Jules Mark Shear has recorded almost 20 albums to date. He made his first appearance on vinyl with Funky Kings (along with two other songwriters, Jack Tempchin and Richard Stekol). After their second album was rejected by the record label, he formed a new band, the critically acclaimed (but commercially unsuccessful) pop group, Jules and the Polar Bears. This band, with Shear writing and singing all songs, would release two albums (Got No Breeding and fəˈnet̬·ɪks), merging a tight “bar band” sound with the emerging synth-pop of the early 1980s. Their third album, Bad For Business, was, as with the second Funky Kings album, rejected by their record label — only to be finally released in 1996, long after the band had broken up. With Jules and the Polar Bears finished, Shear bounced back with several solo albums. The first, Watch Dog, was produced by Todd Rundgren, and featured such players as Tony Levin on bass and Elliot Easton of The Cars on lead guitar. During the sessions, Shear and Easton struck up a friendship, based on their shared musical tastes, which would lead to various collaborations later on. The album featured the original version of “All Through the Night”, which Cyndi Lauper would eventually turn into a top-five hit. The albums opening number, “Whispering Your Name”, would reach #18 in the UK Singles Chart when Alison Moyet recorded her version of it; Moyet also performed the song on Top of the Pops. Shear then released an EP, Jules, which contained selections from Watch Dog on one side, and two mixes of a club-style dance number, “When Love Surges”, on the other side. Shear’s next full-length album, The Eternal Return, was a highly polished, synthesizer-heavy effort, produced by Bill Drescher (of Rick Springfield fame). The album opened with “If She Knew What She Wants”, which The Bangles would make into a minor hit. It also featured what would prove to be Shear’s only hit single under his own name, “Steady” which he wrote in collaboration with Cyndi Lauper. The single reached #48 in the U.S.
Shear would go on to form two more bands, Reckless Sleepers and Raisins in the Sun. He also conceived (and hosted the first 13 episodes of) the MTV series Unplugged.
His songs have been more commercially successful in the hands of other artists, notably Cyndi Lauper, whose recording of “All Through the Night” reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984, and The Bangles, whose recording of “If She Knew What She Wants” reached number 29 in 1986. In 1988, singer/songwriter Iain Matthews (still using the spelling “Ian” for his first name at the time) recorded an album of Shear’s material, Walking A Changing Line: The Songs of Jules Shear, with synthesizer-dominated arrangements. Some of these Jules Shear songs had been previously unreleased. Matthews had previously recorded Jules Shear songs on other albums.
Shear was the subject of a song by ‘Til Tuesday, “J for Jules”, after the end of his relationship with that band’s singer, Aimee Mann. Shear co-wrote the title track of that album, Everything’s Different Now, with Matthew Sweet, and collaborated with Mann on the album’s leading single, “(Believed You Were) Lucky”, which performed respectably, reaching #30 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks and #95 on the Billboard Hot 100.
He described his Sayin’ Hello to the Folks as a “mix tape” of his favorite songs. “I felt like recording songs that I like a lot that I didn’t write,” he told Paste’s Eliot Wilder in 2004. “I thought it would be good to record songs that didn’t have a life but should’ve had a life. This is my attempt at giving them a life.” He and Stewart Lerman, the album’s producer, selected 12 songs from an original list of 60. These included covers by Todd Rundgren (“Be Nice to Me”), James Brown (“Ain’t That a Groove”), Bob Dylan (“In the Summertime”) The Dave Clark Five (“I’ve Got to Have a Reason”) and Brian Wilson (“Guess I’m Dumb”).
In January 2013 Jules and his wife, artist/songwriter Pal Shazar, released Shear Shazar. Produced by Julie Last, this is the first time Jules and Pal have made a full album together, though the two had recorded duets on Shear’s albums before, such as “Here S/He Comes” on The Eternal Return and “Dreams Dissolve in Tears” on The Great Puzzle.