyl box 21.8
Amazon it 6LP coloured vinyl box 26.95
Amazon es 6LP coloured vinyl box 27.05
Amazon ca 6LP coloured vinyl box 31.99
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Johnny Hates Jazz

Magnetized

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Amazon uk 6LP coloured vinyl box 10.6
Amazon de 6LP coloured vinyl box 11.52
Amazon usa 6LP coloured vinyl box 14.41
Amazon fr 6LP coloured vinyl box 11.67
Amazon it 6LP coloured vinyl box 18.03
Amazon es 6LP coloured vinyl box 15.62
Amazon ca 6LP coloured vinyl box 19.96
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Turn Back The Clock 3CD edition

CD 1
1. Shattered Dreams
2. Heart of Gold
3. Turn Back the Clock
4. Don’t Say It’s Love
5. What Other Reason
6. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero
7. Listen
8. Different Seasons
9. Don’t Let It End This Way
10. Me and My Foolish Heart

CD 2
1. Shattered Dreams (acoustic)
2. Heart of Gold (acoustic)
3. Turn Back the Clock (acoustic)
4. Don’t Say It’s Love (acoustic)
5. What Other Reason (acoustic)
6. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero (acoustic)
7. Listen (acoustic)
8. Different Seasons (acoustic)
9. Don’t Let It End This Way (acoustic)
10. Me and My Foolish Heart (acoustic)

CD 3
1. Shattered Dreams (12″ Extended Mix)
2. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero (12″ Extended Mix)
3. Turn Back the Clock (12″ Extended Mix)
4. Heart of Gold (12″ Extended Mix)
5. Don’t Say It’s Love (12″ Extended Mix)
6. Me and My Foolish Heart (12″ Extended Mix)
7. Secret Garden
8. The Cage
9. Cracking Up
10. Living in the Past
11. Leave It Up To Me
12. Shattered Dreams (original demo)
13. Turn Back the Clock (original demo)
14. Different Season (original demo)
15. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero (original demo)

Turn Back The Clock 2LP vinyl edition

LP 1
1. Shattered Dreams (acoustic)
2. Heart of Gold
3. Turn Back the Clock
4. Don’t Say It’s Love
5. What Other Reason
6. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero
7. Listen
8. Different Seasons
9. Don’t Let It End This Way
10. Me and My Foolish Heart

LP 2
1. Shattered Dreams (acoustic)
2. Heart of Gold (acoustic)
3. Turn Back the Clock (acoustic)
4. Don’t Say It’s Love (acoustic)
5. What Other Reason (acoustic)
6. I Don’t Want to Be a Hero (acoustic)
7. Listen (acoustic)
8. Different Seasons (acoustic)
9. Don’t Let It End This Way (acoustic)
10. Me and My Foolish Heart (acoustic)

33 responses to Review / Johnny Hates Jazz: Turn Back The Clock 30th anniversary reissue

  1. Tobias says:

    That acoustic version is great! Always loved the original album since I bought it on my school lunch break back in 1988! Amazing how his voice still sounds more or less the same too!

  2. Brett says:

    Wonderful album & package, but sadly ruined by unnecessary dynamic range compression across all CDs. CD1 has gone from DR13 (1988 issue) to DR6 (2018 issue), losing half of its average dynamics.

    This compressed music may sound OK on small speakers/earbuds, but on a good hi-fi will sound flat & unpleasant, especially at higher volumes.

    Kylie Minogue’s mastering engineer may do a fine job with a 2018 new release (which apparently demands “compressed” sound), but to apply the same mastering logic to a 1988 reissue is beyond belief. Many mastering engineers have move on from the loudness wars, but not this one.

    It’s also a shame that this is the only release of some of these tracks on CD, meaning the only available digital copies have lost much of their dynamic range.

    I’ve detailed the downward spiral from the 1988 CD to the 2018 issue here: http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/johnny-hates-jazz-turn-back-the-clock-30th-anniversary-edition-3cd-2018.784287

  3. andrew says:

    Superb review – as always Paul- and so glad that this came out. Double chuffed to get a signed copy too. A superb band that deserved so much more and a criminally underrated album. Never stopped playing it and this new edition fits the bill so well.
    Time to hunt my vinyl of ” Me and my Foolish Heart” that are around somewhere…

  4. Rashers says:

    One of the first albums that I bought on CD. For decades it has been a bit of an outlier – what was I thinking? I wasn’t into commercial TOTPs music in the late 80s, but bought this and Curiosity Killed the Cat. Listening to the acoustic versions made me realize that I just really liked the songs. A forgotten classic? Perhaps
    (The late 80s was a horrible period for popular music – there was literally nothing good on TV or the radio – unless you listened to John Peel – a bit like now! There were great bands, but no Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz etc.)

  5. MARTIN BARNES says:

    Are the 7″ remixes (which are missing from this set) available anywhere else on CD please ?.

  6. Jhonn says:

    Paul, I never said, that all that what I mentioned sounds similar. But all that trash brought me to the Smiths, Chameleons, the Sound, the Virgin Prunes, EN, JATMC, TSoM, E&tBm, the Scientists, Coil, The Fall, Swans, Nick Cave incl. FGTH, the perfect mixture of art and pop.and a lot lot more of exciting bands of the 80‘s. The most exciting decade of all time for the music scene, IMO. Minus the commercial, polished trash ;-) No harm meant!

  7. Cris says:

    Same for me Larry Davis.
    I HATED JHJ… But differently from you never changed my mind. Instead my guilty pleasure were WWW: bought the Sweet Surrender 12″ amidst that “already-heard-somewhere-lyrics-and-music” approach towards them that I perceived in the press concerning their first albums.
    Instead I very intensely looked for (remember: it was 1995, in Italy…) and bought the vinyl of Picture This, because I was literally awestruck by “Julia Says”, is music, its lyrics and its accompanying video (those girls!) which I found a very mature and amazing song. The group had certainly grown up. (even though in hindsight today I might perceive a bit of The Beatles in there…)

    • Larry Davis says:

      I didn’t exactly change my mind 100%…I’m not leaning towards getting this reissue at all, I’m off the fence and decided I would rather spend my $$$ on something else I am truly happy with, not a guilty pleasure (barely) like JHJ…another UK band I put in the same league is Breathe, but they are on the religious side of things, which is a turnoff…I’d rather put that $$$ into the price of that upcoming Judie Tzuke box or other new releases like Robyn’s new “Honey”…but WWW are a better band yes…

  8. Peter says:

    The acoustic album is really good, and the demos on the 3rd cd are a very nice addition: while it’s true that the songs are already there on demo form, they have a somewhat raw and darker feel which make me believe i will listen to them more than once.
    The 7” version of Don’t Say It’s Love has now finally substituted the original album version (it was there on the 2008 remastered and expanded edition as well), so all 3 editions of the album have at least one exclusive track.

  9. Stephen dC says:

    Such a good reflection of how I feel about the album. I am not a fan of acoustic versions [they sometimes sound like the busker down the high street trying to have a go..] but these took me by surprise which is always pleasant.

    I remember ‘Heart Of Gold’ being about prostitution and the cover was designed by a competition winner on Saturday Superstore…oh! the furore there would be today.

    I still regard the Mendelsohn 12″ as one of the greatest ever. Just imagine yourself on a hot summer day punting down the river [or being punted, if that’s a phase].

  10. Larry Davis says:

    Funny, back then, 1988(??), oh gosh. I HATED Johnny Hates Jazz…’Shattered Dreams’ was inescapable and sounded like the type of song manufactured for guaranteed radio play…it sounded annoyingly TOO commercial and polished… Then I heard a couple of the follow-up singles, ‘Don’t Wanna Be A Hero’ and ‘Turn Back The Clock’ and I was like ‘wait a minute, I actually like this?? Oh no!!!’ But I think I may have gotten the album on tape then for cheap and sorta liked it as a guilty pleasure…never owned any WWW at the time but did like ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’ and their Troggs cover…and did get a used CD copy of their hits collection on CD…not too bad…I may get the JHJ reissue if I see a used copy under $10 or 5 pounds to see if I like it…risk free proposition…and more spare cash available…

  11. Mark says:

    Good review Paul. Funnily enough I always linked them with Living in a Box – big first single, less successful 2nd, good ballad for 3rd single and then nothing.

  12. Phil Wilson says:

    Always loved the album, and love the 3CD set also.

    Jimmy Eat World did an epic version of Firestarter some years back, really slowed the tempo, quite brooding in fact, almost a slow burner. Check it out

  13. Simon says:

    I Don’t Want To Be A Hero is a great anti-war song and I love the original 12″ version. It should have been a second consecutive Top 10 hit and I don’t understand why it was not.

  14. Seikotsi says:

    Nice review. But not sure about firestarter. Not exactly acoustic but it could have been. https://youtu.be/IPI3b9iPSN0

  15. Ken says:

    Isn’t there an unreleased SAW version of ‘Wishing I Was Lucky’?

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Yes

      • Karl Watson says:

        To split hairs, it was actually Sweet Little Mystery :)

        Which apparently sounded too SAW with a Marti vocal.

        • Paul Sinclair says:

          The record company commissioned it, the band hated it, and that’s it. It’s a complete irrelevance, to be honest.

          • mike says:

            It isnt an irrelevance to the hundreds of SAW/Phil Harding fans who would have paid happily just even to download it. Didnt have to be on the Popped In boxset but strange to be precious over something from 30 odd years ago. Biggest disappointment of the digital age is that what is chosen to be released is still controlled, rather than just putting it out there.

          • Paul Sinclair says:

            Just because fans have the knowledge that something exists it doesn’t follow that it should be released, or even deserves to be released. The band don’t want it issued and so that’s it!!!

  16. David Hannah says:

    Great review of the album. I assume the b-sides were written by calvin and mike in order to share out the publishing royalties if clark was writing the a-sides…

  17. Ziv Barber says:

    Johnny Hates Jazz and Wet Wet Wet is so different from SAW production…
    Anyway, they already released some new editions to this album so I don’t need another one.
    BTW:
    I have the Shattered Dreams 12″ sealed. Not from their web site.

  18. Gary Hunter says:

    A brilliant album and one that should grace everyone’s 80s collection.

  19. FrankieP says:

    “Turn Back the Clock” is such a timeless classic and the acoustic version of this song gave me goosebumps and a bit teary eyed. Really enjoyed listening to CD2. All the songs are superb. Not one dud!

  20. Jhonn says:

    Johnny hates Jazz, Wet Wet Wet (what names for a band!), Rick Astley, Debbie Gibson, Spandau Ballet, all of that SAW productions and all kind of ‚music‘ like that brought me to the music I learned to love. Coz I hated their music so much. Still can‘t listen to all that, but thx god, since there is no MTV, and no need for radio anymore, I never have to. Taste is different – of coz, but I never will understand how someone can listening to that slick, plain, soulless…. And now I can read here about deluxe editions of these ‚artists‘. Unbelievable. Sorry… ;-)

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Johnny Hates Jazz and Wet Wet Wet don’t really sound anything like each other and both sound nothing like anything SAW produced. Different taste is one thing, but your categorisation is a bit lazy, I think.

      • Julian H. says:

        I like their songs, but if I’d been around in 1988 I think I would’ve had their hooks coming out of my backside… ;-)

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