Thursday, 14 May 2020

The Jam




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 THE CITY (1977)

 

Art School/I've Changed My Address/Slow Down/I Got By In Time/Away From The Numbers/Batman Theme/In The City/Sounds From The Street/Non-Stop Dancing/Time For Truth/Takin' My Love/Bricks And Mortar    

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 rock and R&B influences, particularly from The WhoThe Kinks and 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 and 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. 

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, pictured below). 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. 



The non-album tracks that dated from this period were their first big hit All Around The World, which reach number 13 and its b side, Carnaby Street. The former was not only the first Jam record that I bought, it was the first punk record I bought too. I loved it, from its rat-a-tat drum intro, via Weller's barked "oi!", to its crashing Who-like guitar, angry, spat out vocals and even its metallic silver inner label with that Jam calligraphy. "All around the world I've been looking for new...". Well, it certainly was "new" to me. I couldn't get enough of this bristling, exciting new music. The b side was Bruce Foxton's first attempt at songwriting and it bore the trademarks of his work from the time - somewhat embarrassing fifth-form fashion ranting about some perceived injustice. In this case, Foxton's earnest ire is aimed at the apparent decline of the iconic sixties London thoroughfare Carnaby Street. "The street that was part of the British monarchy....reflects the rise and fall of our nation....the street that was a legend is a mockery, a part of the British tradition gone down the drain....". Bruce is annoyed at the fact that the street still sells Kaftans and he feels it should move on and give the kids what they want. As you can see from the lyrics above it all gets a bit confused. Even as a teenager myself at the time I was not convinced by this. Musically it is very formulaic too.

  

THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD (1977)

 

The Modern World/London Traffic/Standards/Life From A Window/The Combine/Don't Tell Them You're Sane/In The Street Today/London Girl/I Need You (For Someone)/Here Comes The Weekend/Tonight At Noon/The Midnight Hour

Often maligned as “the difficult second album” when Paul Weller supposedly suffered from “writer’s block”. You what? You having a laugh?  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 Tonight At Noon.

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.

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.



The non-album material from the period of this album included the Bruce Foxton-penned, and sung, News Of The World which, like his previous material, was musically and lyrically uninspiring. Based around Foxton's contempt for the tabloid media it was probably The Jam's weakest single. The song's basic riff was pretty lifeless and the lyrics were typically clumsy. That said, listening to it now it still has a tight vitality about it and held up quite well against the average punk material around at the time. It was still very early in their career, don't forget. Remember too, though, that The Jam should never be happy with average. Future singles knocked spots off this one, I have to say.

The b side contained two tracks, firstly another Foxton one in Innocent Man, which bore the same lyrical traits and blatantly plagiarised the riff from The Who's Baba O'Riley. It was another "cause" song, this time about an unjust incarceration. We all got a Paul Weller track in Aunties And Uncles (Impulsive Youths), which, although melodically an improvement, was not Weller's best and lacks direction and cohesion. In many ways, it sounds a bit like a Foxton song. Sorry Paul. It was rightly left off the album.

Also dating from these sessions was Weller's brief, melodic and piano-driven Worlds Apart. It was a song sort of half way there, some of the lyrics later being used on Strange Town - "I've been at your clubs where the music's loud...".

 

ALL MOD CONS (1978)

 

All Mod Cons/To Be Someone/Mr. Clean/David Watts/English Rose/In The Crowd/Billy Hunt/It's Too Bad/Fly/The Place I Love/"A" Bomb In Wardour Street/Down In The Tube Station At Midnight 

The previous album to this one, This Is The Modern World, saw main singer/songwriter Paul Weller supposedly suffer from "writer's block". I a 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 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.

The non-album material from this album's period included several excellent tracks. So Sad About Us was on the b side of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight and was a cover of The Who's song from the mid-sixties, recorded in tribute to the recent-deceased Keith Moon (pictured on the singles' rear cover). It was played pretty straight, with the same jangly guitar riff and The Jam do it justice, for sure. Also on that b side was Bruce Foxton's The Night, which was, in my opinion, his best song so far. It is short and frantic with more in common with the material from the first two albums than that of All Mod Cons and it is no work of lyrical genius, once again, but, for some reason, I have always quite liked it.

In March 1979, an excellent stand alone single was released in Strange Town, a fine Weller song packed full of hooks and catchy changes of tune and pace. It was backed with another corker - the beguiling The Butterfly Collector, with its slow verse build ups and punchy chorus.

   

SETTING SONS (1979)

 


Girl On The Phone/Thick As Thieves/Private Hell/Little Boy Soldiers/Wasteland/Burning Sky/Smithers-Jones/Saturday's Kids/The Eton RiflesHeat Wave 
                                                 
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....

That said, Setting Sons was/is a great album. 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, Paul 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 Stones' Mother'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 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 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.

  

This is where the deluxe edition kicks in. You get great non album singles in the afore-mentioned  When You're Young, the soaring, new wave pop of Strange Town and the chart-topping Going Underground, which sealed The Jam’s place as a “mainstream” chart band. The b sides are just as good - Smithers-Jones (band version), the gorgeous The Butterfly Collector and the psychedelic Dreams Of Children

Contrary to the tinny, sparse remaster offered to this album’s follow-up, Sound Affects, the remaster here is not bad at all. I like a warm, bassy remaster and this is almost that. Not quite but 90% there. Perfectly acceptable. Certainly much better than the 1997 remaster. Much bolder, much bassier, much fuller. Use Girl On The Phone and Thick As Thieves as examples.

  

The live from The Rainbow third CD is rough and ready, but if, as I did, you attended live shows in the 1979 show it will take you back to those great nights in an instant.

The non-album material either side of this album's release included the September 1979 single When You're Young, which was a vibrant, new wave-ish and catchy number featuring a first for The Jam - a piece of cod dub reggae in the bridge. Its b side was by far Bruce Foxton's best song for The Jam - the afore-mentioned Smithers-Jones - played here in the full band version, as opposed to the strangely orchestrated string-backed version that appears on Setting Sons. As I said earlier, it is a sad tale of an office worker who is made redundant. The 'b' side to the Eton Rifles singles was See-Saw, typical Jam rocker that somehow never really caught on with me. It has that instantly recognisable Jam guitar sound but has a vagueness, both musically and lyrically. Although a Weller song, it has always sounded like a Foxton one to me and of all the Jam "rarities" is is the one I have paid the least attention to. 

One of the first songs recorded on the sessions for Setting Sons was Bruce Foxton's Best Of Both Worlds, an enjoyable, rocky but typically Bruce Foxton number that would possibly have still fitted on the album and not sounded too out of place. Or in place of Heat Wave. It has that Foxton lyrical clumsiness and drawn-out repeated vowel sounds ("wor-huh-hurlds..") that his songs always had but it is actually not a bad effort, to be fair. Also from the time was the electric guitar solo demo performed by Weller of Along The Grove, which I am sure morphed into Liza Radley, at least melodically. It is a track that remains unconvincing and pretty inessential. Weller growls with frustration at the end of it. More impressive is the genuine rare nugget of Simon - a Kinks/Small Faces-ish character-driven number. 

In the March of 1980 came the world-conquering straight in at number one single Going Underground, which was a chaotic, visceral condemnation of the nuclear arms race that was perfect for its era. Its b side was the psychedelic, freakbeat-ish throwback of Dreams Of Children, which was a definite diversification for the group. It was totally unlike anything they had done before.

 

SOUND AFFECTS (1980)

 

Pretty Green/Monday/But I'm Different Now/Set The House Ablaze/Start!/That's Entertainment/Dream Time/Man In The Corner Shop/Music For The Last Couple/Boy About Town/Scrape Away

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 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 Pyre

   

Start! 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..

Thats 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 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 buts 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.

Now, on to the remastering. I have to say it is dreadfully tinny and does the album something of an injustice. The 1997 remasters and the one used on the Direction Reaction Creation box set are both much better. What is bizarre, however, is that the extra tracks on disc two are remastered to a much higher standard, warmer and bassier. 



Also present on disc two are the quality extras in Liza Radley, the plaintive All Mod Cons-ish No-One In The World - that proved once and for all that the group had left their punk/r 'n'b roots a long  way back - Dreams Of Children and the Beatles cover And Your Bird Can Sing. Any of those could, and possibly should have made it on to the album. The same could have been said for a storming cover of The Small Faces' Get Yourself Together. I guess the presence of a couple of covers would have attracted accusations of having run out of material (which wasn't actually the case). 

Still worthy of owning, but the remastering could have been better. I am currently playing it on a better system than I have in the past and it sounds a bit better, so all is not lost.

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 non-album material from this period included the afore-mentioned melodic and strangely bucolic Liza Radley, which was another new direction for The Jam. In May 1981 came the dense, psychedelic-ish grunge of Funeral Pyre which was backed with an appealing, jangly cover of The Who's Disguises. In October of the same year we saw another change in direction on the brassy, punchy Absolute Beginners, a song that I have never particularly taken to. I didn't quite get what Weller was aiming at with this tinny number urging us all to have "love in our hearts". It was all a bit vaguely hippy. The 'b' side was a great one, though, in the rustic but solid beat of Tales From The Riverbank. It is track full of atmosphere and provided a very early hint as to Weller's solo material that he would put out ten years or so later. There was also a "flexi-disc" giveaway alternate version of the song that has a slightly more percussive ending. The track was also re-written with different lyrics as We've Only Started.

Weller's plaintive No-One In The World was a tender, romantic ballad backed only by guitar while Hey Mister, a short piano-backed number dated, I believe from around 1979. It has an unfinished feel about it and never got beyond the demo stage.

Also from the album's sessions were a convincing, psychedelic-ish cover of The Beatles' Rain and the Madness-ish piano-driven cover of The Kinks' Dead End Street. Perhaps suitably considering their sixties pre-occupsations, the band also covered The Kinks' Waterloo Sunset, acceptably. Weller's brief throwaway spoke word bit of fun, Pop Art Poem, was just that, a bit of fun.

 

 

THE GIFT (1982)

 

Happy Together/Ghosts/Precious/Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?/Trans-Global Express/Running On The Spot/Circus/The Planners' Dream Gone Wrong/Carnation/A Town Called Malice/The Gift

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 B side, Precious, a worthy first stab at funk that left some early punky fans of the band a bit in two minds. 

   

Carnation and Ghosts were beautiful Weller "slowies" and Happy Together, a reasonable, 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 upbeat enough, and suitably breathless, but to be brutal, it is nothing special. Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero? is a quirky number with cynical lyrics about the working life and The Gift is a sort of energetic rock meets Northern 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, to be honest, while Foxton's 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). 

The remastering on this is, a bit like that used for Sound Affects a bit to tinny for my liking. The best remasters of this material can be found on the Direction Creation Reaction box set. As with Sound Affects though, the extras are remastered in a much more bassy, appealing fashion which is equally perplexing.



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 BeatlesThe ClashFawlty 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. 

The non-album material from this period included September 1982's soul-influenced and distinctly un-Jam-like The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) and the band's poppy final single, Beat Surrender. On that single were some ill-considered soul covers in Edwin Starr's War (two versions exist, the "first version", which is twice as long, is much better), Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up and The Chi-LitesStoned Out Of My Mind (with a pretty dreadful Weller falsetto vocal), together with an odd, short, plodding but weirdly atmospheric number called Shopping, about just that, going shopping "with clothes at the top of my list...". The soul material gave a huge hint as to what was floating Weller's boat at the time, along with  the non-album rarity, the afore-mentioned Jam version of A Solid Bond In Your Heart.

Another noteworthy thing is the cover of that single (shown below) which prototyped what would be the instantly recognisable Style Council artwork and graphic style.

The 'b' side of Just Who Is The 5 O' Clock Hero? was the underrated, catchy mid-pace rock/soul of The Great DepressionThe Bitterest Pill had a great 'b' side too in Pity Poor Alfie/Fever - the latter was a cover of the Peggy Lee number that is better than you would have imagined it to be, and there was also a "swing version" of Pity Poor Alfie, full of brass breaks, which is superb.

Also knocking around from the time were covers of Ben E. King's Stand By Me and Brenda Holloway's Every Little Bit Hurts as Weller's soul obsession burgeoned. They are both ok, but somehow not what one felt The Jam were meant to be. The latter actually dated from August 1981 and was one of the first signs of a change in direction. I have mentioned it here along with the rest of the soul covers, however. Interestingly, it was also covered by The Clash.

Also presumed from the sessions for The Gift was Weller's brassy, upbeat Walking In Heaven's Sunshine, a track that certainly should have made the album at the expense of either Circus or The Planner's Dream Gone Wrong or if not just added anyway. It is a song typical of The Jam's soully, horn-powered direction of the era,

 

 

 

DIG THE NEW BREED (1982)

 

In The City/All Mod Cons/To Be Someone/It's Too Bad/Start!/Big Bird/Set The House Ablaze/Ghosts/Standards/In The Crowd/Going Underground/The Dreams Of Children/That's Entertainment/Private Hell                                  

The importance of this live album from The Jam has lessened over the years. In 1982 when it was released it was received like the Holy Grail because there was simply no other Jam live material available and we craved it. Now, there is the fantastic Fire And Skill six gig box set; the Jam At The BBC live sessions; various live gig extras as part of the “deluxe” remaster series and the Live Jam release which plays like a full live set, even though it might not be one.

  

Dig The New Breed, however, is a 14 song collection derived from live gigs between 1977 and 1982. The quality is variable but we were grateful at the time for anything that captured that feeling of being at a Jam gig. I was lucky enough to be at ten of them. It would have made more sense at the time to have released a full gig, but this was how the band chose to reward their legions of loyal fans. At the time, nobody complained. They really didn’t. Everything was lapped up.

I remember at the time, though, being slightly underwhelmed by the album, feeling that indeed it did not reflect the true thrill of being at a Jam gig and that the tracks chosen were not the best either. I would have liked to have seen Tube Station, Strange Town or Wardour Street on there, along with maybe Life From A Window or Here Comes The Weekend from the earlier days.

As it is, is it good to hear In The CityTo Be Someone and It's Too Bad.  Big Bird is an interesting inclusion but sonically it is a mess and not a patch on the original. The take of Going Underground on here is somewhat clumsy too.

THE JAM: EXTRAS

 

Dreams Of Children (double 'a' side with Going Underground)/Tales From The Riverbank ("b" side to Absolute Beginners)/Liza Radley (solo acoustic demo of 'b' side of Start!)/Move On Up ('b' side to Beat Surrender, a Curtis Mayfield cover)/Shopping ('b' side to Beat Surrender)/Smithers-Jones (full band version) ('b' side to When You're Young)/Pop Art Poem/Boy About Town (alternate version)/A Solid Bond In Your Heart/No-One In The World/And Your Bird Can Sing (Beatles cover)/Burning Sky (acoustic demo)/Thick As Thieves (solo electric demo)/Disguises ('b' side to Funeral Pyre, a Who cover)/Get Yourself Together (Small Faces cover)/The Butterfly Collector ('b' side to Strange Town)/The Great Depression ('b' side to Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?)/Stoned Out Of My Mind ('b' side to Beat Surrender, a Chi-Lites cover)/Pity Poor Alfie/Fever ('b' side to The Bitterest Pill)/But I'm Different Now (alternate version)/I Got You (I Feel Good) (James Brown cover)/Hey Mister/Saturday's Kids (solo electric demo)/We've Only Started/So Sad About Us ('b' side to Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, a Who cover)/The Eton Rifles (solo electric demo)

This was the first compilation of Jam rarities, and at the time it was most welcome. It was hardly comprehensive, however, and cherry picks its material, all of which is from the 1979 Setting Sons era an onwards.

The notable inclusions are the full band version of Bruce Foxton's Smithers-Jones, which was infinitely superior to the odd strings-backed one that appeared on Setting Sons; the quirky, short spoken voice oddity of Pop Art Poem; the brassy Jam version of what would later become The Style Council's A Solid Bond In Your Heart; two fine, abrasive covers in The Beatles' And Your Bird Can Sing and The Small Faces' Get Yourself Together; the plaintive but appealing No-One In The World; the similarly bleak, piano-driven Hey Mister and the re-write of Tales From The Riverbank in We've Only Started.

  

The remainder of the tracks are stand-alone 'b' sides and demo versions of tracks that appeared on albums. Some of those "b' sides are high quality, like The Great Depression, Tales From The Riverbank, Pity Poor Alfie/Fever, The Butterfly Collector, Liza Radley, Shopping and two Who covers in Disguises and So Sad About Us. The covers of Peggy Lee's Fever and James Brown's I Got You (I Feel Good) are examples of the group's diversification towards the end of their career. The latter is surprisingly good. with a great Foxton bass line.

While the "alternate versions" are fine, the demo versions are superfluous and pretty much unlistenable, particularly the poor sound quality and feedback-drenched sound of Thick As Thieves. A handy trick in the age of digital music is to take these out when you play the album.