Page 36 - the Noise December 2017
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The Jam
in ten-pound notes! The Jam was swiftly put to work and recorded their debut album In The City in just 11 days. Which, even by today’s standards is a remarkable achievement for such an important album.
In The City is a fantastic action-packed debut full of revved up R’n’B and genuine angst- riddled teen anthems. From the opening slashing chords of Weller’s Rickenbacker of “Art School”to the closing social mistrust and disgust of“Bricks and Mortar,”Weller’s songwriting and deliverance belies his youthful years. The single “In The City,” rush-released by Polydor in early 1977, crashed into the UK Top 40, and The Jam were the first “Punk” band to appear on the UK’s favorite (and most important) music show, Top Of The Pops. (The Pistols and The Clash never appeared on Top of the Pops). It was a big deal which served to distance the Jam from the punk elite, whilst providing the band with an early career boost. “In The City” is still a perfect teen anthem, even 40 years after the fact, brimming with hope and positivity —
“In the city there’s a thousand faces, all shining bright / And those golden faces are under twenty-five / They wanna say, they gonna tell ya / About the young idea / You better listen now you’ve said your bit.”
Other gems on the album include the remarkable “Away from the Numbers,” which perfectly captures the frustration of alienation with dramatic and melodic effect. The Jam swiftly followed In The City with a non-LP single “All Around The World,” which took aim at the punks Weller was becoming tired of, “What’s the point in saying destroy? / I want a new life for everywhere.”
Also included on this fantastically packaged 4 CD + DVD set is the band’s 2nd LP, This Is The Modern World. Upon its release, just 8 months on the heels of the debut album, due to Polydor’s insistence, the band whacked out an LP in time for the Christmas cash-in market, it was criticized as being rushed and less focused than the band’s debut. However, despite the bashing it took at the time, I find much of merit on the album, and it contains some of my favorite Jam material, “The Modern World” and “Standards,” both untouchable classics in my mind.
And there’s plenty more to hold the die-hard Jam fans interest among this collection. Not least a slew of previously unreleased demos, live recordings, a superb hefty book, and set of postcards. I do love a good boxset, and clearly, someone has taken the time and effort to frame the material contained within with the respect it deserves. The DVD live material is perhaps where it becomes apparent how great The Jam actually were. The five live cuts from “So It Goes” show a truly electrifying performance that is almost so pure and perfect within its own contained youthful arrogance that I find it almost painful to watch, it is so brilliant.
The Jam went from strength to strength and became the biggest band in the UK in the early 1980s. As a Brit I often find it difficult to convey to Americans just how socially and culturally important they were. Their very English approach didn’t equate into sales in the US, in the way that say, The Clash’s brand of stadium punk-rock did.
Many of The Jam’s singles entered the UK charts at number one, at a time when record sales were incredible. I remember talking to an older friend who worked in a record store in the early ‘80s who told me when the Jam released a new record they would have boxes of records stacked floor to ceiling before the store opened and would sell 500 copies in a single day. In a single store!
At just 24 years old, Weller, at the peak of the band’s commercial powers was remarkably sussed and savvy. He decided to split The Jam up, feeling the pressure to repeat commercial successes and that the band had achieved everything that was important to him. There has never, and will never be a Jam reformation. Which, I must admit I have a genuine respect for. The Mod movement, which the Jam initially took influence from, is all about progression. Modernism = keep moving forward. Which Weller is still doing with his solo career. If you weren’t there, this excellent box-set is a perfect time capsule Jam packed with greatness. Youth explosion!
In the great debate of punk-rock credibility, there was always a shadow hanging over The . Jam. Were they or weren’t they punk? Sure they were there at the start of “year zero” (that is to say punk’s watershed year of 1977). They were also young, in their teens, playing to kids their same age and were fired up and swept along by the enthusiasm and naked aggres- sion of the new youth movement. But they also (gasp), made the cardinal sin of discarding the fashion statements of the day, shunning safety pins and bondage trousers for a more natty line of mohair suits, bowling shoes, and skinny ties. They could also outplay most of the bands on the circuit at the time in terms of technical proficiency. Frontman Paul Weller famously had the slogan “Fire and Skill” stenciled on the band’s Vox amplifiers. They could play and were proud of the fact.
The Jam were a very British sounding band. Taking their cues from the Northern Soul and the Mod movement from the previous decade, the image-conscious youngsters man- aged to set themselves apart from the rest of the young hopefuls of the era with grace and poise. And fire and skill. Much of their early set included ‘60s cherish standards such as Larry Williams “Slow Down,” Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme” (also covered by The Who), and Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” – all delivered with an unwavering passion and at breakneck speed. The music press, still unsure of where punk was heading, was quick to lambast The Jam for their ties to ‘60s music. In one particular review, Weller was called out for being a “revivalist.” The mouthy Weller famously responded by stating “How can I be a f***ing revivalist when I’m only 18?”
On the London live circuit, The Jam were becoming a hot ticket item. Polydor records, who passed on The Pistols and had dithered over signing The Clash were keen to have their own pet punk band and swiftly signed the Jam for a paltry 6,000 pound. The band at the time didn’t even have a bank account, and they naively asked for the advance to be paid
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