Monday, 5 October 2020

The Jam - In The Street Today (1977-1978)



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   

"If you don't like them - hard luck, they're gonna be around for a long time" - Barry Cain - Record Mirror 

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

"I don't give two fucks about your review" - Paul Weller

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 

"Class issues were very important to me at that time" - Paul Weller

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 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.

** 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.

   

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