Thursday, 14 May 2020

The Jam




"I saw that through becoming a Mod it would give me a base and an angle to write from, and this we eventually did. We went out and bought suits and started playing Motown, Stax and Atlantic  covers. I bought a Rickenbacker guitar, a Lambretta GP 150 and tried to style my hair like Steve Marriott's circa '66" - Paul Weller 

My first memories of The Jam are of buying the singles In The City and All Around The World in the summer of 1977 and then going to see them live on Saturday 26th November 1977 at Friars, Aylesbury. They were fantastic (they had, incidentally, performed a matinee gig earlier that afternoon due to ticket demand). I had not experienced an atmosphere like it, it was electric. They wore those black mod-style suits and Bruce Foxton was doing his "jump" while playing his bass (as featured on the rear cover of This Is The Modern World). The three of them - Foxton, Paul Weller and drummer Rick Buckler played with such an intensity and commitment for ones still relatively young (only just into their twenties). As just a bit younger than Paul Weller, I loved this. They were punk, but not punk as well. They had that mod thing going on, a clear sixties influence and they played some breakneck Motown covers.

That began a love affair with The Jam for me. I was lucky enough to catch them live on ten occasions between the above-mentioned gig and their final tour in December 1982, before Weller, controversially, but possibly wisely, broke up the group. The Jam inspired football-style lads' loyalty from their parka-clad fans (no, I never wore a parka - although I did back in 1972) and the band always reciprocated with energetic, honest, committed live performances. Weller, as he probably still is, was always, shall we say, a "complicated" personality and, while I respect him immensely, I never particularly warmed to him as a person. That is from someone who has bought every recording he has ever released. Obviously, I don't know him, so take my comments with a huge pinch of salt. Incidentally, I was walking along Oxford Street once, around 2006, and looked at a man walking straight towards me on the pavement. Bugger me, it was Weller. I had a few seconds to react, so I just almost imperceptibly nodded, just enough to let him know I knew who he was but without bothering him. A tiny smile and tiny half-nod came back and he went into Selfridges. I quite like the way that all worked out.

Anyway, on stage, The Jam came on and did the business with the minimum of fuss and there was something to be said for that. They were never as ground-breaking, musically, as The Clash were, largely due to their obvious Who, Small Faces, Beatles and overall mod influences, but they definitely created their own style and the sound they produced for a simple three piece of guitar, bass and drums was immense. Weller suffered every now and again from lyrical naivety, not surprising as he started writing stuff in his teens, but he also proved to be an excellent songwriter - observational, cynical, tongue-in-cheek at times and also surprisingly sensitive and tender. He has taken that on into his remarkable, impressive solo career.

  

For more information about The Jam's appearances at Friars, Aylesbury, check out the excellent
 
https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk.

In this section coming I cover The Jam's breakneck and incendiary debut album, their somewhat misunderstood "difficult second album" and then the one that would go down as their classic release - the iconic All Mod Cons. 

They wanna say, they wanna tell you - about the new idea....

In The City (1977)

Formed in Woking in 1975-76. The Jam were Paul Weller, with his harsh British working class vocals, and Who-like guitar, underpinned by Bruce Foxton’s rumbling bass and Rick Buckler’s metronomic drumming. While they shared the "angry young men" outlook and fast tempos of their punk rock contemporaries, The Jam wore smartly tailored suits rather than ripped clothes, and, rather than rejecting the influences of recent rock history in common with other punk bands, they incorporated a number of mainstream 1960s youthful rock and R&B influences, particularly from The Who, The Kinks and also from Motown music. This set the Jam apart from most of their contemporaries, and placed them at the forefront of a nascent mod revival movement. 

So, on to The Jam’s breakneck debut album. Was it punk or simply a throwback to thirteen years earlier and The Who? Probably a bit of both if we are brutally honest. A barked-out "1-2-3-4" and we are straight into Art School (exactly what were art schools?, even in the 70s I had no idea!). We had heard nothing like this, though. It was like The Who, but punked-up to the max. To me, it felt somehow more genuine than The Sex Pistols and somewhat contrived posturings. The Jam really were just three lads from Woking who wanted to form a band. You could relate to these three because they were like you and your friends. The Sex Pistols you would cross the street to avoid. The Jam had an intrinsic energy and anger that made this album a punk one, but Paul Weller already had an instinct for a hook that would serve him well as he developed his craft. Among his lyrics, too, despite a bit of teenage naiveté, was a pertinence and wisdom way beyond his years and average Secondary Modern school education. This was somebody who could be special. Time would prove that to be the case. His career flourishes to this day, as we know.

Three more high speed thrashes arrive in the adrenaline-soaked I've Changed My Address, the enthusiastic Larry Williams cover Slow Down, the equally frantic I Got By In Time and then we are into the mini-epic Away From The Numbers, which is very Who-ish as, of course, is The Batman Theme, which had already been covered by The Who on A Quick One in 1966. It seems hard to believe now, but the mid-sixties were less than ten years back in time. Even the more routine numbers bristle with an incredible energy and excitement. The Who meets Dr. Feelgood and listens to some fast-paced Motown. It hits you right between the ears. Just stick this on and play it loud. There was hardly time to pause for a breath as we careered like sixties mods on scooters up to Carnaby Street. 
The solid, quite dramatic Away From The Numbers is probably The Jam's first "serious" song - musically and lyrically it has a maturity to it. It is almost traditional rock in its structure, big and crashing, not really punk at all. It chugged along, backed by Rick Buckler's drum rolls, and instantly stood out the from the punky thrash of the rest of the material. It showed that if The Jam had to diversify and develop in time, then they would be able to do so. 

Up next is the towering In The City, a candidate for the best punk single, ever. Guitar, then bass, then drums then Paul Weller spits out his hymn to youth, his call-to-arms. Jam Heaven. Even now, you just can't get enough of it. I remember scrawling the lyrics out on the white paper sleeve of my 45 rpm single. (I didn't have a picture sleeve one). My God what a record that was. Bloomin' marvellous. Sounds From The Street sees Weller bemoaning coming from Woking - “I know I come from Woking, and you'll say I'm a fraud, but my heart is in the city, where it belongs..” (he often felt he was a fraud back then) then some more amphetamine-driven three minute rides in the Northern Soul tribute of Non-Stop Dancing, the energised Slow Down-influenced Takin' My Love, the slightly embarrassing cod-politics (it was a pre-Thatcher Labour government they were railing against in 1977, remember) of Time For Truth, with its riff lifted from The Who's The Good's Gone and finally the bitter cynicism regarding wealth disparity found on Bricks And Mortar (which contains the line - "a man whose house has cost forty grand.." - hard to conceive of that now - and its all over. Wow. What next? This was The Jam's equivalent of The Clash - another album with a few similarities, and, as with The Clash, soon it was on to considerable diversification. 

This Is The Modern World (1977)

Often maligned as “the difficult second album” when Paul Weller supposedly suffered from “writer’s block”. You what? You having a laugh? This was a far, far better album than it was ever given credit for. The sound on it is good too - full, punchy and solid, lots of impressive bass and drums. Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler were equally important to The Jam as Paul Weller at this point. Buckler, especially, really stands out on this album - a real powerhouse. There are actually some really good songs on here - the barnstorming, confrontational single The Modern World (for which the "I don't give two fucks about your review" line should never be changed by editing to "a damn" as it is on some releases); the fabulously riffy, Who-influenced rabble rouser in Standards; the poetic, acoustic/electric vague psychedelia fusion of Life From A Window; the solidly anthemic Here Comes The Weekend; the thoughtful and inventive The Combine; more Who vibes on the appealing I Need You and another dreamy one in the poetry-inspired love song Tonight At Noon. Weller was amazingly sensitive for a nineteen-twenty year-old "ordinary" lad. Indeed, The Combine, with its excellent guitar-vocal fade out and forerunner of In The Crowd lyrics, is the equal of anything on the much-lauded next album, All Mod Cons. It was the best thing The Jam had done so far, and is much underrated. You could make similar cases for Life From A Window, which is such an alluring song and the equally attractive Tonight At Noon. I really love I Need You too.

Back to Weller. Some writer's block. I believe those to be some of his best songs. Despite those that were to follow. Tonight At Noon is a great song, as is the typically Jam vibe of London Girl. End of. In The Street Today positively bristles with punky energy. Check out the drum intro and the bit where Weller's guitar comes slashing in. All these years later it still excites me to hear it. Even the closing cover of Wilson Pickett'In The Midnight Hour is more than acceptable, packed full to bursting with youthful attack and energy. 
Bruce Foxton's short and frenetically punky London Traffic is also enjoyable in its tinny guitar attack, but his Don't Tell Them You're Sane leaves something to be desired, however. Foxton's lyrics are sixth-form at best. (I said fifth-form in the last review!). Let's be honest, they always were during his period with The Jam - well-intentioned maybe but often simplistic and naïve. Musically, they were usually uninspiring as well. While the former of these two is punkily enthusiastic, the latter is clunky and dull.



The album, despite coming out at the height of punk in late 1977, had so many songs on it that showed that The Jam were not going to be your basic three chord, frantic punk band. Only the afore-mentioned London Traffic and In The Street Today really fitted the punk blueprint. Yes, The Modern World and Here Comes The Weekend have the attitude and some of the anger, but they are, despite their solidity, much slower in pace. There is something still so stirring about Here Comes The Weekend, though, and, once again, it is a song I never tire of hearing. 
The sixties influence from The WhoThe Small Faces and freakbeat-psych pop is all over this album. You could see how All Mod Cons developed out of this. The rough edges were ironed out and a poppier sensibility honed. The foundations were laid here, though, and as I said before, do not dismiss this album. For me, actually, I prefer it to The Gift and parts of Sound Affects too, would you believe. The sound on both these albums, as released on the 1977 box set, is excellent, coming thumping bassily out of your speakers, as indeed it is on the more interesting than usual demo tracks and the live gig from London’s 100 club which is good as one could hope for from a sweaty, cramped room in 1977. To boringly reiterate, this is an unfairly condemned album, containing some really good material, in my opinion. I love the cover too, the lads looking out under the Westway with the sun on their faces on the front and that classic Bruce Foxton "jump" shot on the back, so evocative of their live performances at the time. The inner lyric sleeve had some excellent artwork too. Give this one a chance and re-visit it. Sermon over.

All Mod Cons (1978)

The previous album to this one, This Is The Modern World, saw main singer-songwriter Paul Weller supposedly suffer from "writer's block". I am not sure about that. The album sounded pretty good to me. Nevertheless, he has admitted himself that he was struggling for creativity before it all suddenly came together with, this, The Jam's finest album. The punk pretensions and 60s r'n'b stylings of the first album and, to a lesser extent, the next one, were gone by now. The songs became increasingly sophisticated, intelligently structured and lyrically surprisingly observant and mature for some in Weller who had only recently turned twenty-one. The band still was a three-piece, Weller on lead guitar, Bruce Foxton on bass and Rick Buckler on drums and it had never sounded as tight or as accomplished as here. 
   
Rick Buckler's thumping drum intro leads into this short, sharp shock of an opening All Mod Cons that saw Weller railing, albeit briefly, against music industry greed. The track segues neatly into the next track, To Be Someone - a cynical song from Weller about the pitfalls and immorality of the "fame game" and music stardom. "Didn't we have a nice time" he wryly observes, amongst all the cocaine and "guitar-shaped pools". Great bass from Bruce Foxton on this one.

In Mr. Clean Weller spits out invective against a seemingly uncaring middle class professional type, the like of which Weller would have seen regularly while growing up in stockbroker belt Woking. "I hate you, and your wife, and if I get the chance, I'll fuck up your life", he aggressively states. 
The upbeat, singalong hit single, David Watts, is next - a rousing, lads-together fist-pumping cover of The Kinks' 60s album track. Funnily enough, its lyrics sound as if they could have been written for The Jam, all that class difference stuff that is the cornerstone of this album in many ways. David Watts, of course, is the very opposite of Billy Hunt. English Rose was the "surprise" unannounced track from the original album. A tender, acoustic guitar-based love song. Maybe it was not mentioned on the track list because Weller was genuinely embarrassed to include a love song on the album. A soppy love song? On a "punk" album? Are they punks or what? There's an establishment to rail at. In fact, in the song Monday on 1980s Sound Affects, he claims "I will never be embarrassed about love again". Maybe he genuinely was, as he looked down and spat on the ground between his teeth after dragging on his fag, as "lads" did.



In The Crowd is a somewhat rambling song where Weller expresses his feelings when swept along in a crowd of people, his disconnection, his alienation, maybe even traces of self-loathing. Quite a mature song for one so young but musically it is a little bit uninspiring and never really gets going. Billy Hunt is a song about a working class lad who works on a building site and dreams of something better. It sounds a little like a cast off from the previous album, slightly punky in its guitar attack and pace. 
Early 60s Beatles influence is well to the fore in It's Too Bad, a She Loves You -style mid-pace love song. A nice beat and some appealing guitar and drums. "I could say I'm sorry, but that's not the point is it?" shows Weller's John Lennon-style cynicism at times when it came to relationships. Lennon turned this way by Beatles For Sale, Weller had pretty much always appeared like that, even in the early days, London Girl and I Got By In Time spring to mind. The beguiling Fly is one of the album's most intricate and adventurous songs. Weller a bit "stream of consciousness" with lyrics about being in the "demi-monde", all a bit sixth-form philosophy, to be honest, but certainly a brave effort, both lyrically and musically. "Dreams it seems are weightless as sand" is an adventurous lyric for a tewnty-one year old. It betrayed Weller's sensitive, even romantic, side once again, however, although he was happy to acknowledge this one. It was continued in The Place I Love, a slightly whimsical, dreamy song inspired by the Surrey countryside that influenced many of Paul Weller's songs. Again, a notable Beatles influence in the music but finding room for Weller to stick with his contemporary anger and say that he is "making a stand against the world". Here, however, he does so very melodiously. "The place I love is a million miles from here, not within a yard of the trendy do's" and "only animals around me" showed Weller rejecting the city and its nightlife that he had previously championed. Was this the first of the "pastoral" songs that would so dominate much of his later solo career? I believe it was.
 
The Place I Love fades out and segues into the short, sharp shock of "A" Bomb In Wardour Street - a Honky Tonk Women style cowbell intro leads into this staccato punky guitar riff-driven tale of a violent incident in a gig venue, with mentions of London's Vortex punk venue and, of course, Wardour Street itself. This, appropriately, is the punkiest song on the album. The album's A Day In The LifeDown In The Tube Station At Midnight. A nearly five minute masterpiece of violent, urban imagery dealing with a man being mugged in the bleak underground setting of one of London's tube stations. Underpinned by Bruce Foxton's magnificent bass, it is musically excellent, but, as with so much of this album, it was the lyrics that took centre stage. Yes, it is a musically impressive album, but it is the words to the songs that everyone still remembers.

On then to The Jam's post-breakthrough albums - the powerful Setting Sons; the Revolver-esque Sound Affects; and the comparatively patchy final outing with The Gift. For many it all ended too soon but not without giving us all the gift of life...

Setting Sons (1979)

The Jam released Setting Sons in late 1979, a year after they had conquered all before them with All Mod Cons, which took them from being (supposed) punks to champions of the “new wave”. It was talked up as being a (dreaded) “concept album”, ostensibly about three friends who grow up, get jobs, go to war then ummm..well...errr. That was that. No concept really, was there? Time for a Motown cover, maybe, oh alright then... That said, Setting Sons was and indeed is a great album, albeit one that now sounds very much of its time...here we go then as we sup up our beer and collect our fags....

Kicking off with the infectious tongue-in-cheek fun of Girl On The Phone, which sees Weller talking about an obsessed fan who knows everything about him, even "my leg measurement and the size of my cock...". Next up is a Jam classic in Thick As Thieves, which is all pumping bass runs, thumping, resonant drums and choppy guitar, Weller spitting out invective on the way. It is possibly the best track on the album. Private Hell is stark and somewhat depressing, concerning a depressed housewife, similar to The Rolling StonesMother's Little Helper and the mood is not improved any in the tale of wartime waste of life in Little Boy Soldiers. Having said that, nobody expected The Jam to be a barrel of laughs though, did they? 



Wasteland is a breezy, tuneful slice of social comment, featuring (I think) a recorder, and Burning Sky is one of the only songs that truly relates to the “concept” thing, along with Thick As Thieves. Next up is an orchestrated version of the b side of the single When You’re Young in Smithers-Jones. To be honest, I greatly prefer the “full band” version. The version present here is somewhat wishy-washy. It covers the story of a long-serving office worker who is made redundant and is by far Bruce Foxton's best song composed for The Jam. The riffy and catchy, vaguely Stonesy Saturday's Kids restores the venom, however, and The Eton Rifles takes it to the max with ex-Prime Minister David Cameron’s favourite song. “There’s a row going on down near Slough” indeed. At times Weller’s lyrics reflected the early twenty-something that he was, on other occasions they showed the insight and wisdom of a much older man. It is fair to say, though, that these days I do not hang on his every word as I did back in 1979. The song is a classic fist-pumper, however, with its "hello hooray" chorus. Perfect for an audience full of lads. Back to the album. Incongruously, it finishes before time with a frenetic cover of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas’ Heat Wave. All done too soon. Bands still got away with 30 minutes and not much more in those days.

Sound Affects (1980)

Sound Affects was released in late 1980, with The Jam now at the height of their powers. Going Underground went straight to number one the previous March. In summer the lead-off single from this album, the Taxman-influenced Start! did likewise. The band were untouchable now, masters of ex-punk chart pop. Paul Weller, much in admiration of The Beatles’ Revolver, seemed to want to produce a similar album - sparse, tinny, guitar-driven with some cutting lyrics scattered around for good measure. I have to admit that it is a bit of a difficult album to categorise - the old sixties influences are very much to the fore - the afore-mentioned Beatles, The Small Faces, sixties psychedelic pop. It is not an album that builds on the Jam sound crafted on All Mod Cons and Setting Sons, though, it strips things down. The sound is more minimalist, trebly and succinct and, by the old "side two" there is a bit of a lack of cohesion. This is where it gets a bit patchy. 

So, back in late 1980, this album was received like the second coming. My memories of my first few listens at the time are those of a slightly underwhelming nature, and an unwillingness to face up to the fact that I preferred the previous two offerings. I clung on to that guitar break in Pretty Green, the hooky appeal of Man In The Corner Shop and the magnificent atmosphere of That's Entertainment as great moments to help me overlook other more ordinary songs like the short But I'm Different Now, the vague Dream Time and the throwaway instrumental, Music For The Last Couple. Anyway, here are those pocketfuls of pretty green....

Pretty Green, about the one pound notes of the time, kicked things off as we all hurriedly put this on our turntables to hear Bruce Foxton’s rumbling bass let us know our favourite lads' band were back. Monday saw Weller going all romantic, with his accent to the fore - “rainclouds came to cloud my funder”, then it is on to the breakneck, punky But I'm Different Now with its typically Jam “aye-aye-aye” chorus. Next up is the anti-fascist put-down Set The House Ablaze. More “la la las”. Those choruses can sometimes sound a bit "naff" but at other times they seem to fit perfectly. Nobody else used them as much as The Jam did. The song has a mysterious, dense, almost claustrophobic feel to it, though, similar to the following year's non-album single, Funeral PyreStart! was an odd, short song for a single, but it has a quirky, staccato appeal. Just check out Bruce Foxton's huge bass sound on it too. The very essence of The Jam. The interplay between him and drummer Rick Buckler was integral to their sound. That's Entertainment is a pure Jam classic. Written by a semi-drunken Weller late one night in fifteen minutes, sung against a stark acoustic guitar backing, it is a slice of late 70s urban, dark, rain-soaked British life in three minutes. Magnificent stuff. An alternate version exists with Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler on bass and drums which is more powerful but lacks the plaintive bleakness of the original. Dream Time is a touch of Beatles-esque sixties psychedelia and Man In The Corner Shop is  another singalong semi-tragic Jam social conscience anthem. There is a stark melodiousness to the song that is quite captivating. It is my favourite cut from the album.

The instrumental Music For The Last Couple is a bit of a waste, considering some of the great tracks left off the album but it all ends strongly with the Small Faces-ish Boy About Town and the dense, introspective Scrape Away, which has become one of my favourites from the album in later years. Initially, however, it didn't do much for me. Ones tastes change over the years. The same applies to Set The House Ablaze. For many, this is considered to be The Jam's best album, rather as many prefer The Beatles' Revolver to Sgt. Pepper. I can sort of see why, but the tinny sound and some patchy parts on the album's second side will always place it below both All Mod Cons and Setting Sons for me. 

The Gift (1982)

Released in March 1982, this album signalled the beginning of the end for The Jam as Paul Weller was no doubt hatching his Style Council project in his mind. Weller used horn players on this album as his Motown-Stax influences grew stronger. The traditional Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (drums) rhythm section seemed less integral to The Jam's sound on this one, despite some high points - Foxton's Town Called Malice intro for one. The album also suffered from a modicum of self-importance, presented as it was in a candy-striped paper bag (does anyone still have their copy of that, I wonder?), proclaiming that this was, indeed, a "gift". Somehow it made you feel as if we should be grateful for this offering. All marketing hype, of course, but when an altruistic, honest band like The Jam fell prey to such things...



The Northern Soul dancer image on the inner cover was a good choice, though. This album had considerable Northern Soul influence. 
The afore-mentioned Motown-influenced A Town Called Malice was, of course, a huge chart topping single. Its infectious beat slightly masked the fact that it was a dark song that dealt with the daily grind of urban working-class life in graphic, depressing detail. 
Its 'b' side, Precious, was a worthy first stab at funk that left some early punky fans of the band a bit in two minds. Did they really like this funk stuff? Come on, not really. They would have to learn to like it though, particularly if they stuck with Weller into The Style Council phase of his career. Carnation and, in particular, the beguiling, steady beat of Ghosts were beautiful Weller "slowies" and Happy Together was a reasonable, vibrant and upbeat opener. Trans Global Express continued the funk experimentation, its hook directly lifted from the Northern Soul obscurity So Is The Sun by World Column. Its vocals are, unfortunately, so low down in the mix as to be almost buried. If it is was deliberate, and one can only presume it was, or it would have been changed, it was an odd move. Pertinently, when it was played live, the vocals came across loud and clear, so there you go. Running On The Spot is also lively enough, and suitably breathless, but to be brutal, it is nothing special. Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero? is better, a quirky, drum-driven number with cynical lyrics about the regular grind of the British working life and The Gift is a sort of energetic rock meets Northern Soul dense rock-soul groove. The latter two are reasonable tracks, but not ones that make you really sit up and take notice - I can take or leave them. The Planners' Dream Gone Wrong was a bit of a calypso-influenced mess, let's be honest - not one of The Jam's better efforts - while Foxton's Pigbag-esque and contemporarily fashionable instrumental Circus was somewhat inessential considering that the excellent A Solid Bond In Your Heart (later to be recorded by The Style Council) was not included (it appears in the bonus tracks). 

So that was it, after a couple more great singles in the afore-mentioned The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) and Beat Surrender Paul Weller pulled the plug on The Jam, leaving poor old Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler high and dry. Buckler took it the hardest, it is said. One could see which direction Paul Weller was going here, with the music on this final album. What was amazing, however, was that he called the whole thing to a halt virtually overnight. Five great years. Maybe, like The Beatles, The Clash, Fawlty Towers and The Office, he was right. The Jam left a great musical legacy. We will never know what would have become of them. Would they have become The Style Council anyway? What is clear was that Weller wanted to diversify considerably in ways that the other two did not. He was still comparatively young and his life was just growing in a a different direction. It happens to all of us. 

****

Jam "best of" compilations are best served by these three:-

Related posts :-
The Who
The Beatles
Small Faces

Check out the solo work from Jam members too :-
Style Council
Paul Weller
Bruce Foxton

2 comments:

  1. I feel like you'd enjoy 1980s US alternative stuff given your musical preferences. Husker Du's New Day Rising, The Replacements' Let It Be, and Meat Puppets II are all good examples.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the recommendation, although I'm not sure, but you never know. I've just got into The Grateful Dead, fifty years too late!

    ReplyDelete