"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 WellerMy 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
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.
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's 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.
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.
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....
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