Last February, I sent some questions via email to Dr. John‘s publicist in order to help promote his show at The Wilbur in Boston. Unfortunately, I did not get the answers back until the afternoon of the day of the concert. Since he is returning to the same venue tonight (Wednesday, 2/28) to promote his new album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, I figured that I would post the interview today.



Photo by Bruce Weber.

Q: If I were to have you as my guide on my first trip to New Orleans (I have never been
there), what would I see that the typical tourist would not?
A: I would take you too see Jaegers restaurant in Jefferson Parish as well
as Joseph Segereto’s restaurant Eleven 79 on Annunciation Street.

Q: Do you still have any of the Ivory Soap boxes that you were featured
on as a child?
A: No I do not.

Q: In 1971, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton played on The Sun, Moon & Herbs.
In the early 90s, PM Dawn and Beck each sampled “I Walk On Gilded
Splinters.” In 2012, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys produced and played
on Locked Down. How does it feel to have fans with such cred and/or high
A: It’s oaks. [i.e., “Oaks and Herbs, my Nerbs,” i.e., “okay,” as in “cool.”]

Q: Is the crawfish beignet the greatest food you have ever tasted?
A: There once was a time I could eat shellfish but now I can’t.

Q: What is some of the paraphernalia that you have on your cane and around
your neck?
A: A lot of spiritual things.

Q: How do you feel about the depiction of New Orleans and Louisiana on
television shows like True Blood, Treme, and American Horror Story: Coven?
A: I don’t watch TV but I did get to see the first Treme of the series and
I thought it was cool.

Q: How many credits did you have as Mac Rebennack before you became Dr. John?
A: A gang and a half of them.

Q: In putting together a setlist for a show, do you aim for continuity or a
theme, or do you just pick whatever you feel like playing on a given
A: I pick what I feel.

Q: Is Hurricane Katrina something from which your beloved hometown will
forever be recovering?
A: New Orleans will always be recovering  from Katrina as well as the NO [New Orleans] oil spill.




I posted this review on on March 11, 2007, exactly seven years and 11 months ago. Today, on this, the day of the 30th anniversary of its release (February 11, 1985), I repost it here on BlakeMadsBlog.

The Smiths’ second album of new material is essential listening for an unlikely reason: it contains some the band’s most mediocre songs. Now, “mediocre” is a relative term of course, considering that we are talking about the greatest band to emerge in the last quarter-century, i.e., since The Jam broke up in ’82. It isn’t that Morrissey’s voice sounds bad (how could it?), or that Johnny Marr’s guitar playing is less than tasteful. It’s just that somehow the words and the music just aren’t as great as one would expect.

Most of the tracks on this album are not particularly well-known ones. However, “How Soon Is Now?” pops up in the middle of the American issue. This is one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs. It is not, however, one my personal favorites, if for no other reason than it is over six-and-a-half minutes long. For a group whose music is informed by classic pop ideals, The Smiths sure have a tendency to let their songs run a bit too long. This is especially to the detriment of the closing tracks. The nearly 7-minute “Barbarism Begins at Home” is quite good, as is the title track (even if it is a bit, dare I say, ham-fisted), but they just go on forever, and therefore lose some of their impact in the process.

Other than “How Soon Is Now?”, the only song that will be familiar to neophyte Smiths fans is the excellent single “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, which includes the fathomlessly clever line “It was dark as I drove the point home.”

Not surprisingly, The Smiths are more successful with shorter songs. “What She Said,” “Nowhere Fast,” and “Well I Wonder” are the album’s best songs. “I Want the One I Can’t Have,”on the other hand, expresses what was even by this point in his career a pretty trite Morrissey sentiment. And I still haven’t mentioned the opening tracks, “The Headmaster Ritual” and “Rusholme Ruffians.” Sadly, there isn’t really much to say about them, apart from that they sound a bit juvenile and uninspired. (Although the “Marie’s the Name of His Latest Flame” riff on the latter is a nice touch).

Given the excitement that had built up around The Smiths by 1985, it is not surprising that Meat Is Murder entered the UK album chart at #1. Fans were certainly justified in their expectations for the album, and were right to rush out and by it. Unfortunately, the material on the album proved to be disappointing by any standards. Fortunately, it was not enough to bring down the band’s hopes, as they re-emerged in the finest form of their career with their next release (The Queen Is Dead). While Meat Is Murder is not essential in the all-embracing sense of the term, it is worth hearing for that very reason. After all, every great band has at least one album that demonstrates what they sound like at their not-so-great. In the case of The Smiths, that album is Meat Is Murder.


This originally ran on in early May 2014. Since Ghosts of Jupiter are currently doing a Thursday night residency at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, I figured that I would repost the interview that I did with lead singer Nate Wilson here on my blog.

ME: Was Homer Simpson correct when he said, “Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It’s a scientific fact”?

NATE WILSON: I’d say it was probably closer to 1972 but yeah, I think he was on the right track. At the same time I think it’s kind of closed-minded to be one of those people who always says “I don’t listen to anything that was recorded after 1972…..blah blah blah.” I like a lot of contemporary bands and I’m always searching around for new shit to get into. It just so happens that all the new stuff I’m into SOUNDS like it was recorded in the 70’s. So to clarify, I don’t listen to anything that SOUNDS like it was recorded after 1972.

ME: Whichever year it was, which albums, artists, and songs contributed to the molding of said perfection?

NATE WILSON: There are a ton. Big ones for me are Jethro Tull‘s Thick as a Brick, [Yes’s] The Yes Album, Captain Beyond [self-titled debut], Meddle [Pink Floyd], [Traffic’s] The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys….

ME: When did it reach its nadir, or are we still awaiting it?

NATE WILSON: I have to admit that I had to Google nadir. I thought it was a Spanish verb.

But it’s really tough to pick out some low-point in music. Again, it’s easy to complain that there’s no good music and everything was better way back when. But there’s always been some good music out there, and there’s always been a ton of garbage, too. I remember that time period just before the Internet changed everything as being particularly shitty. It just seemed like major labels and MTV had so much power and control over the pipeline and it was basically musical fast food. Now, at least as a music fan, there’s a whole new universe available to discover things you never would have heard of in the past.

ME: Fill in the blank: “I wish that I were half the singer-songwriter/musician that _______________ is?”

NATE WILSON: Gustav Ejstes (Dungen)

ME: What is your favorite rock ‘n’ roll documentary?

NATE WILSON: Off the top of my head probably Dig! about the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I like their music but I love the train wreck even more! Honorable mentions are Last Days Here and that newish one about Ginger Baker [Beware of Mr. Baker]. OK—those are all train wreck movies I guess!

ME: Did transitioning from the Nate Wilson Group to Ghosts of Jupiter consist of anything other than a change in name (e.g., line-up changes, relocation)?

NATE WILSON: We had a few different bassists when we were Nate Wilson Group, and when we solidified the line-up and added our second guitarist I think we figured it was time to have a proper name. I did move to Worcester, but that’s incidental.

ME: How do you draw on your training at the New England Conservatory when composing music? Which field is your University of New Hampshire degree in?

NATE WILSON: My degree from UNH is in music performance. I always draw on my musical training, although the stuff I studied in school is fairly different from what the band sounds like. But studying music in an academic setting I think just broadens your awareness of sound in general. You don’t always use everything you learned in classical music or jazz within the setting of a rock band, but that awareness helps your creative process.

ME: How did the Museum of Science show come about and how long did that run?

NATE WILSON: It ran for over a year which was pretty amazing. The idea came from our friend Phil Stepanian, who has helped us with a bunch of management stuff over the years. He just beat some doors down for us over there and they thought it was an interesting enough idea to give us a shot at it.

ME: If Ghosts of Jupiter were to do an album of covers, what would you offer (2 or 3 songs/artists) and what would you expect each of your bandmates to propose?

NATE WILSON: Man, that’s a tough one. I’d love to cover a bunch of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but I don’t know if recording it would make much sense. My take on it would be to re-create it EXACTLY the way it sounded on those records ‘cause its fucking awesome. So what would be the point of that really I guess…..

ME: How widely has the band toured and what is the largest audience for which you have performed?

NATE WILSON: We’ve stayed pretty close to the Northeast for the most part. We did a tour out to the Midwest with our friends the Buffalo Killers a few years back, and we did a few tours in the US Virgin Islands, but those were really just glorified vacations. The biggest crowd we’ve played for was probably at the Hatch Shell in Boston where we opened for Blue Oyster Cult.

ME: What is the plan for the next Ghosts of Jupiter recording?

NATE WILSON: We’re already recording it. We’ve cobbled together our own little recording rig and lately have been of the mind to forgo recording in studios. It’s freed us up financially to experiment a whole lot more. We recently rented a house in Vermont and did some tracking there. We recorded most of the keyboards at my home. I don’t know if we’ll do the entire project on our own, but so far it’s been a lot more fruitful to be off the clock.

Ghosts of Jupiter are at the Lizard Lounge (1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge) on February 12, 19, and 26. Two sets: 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Tickets for the February 12 show may be purchased here for $12.

ASKED & ANSWERED: Franky Kelly of The Hot Sprockets

Franky Kelly

Franky Kelly

Franky Kelly — aka, Franky Sprocket, Franky Curveball, Franky the Lips, Franky Pants, Franky Poodles, Franky Spotlight — handles the harmonica, mandolin, and keyboards duties for the smokin’ Irish band The Hot Sprockets.

Brother Nature, this year’s independently released follow-up to their 2010 debut album Honey Skippin’, peaked at #11 back home, kept from the Top 10 by stiff competition from Coldplay, Imelda May, One Direction, and First Aid Kit.

Their first tour of the United States brings them to Brighton Music Hall tomorrow night, where they will be co-headlining with fellow Dubliners Cold Comfort.

I asked Franky Kelly some questions via email, and he kindly (and enthusiastically) answered them.


How frequently have you toured the United States?
We have never toured the USA before so we’re really looking forward to it!

So you have never played Boston before?
Nope, we have never played in Boston but we can’t wait to play at the Brighton Music Hall, we’ve been hearing great things about the music seen there!

Did you feel as though there was anything disappointing about the first album that the second album was an opportunity to correct?
On our first album we won a competition to recorded the album in Portugal with Boz Borer (The Polecats, Morrissey) and only had a week to record it, so we hadn’t much time to work on each track! On Brother Nature (album 2) we took are time making sure each track sounded the way we wanted and we weren’t restricted with time! I think that was the only difference for us but in saying that we are immensely proud of both records!


What experience did you gain from having recorded one album that you applied to the recording of the second?
Recording a record is always a learning experience for any band. We learned the easiest way for us as a band to record and the most time efficient, time equals money in the studio haha! But we’re constantly evolving as a band every time we record something!!

What do you have to say to those who tell me that flutes don’t belong in rock ‘n’ roll? They sound pretty good to me in “Heavy On My Mind.”
Well that’s a silly statement, really, because any instrument belongs in rock ‘n’ roll once the love and the ethos is there 100%. Wayne [Soper] wrote the song “Heavy on My Mind” with the flute in mind from the get-go! He just wanted to write a sweet flute song with a groove which I think we achieved!

Are more of the band’s influences from Europe or the United States?
I’d say the band has definitely more American based influences than European. It is the birth place of the Blues after all. 🙂

Where would you rank Dublin among currently hot music scenes?
Dublin has a huge music scene with a lot of amazing talented musicians for such a small country! So much so that it’s hard to get recognised and in order to progress as an artist you need to venture out and beyond via Europe/America!!!

The band is offering an interesting reward to those who donate €1,000 to your Fundit project. How many donations in that amount have you received?
We got no €1,000 donations for the campaign, which was upsetting for us because we were all dying to get naked, haha!


The Hot Sprockets: Tim Cullen, Franky Kelly, Wayne Soper, Andrew Sutton, Joey Lynch (Photo by Rob Benson Photography)

Recording a documentary seems like an ambitious project for such a young band. Whose idea was it to do so and what is the goal?
When we first started the band 8 years ago, one of our best friends Matt Nicastle started documenting us! He wanted to make a documentary of us over a long period of time. Sadly, Matt passed and the documentary was left unfinished. A few years later a friend of ours (Niall O’Byrne) had an idea to document us for a year or two. He’s aim is to document what happens behind the scenes of being in a band and show a different side of a band’s life! It’s going to be awesome when it’s complete!

Are there any hugely popular or highly respected rock ‘n’ roll bands or artists who you think are complete rubbish and whom you like to knock of their respective pedestals?
We don’t really diss any artists as long as they are hard-working and believe in what they are doing!!

How does a Hot Sprocket differ from a Wet Sprocket? (As in the American band Toad the Wet Sprocket.)
I’m not familiar with that band, but the main reason we are HOT is because we rock with such high energy, raw power and give each gig 100%. And above all else we KICK ASS!!!




This coming Monday (5/12), Television is playing at the Paradise Rock Club. So I figured, why not revisit the review that I posted on in February 2004? No reason at all!

A decade on, I would say that I stand by all that I wrote about this highly revered album. But remember, I was 10 years younger when I wrote about it.


Truly Unique, but Not Equally Great

This CD is difficult to review. For one thing, its reputation precedes it. It is universally hailed as one of the greatest albums ever recorded, so that might predispose the listener to read greatness into it. For another, it is difficult to classify. It has its moments of catchy songcraft, but it is certainly not pop. And it is NOT punk, neither in sound nor in attitude. At best, it is punk by association: Richard Hell (click for my review of his autobiography) was an early member, Malcolm McLaren offered to manage them, they played at CBGBs, the LP was released in 1977, Tom Verlaine wrote and recorded with Patti Smith, etc.

The whole of Marquee Moon generally does not follow any sort of obvious conventional structure, and it is more easily contrasted with than compared to other CDs of its era.

Finally, there is nothing obviously terrible about the CD, nor anything obviously and consistently great (except for the guitar work). So the album is very much a one-of-a-kind affair, and might be described as a warped sort of post punk or new wave. It is thoroughly unconventional without being particularly radical (although that may be a radical achievement in itself). However, uniqueness does not entail greatness, and in the case of Marquee Moon, the uniqueness is much more apparent than the greatness.


So what is it that is so great about this CD? Well, it is impossible to not be impressed by the inspired and majestic guitar work. Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine trade off of each other with intuitive artistic ease.

They might be accused of showing off because it sounds so good, but this is one of the least pretentious guitar showcases that I have ever heard. It is virtuosic, but in a professional, unflashy way.

One cannot help but feel that beauty and grace with the instrument just comes naturally to them. Snotty and snarling riffs, ringing arpeggios, bright cascading scales, and wild and crazy solos adorn every song on the CD.

Richard Lloyd (left) and Tom Verlaine with Lou Reed

Richard Lloyd (left) and Tom Verlaine with Lou Reed

Unfortunately, the guitar work is the best part of every song, and the other components suffer a bit at its expense. Tom Verlaine’s voice is not great, but it is at least nicely off beat and it suits the material well enough. But the lyrics are often a bit too obscure, and one must not mistake obscurity for profundity (which is largely lacking on this record). Verlaine may have been a poet, but he wasn’t a great one.

Moreover, the emotion of each song seems a bit calculated, but that may be, in part, a downside of the naturally good guitar playing.

Still, the lyrics to “Venus”, “Guiding Light,” and “Torn Curtain” are quite beautiful. And the title track is stunning.

All of that said, however, I would certainly not discourage anyone from at least listening to this CD. Its uniqueness is itself refreshing and rewarding to the patient listener. Moreover, the weight of its reputation is lifted by repeated listenings, and once that happens, the listener is able to hear it for what is it: a fine, ambitious, and largely unpretentious record. Some of the songs are better than others, but none of them sound out of place. The CD plays very well as a whole, and should be listened to in a single sitting. And the influence of the album’s NYC cool is plain to see in bands like The Strokes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

BUT STILL, Marquee Moon‘s greatest asset is its uniqueness, and while that may not translate to an equal level of greatness, it still proves the validity of the effort.

And enough people have heard something all-around spectacular in this record, and it is worth taking the chance that you may be one of them.


Left to Right: Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca, Fred Smith

(One last thing: There have been tests done in which each participant is shown three lines of obviously different lengths. S/he is asked to pick the longest one. When s/he picks the obviously longest one, s/he is told that most people picked a different one. Then s/he is asked if s/he wants to change his/her mind. Many participants do. What’s my point? This: if I were to call this CD “punk,” I would feel like one of the people in the study who changed his mind, i.e., like someone who said something he knew to be false just because everyone else did.)


Little did I know when I posted this on April 12, 2006, that exactly eight years later I would be going to see Simon Townshend — whom I had just interviewed for The Somerville Times — at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA.



(Originally posted on on April 12, 2006)

For many, the end of the 60s came with the break-up of The Beatles in April 1970. For others, it came shortly before that, at the disastrous Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. Or, in the political world, it may have occurred in 1968 – which author Jules Witcover called “The Year the Dream Died” – with the election of Richard Nixon.

But whether it was marked by a musical event or a political event, the fact is that at some point the glorious 1960s ended, and not simply by virtue of the fact that it eventually became the 1970s. The 60s were defined as much by attitude as they were a calendar.                                                                                                      blog_TheWho   

Released in 1971, Who’s Next was Pete Townshend’s farewell to the previous decade, and all that it encapsulated. 26 years of age when the record was released, Townshend had survived the first five years of his band’s career with both massive popularity and the accompanying scars to show for it. Who’s Next sounds like the result of a songwriter who had taken stock of his life and the world around him, and in doing so, cleared his mind and soul enough to make his greatest album to date, and probably of his entire career, even 35 years on.


And while it was initially intended to be an ambitious concept album like Tommy and Quadrophenia, the finished product ended up achieving an epic scope at least as great as its predecessor and successor.

The most obvious eulogies for the 60s come at the very beginning and very end of the record. While just two years earlier The Who was rocking Woodstock, the disc’s opening track “Baba O’Riley” finds them surveying the wreckage of a “teenage wasteland.” Such a masterful phrase brings to mind unmistakable images of the site of a cultural milestone which had probably not yet recovered from from the event which was a generation’s last hurrah.

On the other end of the record, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is more straightforward in its recognition of the end of an era. The new boss – Nixon – is the same as the old boss – Johnson, and the parting on the (political) left is now parting on the (political) right. Yet there is still hope, and thus the prayers that “we don’t get fooled” again. (Yeah, I know that I am focusing on events in America, but if only Pete Townshend knew at the time what awaited the US in the 1970s.)

In between these bookends, Townshend seems to be putting himself together emotionally – “getting in tune,” as he might say – with some of his very best songs as the result. The fact that Roger Daltrey never sounded better certainly doesn’t hurt. (I mean really, who knew the guy could sing so well?) These songs are divided between straight-ahead rock songs and slower ballads, the latter featuring the always superb piano work of – who else? – Nicky Hopkins. Bassist John Entwistle also contributes his morbid black humor on the genuinely great song “My Wife.”

“Going Mobile” also references the ethos of the previous decade, with its wah-wah guitar solo and its air-conditioned hippie gypsy protagonist. I am guessing that Townshend may have had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote this one. Then there is “Behind Blue Eyes,” a virtuoso performance by Townshend and Daltrey, with the latter flawlessly capturing every iota of the former’s vulnerability and anger, and probably tossing in a bit of his own while he was at it.


This song and the equally beautiful “The Song Is Over” are the most plaintive songs in the band’s repertoire. “Bargain” and “Love Ain’t For Keepin’,” meanwhile, are classic Who rock songs.

Who’s Next tamed and perfected the elements that had made The Who one of the greatest and most popular bands of the 60s. Without being the lead vocalist, Pete Townshend proved himself to be as capable of composing in the singer/songwriter mode as any of those who were famous for doing both.

Roger Daltrey, as mentioned, sounds spectacular, and more like a great singer than he ever did. (Not that he ever sounded bad, but here….whoa.)

John Entwistle and Keith Moon

Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, who made up The Who’s infamously combustible rhythm section, keep themselves finely in check on this record, and earn their spurs by being more musical, rather than more rackety, than ever. In short, each member of the band emerged sounding like rock ‘n roll musicians, rather than rock ‘n roll players. And lyrically, one should obviously not take Townshend seriously when he claims, on “Getting In Tune,” that he “can’t pretend there’s any meaning hidden in the things I’m saying.” This is a classic rock CD that you will continue to appreciate long after you have outgrown classic rock.

The Who would create five more records over the next decade of their career, each, alas, bringing diminishing returns. After breaking up in 1982, they would eventually come together solely for the sake of lucrative tours.

But perhaps such tours are the band’s reward for being a great singles band (“Substitute,” I Can’t Explain”), albums band (The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Quadrophenia), and one of the loudest and most influential rock groups ever. Who’s Next will forever survive as a testament to everything that was great about this band.

(Having said all this, however, I am still a bigger fan of The Kinks, who were — as Pete and Roger themselves have acknowledged — a major influence on The Who. Too bad that there will never be any chance for them to charge $200 per ticket.)


The Jam was the best British band of the late 70s and early 80s. Let’s be done with that debate. No, they weren’t as punky and rebellious as The Sex Pistols or as “look-how-badass-I-am” as The Clash. But they were the best.
Sure, some think that The Jam’s popularity undercuts their cred. But sometimes it happens like that: sometimes
the best band of a given time and place is also the most popular one. Not very often, but sometimes. Between 1977 and 1982, thanks to The Jam and the British record-buying public, it did.

blog_Jam-Setting-SonsWith 9 Bonus Tracks, This Is The Jam’s Finest Hour

(Originally posted on on March 13, 2005)

The Jam’s November 1979 release Setting Sons is generally considered to be one of their 3 best albums. Inexplicably, however, it is also considered to be the weakest of those three. The only reason for this seems to be that it is neither All Mod Cons (its predecessor) nor Sound Affects (its successor), their other two great albums. Sadly, this underrating of Setting Sons obscures the fact that it contains some of the band’s best material and one of their finest singles. (Why only one? Because the 3 other brilliant songs from this era were released as singles but not featured on albums.)

Much of the underrating of Setting Sons can be attributed to the overrating — in hindsight — of All Mod Cons. The greatness of that album is probably confused to some extent with its significance.

AMC was their great leap forward, and proof that their sophomore slump would not cause them to flunk out. So the importance of this album should not be underestimated, but neither should its greatness — bountiful though it is — be overrated.

Setting Sons was a highly anticipated album. Not only was it the follow-up to The Jam’s breakthrough, it was also preceded in the eight months prior to its release by two top 20 singles — “Strange Town” and “When You’re Young.” While these songs would not appear on the new album, they did confirm The Jam’s status as one of the more important bands in the UK at the time. When the album was finally released in November 1979, it reached #4 in the UK (and #137 in the US) and was accompanied by the band’s highest charting song to date, the explosive #3 single “The Eton Rifles.”

It had been reported prior to release that the album would deal with the concept of how 3 childhood friends had changed as they became adults after a modern-day English civil war (described in the song “Wasteland”). In essence, it was to be a Weller-generation version of The Kinks album Arthur, or: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. (The two albums do make very good companion pieces.) About half of the 10 songs on the record addressed this theme directly. But when listened to as a whole, only the first and last tracks — the latter being a cover of “Heat Wave” — seem to have nothing to do with the intended concept.

Some have criticized Setting Sons  for being too “mature”, but since Paul Weller was only 21 when the album was released, perhaps “precocious” is a better word.

The album kicks off with the gleefully playful — yet somewhat cynical — “Girl On the Phone.” Then come the songs that form the core of the album’s theme. The songs take on such issues as dissolving friendships, aging, war, and selling out. The anti-war track “Little Boy Soldiers” is particularly good, pre-dating the Falklands War by a few years and also containing the eerily prescient line “God’s on our side and so is Washington.” (I don’t know if Margaret Thatcher ever said that, but Tony Blair probably has.)

The remaining songs contribute to lesser degrees to the album’s theme. Foxton’s finest composition, “Smithers-Jones,” is basically The Jam’s version of The Kinks’ song “Shangrai-La,” with its tale of a middle-aged man who has worked his whole life only to see it amount to nothing. (It also has an instrumental nod to The Kinks’ “Victoria” at the end.) “Saturday’s Kids” vividly depicts the misadventures of contemporary British youth. Finally, “The Eton Rifles” is plucked straight from the papers, with Weller railing against snotty students’ disrespect for workers.

Musically, The Jam is a formidable trio of players, and the fact that they are not virtuosos is part of their strength. Paul Weller is an extraordinarily capable guitar player. I know that does not sound like particularly high praise, but it is. He knows exactly how to craft his guitar work so as to give each song the distinctive flavor that made The Jam so unique. Be it chords, riffs, or solos, the patented Jam sound springs effortlessly from Weller’s fingers, and never for a moment does he sound like a show-off. Bruce Foxton’s bass playing is good enough to qualify him as what Jake Burns–his current band’s lead singer*–calls him: “one of the all-time greats.” His trademark ominously punky bass lines give the perfect touch to “Private Hell” and “The Eton Rifles,” and his punchy, more straightforward playing fills the space beautifully on “Girl On the Phone” and “Saturday’s Kids.” And while rock critics will forever struggle to find a non-perfunctory way to compliment drummers, the fact is that a band as energetic yet focused as The Jam needs the perfect timekeeper to speed them up and slow them down. Rick Buckler fits this role to a T. [*Foxton was a member of Stiff Little Fingers when I originally wrote this.]


The Jam (l-r): Rick Buckler, Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton

Paul Weller sings from several points of view on Setting Sons. At times, he is the 21-year old who he was in 1979 (“Girl,” “Rifles,” “Soldiers”). At others, he is an adult singing in the first person (“Thick As Thieves,” “Burning Sky,” “Wasteland”). Finally, he is sometimes someone slightly older than himself commenting on the grown-ups around him (“Private Hell,” Foxton on “Smithers-Jones”). The loss of ideals as one grows older is of particular concern to Weller: “we watched our ideals hopelessly unwind,” “ideals are fine when you are young,” “the smouldering embers of yesterday.” It is the loss of such ideals that leads to unhappiness later in life: “we’re no longer as thick as thieves,” “We’ll watch the rain fall/Tumble and fall/Just like our lives”.

This unhappiness takes the forms of broken friendships, unhappy marriages, alienation from family, and unsatisfying work. While ideals may seem helpless in the grip of hard reality, it is only by sticking to them and making them a reality that one can avoid being stuck in a “Private Hell.”

In the songs described above, Weller is singing from perspective of another person. He does so beautifully, but hearing him sing from his own perspective is always a unique treat. He is at his cynical and punky best on “Girl On the Phone,” “The Eton Rifles,” and “Saturday’s Kids.” “Girl” has Weller commenting on how his fame has made him so recognizable that even a girl who he cannot identify knows his “leg measurements and the size of his cock.” In “The Eton Rifles,” Weller caustically spews his disdain for privileged students, ridiculing on their love of rugby, their ties and crests, their brand new shoes, and their “untamed wit.” He knows damn well that the ivory towers will not protect them forever.

“Saturday’s Kids,” meanwhile, finds Weller singing in a whimsical (and less cynical) tone about a group of youngsters he may be too old to be part of now, but to which he will always belong in his heart. He gets all the details right: the boys with their beer and football (soccer) games, the girls with their cheap perfume and discos, and their parents with their Capston non-filters. (And let’s not forget the “v-neck shirts and baggy trousers,” which come off in the backs of cars with predictable results.)

The influence of Ray Davies clearly trumps that of Pete Townshend on this record.

The 2001 CD re-issue of Setting Sons features nine very valuable bonus tracks. Individual singles were released as many as 8 months prior to and 4 months after the release of the album. All three of them — “Strange Town,” “When You’re Young,” and “Going Underground,” their first #1 single–are all included among the bonus tracks. Also included are the wonderful “The Dreams of Children” — the double A-side of “Going Underground” — and two indispensable B-sides: a version of The Who’s “So Sad About Us” and the brilliant “See Saw” (the B-side of “The Eton Rifles”). The latter is particularly valuable not only because it is probably The Jam’s best non-political, Who-inspired pop song, but because the only other place it is available on CD is the 5-disc box set. The re-issue is topped off by “Start!”, the #1 single from the forthcoming Sound Affects LP.

All things considered, this version of Setting Sons is an ideal first purchase for a Jam newcomer. It captures one of the greatest post-Beatles bands ever at their youthfully energetic but tightly focused best.

The newcomer could also opt for Snap! or Greatest Hits for a career overview, but for a snapshot of a terrific band at their peak, the 2001 re-issue of Setting Sons cannot be beat.