The three paramount British bands of 1977 stood out among one another by emphasizing an individual aspect of the punk movement more than its peers did. The Sex Pistols focused on anger to a greater extent than politics. The Clash put politics just a notch above anger. The Jam, meanwhile, incorporated pop and R&B–i.e., mod–elements into its social and political commentary.
In the City is the least revered of the debut albums by these groups. However, it established its creators’ punk credentials every bit as much as Never Mind the Bullocks and The Clash’s debut did for their creators. The Jam was not as angry or overtly political as the Pistols or The Clash, but were enough of each such that, when it stirred in sharp pop hooks and R&B grooves, the result was just as much of a tinderbox.
The Jam (l-r): Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler, Paul Weller
Among the dozen songs on The Jam’s debut are 10 originals by the still 18-year-old Paul Weller, who was two years younger than Johnny Rotten and six years Joe Strummer’s junior. His youth manifests itself mostly for better throughout the record. People who might compare In the City unfavorably to other punk albums cannot legitimately reduce its alleged inferiority to the fact that Weller was a mere pup at the time.
The songs on In the City can be grouped three or four at a time into the categories of punk, mod, and rock. An example of each of these is presented on the first “side” of the album. “Art School” kicks down the door with as much brains, brawn, and urgency as can be found on a late 70s punk album. It is driven by Pete Townshend-inspired riffs that define The Jam’s early sound. “I’ve Changed My Address,” however, emphasizes a mod-loving R&B groove made punky by Rick Buckler’s steady drum beats and Bruce Foxton’s funky bass lines. It kind of sounds like a lost R&B nugget, and lyrically recalls The Who’s “A Legal Matter.” “Away From the Numbers” is a more straight-ahead rocker with thoughtful if not profound lyrics. The tempo is slower on this catchy tune, which has an almost Beach Boys-like “oooh-oooh” interlude.
“In The City” is the album’s literal and figurative centerpiece. While it stands out because it was The Jam’s first single, it is really just another one of many great songs on the album. An equally proportional pop/punk mix and an infectious riff stolen by The Sex Pistols make it a worthy inclusion among the defining songs of the punk era.
The second half of the record–including the title track and its B-side, “Time For Truth”–reinforces the elements introduced in first half. “Sounds From the Street” is the album’s catchiest rock song, and includes a shout out to the band’s hometown: “I know I come from Woking/And you say I’m a fraud/But my heart’s in the city/Where it belongs.”
In addition to Weller’s 10 originals, In the City includes two covers. The first is a punked-up version of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down,” which had also been done by The Beatles. The second is “Batman Theme,” which accounts for the album’s one truly unforgivable dud. This is the earliest instance in which Weller’s love of The Who counts against him a bit. It is one of a few songs that were covered by The Who and then by The Jam, in addition to the Who originals that The Jam covered. Plus, The Who had a song called “In The City,” which I cannot say for sure was the source this album’s title.
Part of me wants to think that The Jam’s lack of success in America can be explained by a sentiment expressed in “Art School”: “Fools only laugh `cause they envy you.” This probably isn’t fair. The fact is that The Jam was simply not marketed effectively in the States. That they were the opening act for Blue Oyster Cult on an early American tour suffices to make that obvious.
No worries though, as The Jam was the most popular band in England during its six-year existence. Unlike The Sex Pistols, Paul Weller’s band was able to survive for long enough to record more than one album. Unlike Joe Strummer or Mick Jones, Paul Weller knew that it was time to hang it up before his band began to look ridiculous.
(“Look ridiculous is exactly what he did in The Style Council,” you say? Maybe, but that is an argument for another review.)
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.
With 9 Bonus Tracks, This Is The Jam’s Finest Hour
(Originally posted on Amazon.com 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 Sonscan 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.
Zombies lead singer Colin Blunstone, left, and keyboardist Rod Argent
When keyboardist and songwriter Rod Argent was in his 19th year of life (1964), his band The Zombies charted two top 10 singles: “She’s Not There” (#2) and “Tell Her No” (#6). When he was 23, The Zombies hit #3 with “Time of the Season” despite having split a year-and-a-half earlier.
Although the band was dead, its popularity was still very much alive.
If you haven’t heard any of the aforementioned Zombies songs, which is impossible, then maybe you remember “The Way I Feel Inside” from the movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
No? Well then you’ve heard Rod Argent playing piano on the theme to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Rod Argent and his longtime bandmate Colin Blunstone will be undead only in the sense of being very much alive when the current incarnation of The Zombies creeps into the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Sunday. Argent spoke with me about his life and career, past and present.
When did you and Colin Blunstone decide to start working together again?
We got back together again because in 1999, I did a charity concert for a jazz musician friend of mine called John Dankworth, who was building a new theater and was trying to raise money for it. Colin was in the audience, and he come [sic] up and just sang on the spur of the moment “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There.” We had such a ball going it that afterwards he said, “Why don’t we just put six gigs together for fun?”
So we put a fabulous band together, and it was so nice that, completely unplanned, that has turned into 13 years of touring around the world. No planning at all. It just grew to that, which is extraordinary.
Was the audience expecting it? What was the reaction?
Oh, they loved it, they really did. And it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and they absolutely loved it.
It’s got to the stage now where it’s very important to us to actually get excited about new material. For the last album [2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In] to get really great reviews both in the US – people like Huffington Post – and in the UK was very gratifying, actually.
The young Zombies (l to r): Rod Argent, Chris White, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy
Have there been any covers of your songs that have particularly impressed you?
I think the obvious one is the Santana version of “She’s Not There,” which I thought was absolutely great. And that completely knocked me out because I’ve always loved Santana, and the fact that that song brought them back to Hit Parade status, chart status, again after quite a few years without a hit gave me a kick.
Dusty Springfield did a version of one of my songs called “If It Don’t Work Out,” which I thought was terrific as well, on the Everything’s Coming Up Dusty album. I wrote it for her. We were on tour with her in the UK. At the end of one week she said to me, “Would you write me a song?” And I wrote it that weekend and played it to her. She loved it. It turned out to be the first track on the album but it was never a single.
Is it true that you had difficulty entering the United States back in the early days of The Zombies?
Oh yeah. The unionization of the music business in the States was enormous at the time. It was extremely difficult to come over, and it had to be in exchange for other musicians. I know one point we came in exchange for Duke Ellington who was really – is still – one of my heroes, actually. I thought that was amazing.
When did it sink in that Odessey and Oracle (1968) was considered to be a classic in some circles?
It started about 12, 13 or 14 years after it came out. People started to talk about it, and it gathered momentum.
Paul Weller, when he was #1 with The Jam and the punk explosion, completely floored us by saying that it was his favorite album of all time.
About a week ago he was on Radio 4, which is a pretty up-market radio station in the UK. He was talking about Odessey and Oracle and he said the same thing again, and he played “Beechwood Park” from it. That was really nice.
And many people started saying similar things about it – emerging artists and well-known artists. Tom Petty wrote in the Zombies box set (Zombie Heaven) that if The Zombies were around today, they’d rule the world, or something really, really nice.
Dave Grohl, from the Foo Fighters, last year on a Scandinavian television show was asked, “What is the track that changed your life?” And he thought about it and he chose “Care of Cell 44” from Odessey and Oracle.
It goes on and on. The Vaccines, who are a very hot teenage indie band in the UK, last year made a 45-second video on the Net saying that it was their favorite album.
How large does the legacy of your post-Zombies band Argent loom?
We always play “Hold Your Head Up,” and that’s a really highlight of the set, actually. The majority of that song was written by Chris White, the bass player for The Zombies, who became sort of a silent member of Argent, in the sense of being a co-producer and a co-writer. He actually wrote “Hold Your Head Up” out of an idea from when he heard us playing a version of “Time of the Season.” We played a sort of experimental version of “Time of the Season” and took it into a different improvised area. He was in the audience and loved what he was hearing and wrote a song around it. That song became “Hold Your Head Up.” It has a real link with “Time of the Season.”
Al Kooper, who was a vocal champion Odessey and Oracle when CBS Records wanted to pass on it, lives in Somerville, a town next to Arlington. Will you be seeing him while you are in town?
Very possibly. He supported us about a week ago in Philadelphia. It was the first time that we ever played together. It was lovely seeing him, and he said that might well be coming up to the Arlington show.
Without Al, [Odessey and Oracle] wouldn’t have been known by anybody. He took it to Clive Davis and said, “Whoever’s got this album, you’ve got to buy it and release it.” [CBS president] Clive Davis said, “Well we’ve got it, but we passed on it already.” [laughs] Al said, “Well you can’t. You have to put it out.”
So he had everything to do with that album coming out.
My six-year-old review of Sound Affects by The Jam (originally posted on Amazon on November 30, 2006). Damn what an awesome band.
“Sound Affects is my favourite Jam record”
These are the words of Jam leader Paul Weller. While Sound Affects is not my personal favorite, he clearly has good taste in his own music. Sound Affects was the third in a trio of brilliant, pun-titled records by The Jam. It was also their first collection of all original material.
The #1 double A-side “Going Undergroud/The Dreams of Children” preceded the record’s release, and served as a perfect appetizer for the forthcoming LP. Their fifth record was their most pop-oriented album, including not only 2 hit singles, but a handful of other pop numbers as well. Of course, Weller was not about to leave his more constructively cynical side behind, so there are also several less sunny tracks. But all of the songs are strong and catchy, powered by sharp experimental production and deliberately more poetic lyrics.
Sound Affects opens with the buoyant “Pretty Green,” which features Bruce Foxton’s always superb thumping bass lines, and “Monday,” which offers the album’s first taste of pleasantly faint psychedelia. The punky pop ditty “But I’m Different Now” picks up the pace, breezing by in less than 2 minutes.
Horns adorn “Boy About Town,” another snappy 2-minute number, but the most impressive of these non-single pop songs is “Man in the Corner Shop.” This track shows that Weller was still in Ray Davies-mode, depicting how 3 classes of people interact with each other on a daily basis, with the factory worker envying the shopkeeper, who in turns envies the factory owner. They come together only on Sundays, when all of them kneel before God as – of course – equals (right?).
(Not the official video, but I like it.)
The songs that form the core of the record are “Start!” and “That’s Entertainment.” The former, which was their second #1 single in a row, should sound familiar even to those who have never heard it (Weller once claimed, perhaps a bit disingenuously, that he was thinking more of James Brown than the obvious source).
“That’s Entertainment” reached only #21 in the UK, but this was as an import: it wasn’t even released in Britain as a single. This was a testament to the band’s enormous popularity at the time, and the song has become perhaps the band’s most timeless cut. The lines in this song are one picture-perfect image after another, depicted vividly by Weller’s impeccable British English.
By this time, Weller had earned his place among those who had inspired him (Davies, Townshend, Lennon), and was well on his way to inspiring the next generation of British songwriters, including Morrissey, who did a significantly altered cover of “That’s Entertainment.”
Interspersed among these pop songs are slices of Weller’s brand of healthy cynicism, captured best in the lyrics to “Dream Time”: “Their hate comes in frozen packs bought in a supermarket”. Note how this songs begins with a winding, backward intro, a trick previously heard on “The Dreams of Children.”
There is also the dark, dissonant “Set the House Ablaze,” with its creepy whistling and main riff that was clearly stolen by Bloc Party for some song that I once heard playing in a record store (I don’t know the title). Finally, the largely instrumental “Music For the Last Couple” and the confrontational closer “Scrape Away” highlight the wonderful interplay among Weller, Foxton, and Buckler.
Over the course of their remarkable 5-year recording career, The Jam never stood still or rested on its laurels. Paul Weller was a young man in a hurry, and he took his band through punk, rock, pop, and R&B at a sweeping pace. The Jam never attained the gravitas of contemporaries The Clash, but they were the most popular English band of the punk era.
Albums like Sound Affects demonstrated that The Jam had the pop smarts to afford them such commercial success, and enough attitude, intelligence, and talent to make them one of the truly greatest British bands ever. After five years of being a fan, it is still refreshing to reminded of their greatness each time I delve into their records anew. But still, I won’t hold my breath that any of their albums will appear on a Rolling Stone or VH-1 countdown any time soon.
The Jam in 1980. This was the year in which Paul Weller and his mates won 10 awards in the annual New Musical Express (NME) poll. It was also the third straight year in which the band won for Best Album, the second of four consecutive wins for Best Group, the second of four straight years in which all three members won for their respective instruments, and first of four wins in a row for Paul Weller in the Most Wonderful Human Being category. (The fourth year in which he won was in 1983, the year after The Jam broke up.)