Sunday, 6 March 2016

Ten Other Great Songs By... The Jam!*

I kept meaning to do a Pogues or Billy Bragg one of these to tie into the Kirsty MacColl one but I left it too late so bollocks, let’s have some direction, some reaction and some creation.

Welcome to my second instalment of Ten Other Great Songs By… where I gush about the songs you’ve never heard of by bands you don’t know the name of but would recognise if you heard them, eschewing the one or two hits the act has to tell you about 10 other great songs they recorded. This format was designed for the likes of Ian Dury, Kirsty MacColl and Billy Bragg, who only had a couple of hits and a couple of ‘Teenage Kicks’, signature songs that weren’t chart successes at the time (and haven’t been since) but are now very well known, sometimes more than their actual hits (i.e. Teenage Kicks by the Undertones, which is far better known in the UK than their actual bit hit My Perfect Cousin). It wasn’t meant for bands like The Jam.
Though their popularity never translated across the Atlantic because the band didn’t really like America all that much when they first toured (mostly, and I’m not kidding, it was the higher drinking age, all of them were under 21 at the time!) The Jam are considered one of the great British Bands, often held in higher esteem than many of their major influences (The Kinks, The Who…) due to putting out music for only five albums and six years and staying broken up. A three-piece consisting of drummer Rick Butler, bassist and occasional songwriter Bruce Foxton and lead vocalist, lead guitarist, principal songwriter, style icon and god among men Paul Weller, the bastards had a whopping 13 top 20 singles and they only released 19,  with only one single overall ending up outside the UK Top 30 and that song, ‘The Modern World’, easily qualified as a Teenage Kick thanks to its strong ties to the ’77 British Punk movement and thus appearing on lots and lots of Punk compilations. Though you could probably whittle down their ‘big songs’ to number 1 hits ‘Going Underground’, ‘Town Called Malice’, ‘Start!’ and ‘Beat Surrender’, slightly less bit hits ‘When You’re Young’, ‘Eton Rifles’, ‘Down in the Tube Station At Midnight’, ‘David Watts’ and ‘That’s Entertainment’ (which reached number 21 – on import) plus their punk anthems ‘In The City’ and ‘The Modern World’ and the (relative) bomb that was ‘News of the World’ thanks to its status as the theme tune of a popular panel show I’m just gonna say “fuck it” and ignore all of their A-Sides and Double A-Sides and make this an all album track and B-side affair, the sign of a true fan! So are you sitting comfortably? Because for those of you watching in black and white, this one is in Technicolour:

To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have a Nice Time) (All Mod Cons, 1978)
I wanted to avoid All Mod Cons songs due to how big it remains even though all three albums after it sold better, The Gift being the band’s best seller, but All Mod Cons is easily considered THE album for the Jam and that’s why obvious choices like Billy Hunt, Mr Clean and English Rose aren’t on here despite being utterly brilliant. Honestly To Be Someone’s mocking of celebrity via adopted the character of one who’s star has faded isn’t the best thing Weller’s ever written, in fact it’s nowhere near as cleverly written as the track either side of it (All Mod Cons and the aforementioned Mr Clean) but I wanted at least one AMC song and frankly I don’t think any song sound more like the Jam than this. Everything about it how I feel we think The Jam sounded and were, that punchy, 60s influenced music, places for Foxton to leap into the air, smashing straight into the song, Weller and Foxton harmonies, a little musical break, Weller attacking something with pointed but fairly humours lyrics and the odd bit of very English colloquialism that fans can sing along to venting their frustration while doing so. It’s all there, making To Be Someone somehow the best place to start, weird innit?  

Standards (This is the Modern World, 1977)
The Jam’s second album is easily the least well regarded of their catalogue, all of their catalogue, the bloody rarities album is better thought of, but it was actually the album that got me into the band (after being thoroughly disappointed with their debut, In the City) and it was The Modern World and Standards that did it. I fucking loved the aggression of this, running on a riff the early Who gave to charity and Weller spitting out the vocals, seemingly generally furious about what he’s singing about (this would be a running theme in his work, still is actually) and that the whole thing was a character song; Weller adopting the persona of someone in power being uncharacteristically honest about their intent to keep everyone in their place just to suit themselves. Weller would adopt the character of the person the song was against from time to time, most notably in this era of his career on Billy Hunt and Burning Sky, and it presents a strange ideological conundrum when singing along, because Standards and ‘Hunt are undoubtedly sing-along songs and bloody great to sing along to: you can get out all the badness you might feel for your government, your board of censors, the thugs who throw abuse at you from cars of the sell-out but you’re still singing in their voice and very passionately too, so it can kind of look like you agree with the bastards. Also I love the word play of the refrain ‘Standards rule ok’ which has about 10 different meanings and the band mean them all.   
Little Boy Soldiers (Setting Sons, 1979)
It’s very hard to pick a favourite Jam song, but if pushed I’d choose this one. A three-minute three part epic on the futility of war from one of my favourite albums of all time – Setting Sons: for me no other anti-war song is as good or as effective as this but I’m really having trouble expressing why it’s so good. I think it’s really just the most basic of things – very good lyrics matched with a very good (and fitting) arrangement to make a brilliant ‘Play for Today’ song about an apathetic soldier who goes to some god forsaken hill, dies and gets sent back and an uncaring country who is utterly convinced that this is a good thing. In part 1 we get the soldier talking his country, who’s got itself in trouble and now needs him to help them out, even though the only other time it wants his input is when there’s an election on. for the middle we have this poor sod in the war himself, with desperate and hollow encouragements and then a roaring finale as the boy comes home, dead, with only a posthumous medal and a letter to his mum to show for it. That’s not too original there but everything about it just works and the lyrics work extra well, this mix of sarcasm, irony and flat out honesty coming together to get Weller’s point across perfectly – here’s the final lyrics “with a letter to your mum / saying find enclosed: one son, one medal / and a note to say we’ve won” now all the song is like that, lines like “god’s on our side and so is Washington” “we killed and robbed the fuckign lot / but we don’t’ feel bad / it as done beneath the flag of democracy!” that’s everything that was wrong with Britain’s empire buildingin three lines! This song is fucking awesome, and manages to not be ‘anti-soldier’ just ‘anti-war’, oh just listen to it.

I Need You (For Someone) (This is the Modern World, 1977)
Sorry to go back to This is the Modern World so quickly but if there’s one song that belongs on an article like this about the Jam it’s I Need You, Weller’s first foray into straight up love songs (he got a girlfriend around this time you see). Talk about fucking nailing it on your first try, Woking’s finest son manages to create a unique take on something as utterly unoriginal as the love song on this first try, the man’s a dick, a genius, but also a dick. He does this, basically, by honest realism, the whole song is really just the narrator telling their significant other that they need them to fulfil various roles in their lives, what makes I Need You so good is that a lot of these roles are not things that get brought up in your average love song, oh they do turn up just not the regularity they really should and very few love songs ever touch on love songs going too far, fuck that says Weller, the closest thing this song has to a chorus is “ Now why are you crying? Have I gone too far - again?” it takes a certain type of person to admit they can go too far IN SONG and maybe it takes a certain type of person to like it, love songs often work because they’re generic and fantasies, people can project themselves into them no matter who they are and feel all gooey, and people probably don’t want to be brought down by having a love song that’s y’know, realistic and actually accurately portrays what being in a relationship is/can be like. And I do like a bit of that every so often but I also like songs that are accurate to what they’re talking about and that’s why I Need You needs more love and why it and, I dunno, You And Me Might Be Alright You Know by Little Man Tate are so great, they’re what being in a relationship is, not what we want it to be, and it’s still amazing.   

The Butterfly Collector (B-Side w/ Strange Town, 1979)
It’s a song about Jordan! Well actually it’s about Cat Woman Sue, a fairly iconic Punk groupie who I guarantee that at least one of the band, and by one member of the band I mean Bruce Foxton, actually slept with but it always reminds me of Katie Price, the Monster Formerly Known as Jordan. What’s a Butterfly Collector? Well it’s a woman who likes to rack up as notches on the bed post, but only notches for famous people, the evil twin of Blondie’s Miss Groupie Supreme, who actually become famous in their own right because of this – so I guess it’s technically more someone like Abbi Titmuss but I actually fancy Abbi Titmus and just the very thought of Jordan makes my penis run and hide, plus the second half of the song, as the butterfly collector caries on because it’s all their know, getting by on the self-belief that they’re still gorgeous and ignoring the appeal between their legs (actual lyrics) having worn off long ago (like, Gareth Gates-ago) it far more appropriate for the likes of Price. What takes the song, a slow echo-y and quite menacing affair, to another, not-so-possibly-sexist, level is a small set of lyrics where Weller points out that it’s not the morality of the collectors that’s the problem, because we all do immoral things, but simply that he doesn’t feel bad for these people (of both sexes, the Kings AND Queens), the implication being neither should we, and we shouldn’t, but we should sing this song to remind us how pathetic and un-iconic they are1.       
Dream Time (Sound Affects, 1980)
Dream Time then, which I really think doesn’t have the standing in the Jam Army that it deserves, despite being on the beloved Sound Affects (I’ve never liked that album as much as I apparently should) which introduced post-LSD Beatles and psych influences into the band’s sound and that’s rather evident here, it’s like The Jam doing Revolver (that is not an insult) and that’s rather fitting for a song called ‘Dream Time’ a song about a nightmare that’s reality, the reality of living on a soulless modern world. Scary voices and funny noises bring us into the rocker, trapped in a hate-filled, deceptive world where you can easily loose reality, with one of Weller’s most evocative choruses – “I saw the lights and the pretty girls / and I thought to myself what a pretty world / but there’s something else there that puts me off / and I’m so scared dear, my love comes in frozen packs / bought in supermarkets” that’s just…that’s it, that’s the metaphor for living in the modern world ‘my love comes in frozen packs, bought in supermarkets’. If you don’t get why that is then this song is probably not for you though.

Obligatory Cover Version: Pity Poor Alfie / Fever 
(B-side w/ The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow), 1982)
The Jam were very well suited to cover versions, having a very definite sound and generally liking to play songs that didn’t originally sound like this sound (you really notice how much softer bands like the Who and the Kinks were after listening to The Jam’s versions of their songs and then the originals) that even when they added elements from the originals – like the brass on Move on Up or Stoned Out of My Mind – or just knocked a cover version out because they needed a track – like In the Midnight Hour or Heatwave – they produced a unique version. Honeslty my favourite of their cover versions In the Midnight Hour but that’s because I like that song already and I like the Jam’s style of music better than Wilson Picketts and that’s not a very good reason to recommend it so instead I’m cheating because the cover version part of this song is nothing I care about – it’s bloody Fever, everyone’s covered Fever – and the only reason it’s any good really is because as already outlined, the Jam made good cover versions without trying so when they ARE trying, like here, then they make very good cover versions, you can tell that Weller LIKES this song and has a fever. But the first half, an original composition by Weller, I’ve been fascinated by it since I was a teenager – this is mostly because I’m a suicidal who has a slight death obsession but it is very… let’s use the word evocative, powerful would also work – it’s a mix of the story of Alfie’s suicide mixed with the narrator’s memories of the happy times they shared together and Weller comes off as a decent bloke by not passing judgement on people who commit suicide. It’s this jumble of emotional, memories, past and present tense, it’s what it feels like when someone dies. Oh and it has a description that rivals any novel ever:
With overflowing powerful woes
'Cause there's real and fright
To the top of the stairs to find poor Alfie
And blood stained letters don't count for change
And don't look for blame

Liza Radley (B-Side w/ Start!, 1980)
Hey it’s my favourite Jam B-Side that I’m putting on this list above album tracks the Jam Army would no doubt chastise me for leaving off if anyone actually read this shit (“no Scrape Away? No Mr Clean? No Thick as Thieves? Rubbish!” good point, I need to do another one of these for The Jam). Anyway described by Weller as him ‘just being whimsical and English’ the Modfather and his acoustic guitar manage to craft a the perfect description of the perfect outsider girl, and incidentally my perfect woman, she’s the Goth girl of my dreams, but she could easily be the folky girl of your dreams, or any other sort of Alternative, not understood by the small town she comes from but far better and far more interesting than any one of them could ever be, and all the better it’s sung from the point of view of someone enamoured with her, so you can put yourself in her place (and you don’t even have to be male, the narrator never makes mention of their sex). This is a great song when you’re feeling lonely but hopeful, whether you know your Liza Radley or want a Liza Radley of your own.     

Wasteland (Setting Sons, 1979)
So legend has it that Setting Sons was originally going to be a concept album about three kids who grew up to be three different people but after one of them died in a war they came back together, this is the last part but like all of the ‘concept album tracks’ it works perfectly on its own. I think it’s supposed to be originally set in a war torn area, a city knocked to shit by the old story’s conflict, but thanks to cities being so bloody litter-ridden it works as just a description of any urban area “the shit, the dirty linen / the holey Coca-Cola tins, the punctured footballs / the ragged dolls, the rusted bicycles” that’s just a description of the four streets around my house. So it kind of ends up as being a paean to emotion in a cold, emotionless world, with the sex and relationship of the person Weller’s singing too left undetermined it could be to almost anyone, a friend, a lover, a child, just someone you want to sit and watch the rain with in the shadow of the council estates and dare to show some brave but useless compassion. I find songs like this far more touching than generic love songs (even Weller’s, things like Mermaids or You Do Something to Me or English Rose) jus because I associate with them so much more, this is a song about how to show affection in the sort of place I grew up and live in by someone who grew up and lives in the same places, the Rap, Hip-Hop and Grime scene would kill to be able to produce something like this. Oh and there’s a recorder, played by Paul Weller on an actual child’s recorder (his sister’s), which adds this weird innocence that is totally fitting.    

Running on the Spot (The Gift, 1982)
“I believe in love and I believe in life / but the world in which I live keeps trying to prove me wrong” ok so there’s a lot of songs about futility on this list, that could be because Weller was writing these in the late 70’s and early 80’s when futility was rather common, not that’s it’s not common today and perhaps that why these songs are the first ones that jumped out at me. Still being appropriate decades after their conception is something to be proud of after all and we are still just running on the spot, and we are still just the next generation of emotional cripples just another one to Weller’s generation, and that’s pretty fucking scary really. And the advice of Running on the Spot is still good – intelligence, independence not ignorance and reactionary dismissal, don’t blindly accept what you’re told by people with obvious agendas, it’s not fucking radical but it’s still so very relevant, plus Running on the Spot is a great driving sing-along.

And that’s your lot, I’m not putting YouTube links up for these articles because those sort of videos tend to get taken down and I hate finding a blog post with broken links. Paul Weller broke up The Jam at the height of their fame (and sales) in 1982 much to the surprise of his band mates, in fact he wouldn’t work with either again for a long time and I actually got to see the Weller and Foxton on stage at the Albert Hall to perform Eton Rifles and Fast Car/Slow Traffic (the first song they’d recorded together since the Jam split), I actually went weak at the knees, ask my mate Mike. Weller formed The Style Council, who will get one of these articles one day, before having a successful solo career that continues to this day, but with the recent deaths of Lemmy, David Bowie and Terry Wogan I am very concerned about, and very appreciative of, his continued aliveness. Foxton joined up with punk outfit and Green Day influence Stiff Little Fingers for a while and then recently he and Butler created From the Jam, kind of a Jam tribute band with two thirds of the real band in it, I haven’t seen them and really don’t have much desire to but my Uncle has and says they’re pretty good. Brilliantly the band also got an art exhibition last year, ‘About the Young Idea’, exhibiting memorabilia and stuff, though a little weird (they’re all still alive and it really wasn’t that long ago) I went to it and lost hours. With that all I have to say is I hate you, and your wife, and if I get the chance I’ll fuck up your life, night! 

1 Katie Price, aka Jordan, was a former Page 3 Girl (she got her tits out in a national newspaper on a regular basis) who rose above other Page 3 girls mostly by shagging crap pop stars (Gareth Gates, Peter Andre) and being on reality TV. I think one of her shows was on American TV and she did go on about ‘breaking America’ for a while so hopefully everyone knows who she is but if not this footnote is here. 

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