The Jam

TrackAlbum / Single
Down In The Tube Station At MidnightAll Mod Cons
Going UndergroundPolydor POSP 113
MondaySound Affects
Pretty GreenSound Affects
That's EntertainmentSound Affects
The Butterfly CollectorPolydor POSP 34
The Dreams Of ChildrenPolydor POSP 113
'A' Bomb In Wardour StreetAll Mod Cons
In The CityIn The City
Little Boy SoldiersSetting Sons
The Eton RiflesSetting Sons

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Contributor: Neil Waite

The Jam were a tidy band. They arrived on the music scene, released some incredible material, kept to a single line-up and then just packed up and left. Perhaps it wasn’t quite so simple, but putting together a top ten from 6 studio albums and 19 classic singles seems impossible, and I fear whatever I choose will warrant a wave of ‘What! No …’s?’ But after much deliberation I am unable to quite get it to ten so with special toppermost permission I am going for 11.

The Jam formed in Woking in 1972, long before their first LP. The line-up evolved until the stable trio of Weller, Foxton and Butler gelled in the mid-70s.

And though I was into punk from the outset, I didn’t initially take the Jam in. Then in a history lesson at school a mate told me he was off to buy the Jam release All Mod Cons – their third LP, he said. This interesting conversation ended with an agreement that I would borrow In The City (the first LP) in return for lending him The Clash. When we exchanged LPs I was disappointed to find the Jam one was on cassette, as my tape player was a primitive mono one.

And I was fazed by the cover, showing three men in smart matching suits – no ripped clothes or safety pins. The inside photo showed their smart matching Rickenbacker guitars. Could this be a punk band? I went on to discover they were never true punk, though often labelled as such – they were mod through and through in style and influences. I popped the cassette into the clunky machine and the first track, Art School, sounded through the tinny speaker. I wasn’t grabbed, and the last track on side 1, The Batman Theme was so awful I nearly didn’t play side 2. It’s a good job I did though, as In The City blew me away. Weller’s forceful staccato opening chords with Foxton’s thumping bass joining the riff really sounded good. What came to strike me about the whole album was its combination of vim and musicianship. The songs were melodious and I soon liked them. In The City went to the top of my wish list and two months later I had it in glorious vinyl, in stereo.

During these two months of saving I borrowed the second LP, This Is The Modern World, and the one my mate was buying that day – All Mod Cons. Modern World had got poor reviews, but though no song was as good as In The City I found it better overall. Foxton’s London Traffic and Here Comes The Weekend continued the melodic trend but this time with a bassier, better-produced sound. The highlight was Standards, but that’s not in bold because toppermost spots are at a premium for this band.

All Mod Cons came a year later and did for the Jam what London Calling did for the Clash. It included their biggest hit so far, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, getting to No.15 despite a BBC ban (for it’s ‘disturbing nature’). After the sound of a tube train, Foxton’s nervy but tuneful bass, Buckler’s jittery drums and Weller’s tense and well-placed guitar chords tell you at once that this is a masterly song. The compelling vocal tells the story of a mugging in a tube station, by thugs who “smelled of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right-wing meetings”. Amazingly the song nearly didn’t make the LP due to Weller not liking the arrangement, which just shows you can be a good songwriter but short on judgment. The four-and-a-half minute song was edited down for radio, which I disapproved of. The B-side was a superb version of the Who’s So Sad About Us, and the back of the sleeve shows a photo of Keith Moon, who died a month earlier.

All the songs on All Mod Cons are worth a toppermost entry but I’ll have just one more: ‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street. This power-riff composition reminded me of the Clash’s 1977 with its sliced-off chords on lead guitar.

By this time the Jam were the focus of conversations in the playground. So I eagerly awaited the next album, but before that came another treat – the seventh single, Strange Town, which was good, but not as good as the B-side, The Butterfly Collector, a change of tempo in which Weller seems to be having a go at groupies and rock star sex – “There’s tarts and whores but you’re much more…”

The next LP, Setting Sons, met the expectations of the playground, high as they were. It was the first Jam LP with a theme: dealing with British life and coming to terms with entry into adulthood. It included the anthem The Eton Rifles, a political song (as many of Weller’s compositions were) about the difficulties of protesting against the class system. When David Cameron claimed to like this song, Weller riposted: “Which part of it didn’t he get?” It reached No.3 in the charts, but unfortunately one week on Top of the Pops they got four youths in red coats to join them on stage, with some cringe-worthy moments as the four nodded and swayed with their hands over their genitals like a free-kick wall. Nevertheless a brilliant song. I’m also going to include the album track, Little Boy Soldiers, about being drafted to “shoot shoot shoot and kill the natives” for the British empire. An interesting atmospheric song in three parts with some great guitar riffs.

Next came the standalone single Going Underground, which went straight to No.1. An obvious inclusion but it can’t be left out. The razor-sharp guitar, powering bass and addictive tune caused the Jam to hit the heights. Unfortunately the brilliant The Dreams Of Children, as the twin A-side, was overlooked with radio stations preferring the other side. The Dreams Of Children opens with a backward sample from the Jam song Thick As Thieves, then a signature Weller riff crashes in. This was always meant to be an A-side, but with a natural hit like Going Underground face up on the turntable it was normally face down… until now.

I remember thinking the peak had been reached and that they couldn’t equal this. But I was proved wrong when Sound Affects came along. The album, with a tiled cover design reminiscent of today’s app menus, was stunning from start to finish, with one pop classic after another. The band enjoyed a run of chart success with Start going to No.1, but for me the highlight was Monday, a soulful song about looking forward to meeting a girl on that day.

Pretty Green kicks off the LP with a driving beat and bass riff and some nifty syncopated guitar. This is one of the rare Jam tracks that Weller still includes in his solo live sets. That’s Entertainment also charted well but as an import backed with a live version of Down In The Tube Station. The light arrangement with just bass and acoustic guitar is supported by brilliant vocals, as the phrase ‘that’s entertainment’ becomes increasingly ironic between verses that speak of the squalor and dullness of urban existence.

Sixteen months after Sound Affects the Jam released The Gift. By this time they could do no wrong, but even so I was disappointed. Soul and R&B influences were coming in strong and though I have no objection to those genres, the thing caught me by surprise. I enjoyed Town Called Malice but the funky Precious (the twin A-side) I couldn’t get on with.

After The Gift Weller went on to form the Style Council. Now if the Jam had split after Sound Affects I would have been gutted, but the inferior Gift somehow softened the blow.

I’ve seen Weller play a number of times and his shows are brilliant, but like many others I hope for the odd Jam number. Unlike some of us, though, Weller seems not to be nostalgic and Jam songs at his gigs are rare. But those songs stand the test of time and have inspired countless other bands.

So like a comet, the Jam rose up, shone brilliantly and then sunk back under the horizon. And that was it.

The Jam Fan – official website

Paul Weller official website

Bruce Foxton official website

Toppermost #474 – The Style Council

Toppermost #227 – Paul Weller

The Jam biography (iTunes)

Neil Waite, a teacher of 24 years, has written a number of posts for Toppermost. He lives in Hampshire, England and has always been a music and vinyl addict. He loves a wide variety of music genres but is particularly passionate about Punk. You’ll find him on twitter @NeilWaite1

TopperPost #414

7 Comments

  1. Mat Baker
    Feb 23, 2015

    About time too! I can’t believe it has taken this long for The Jam to feature. I didn’t feel that I knew their entire catalogue well enough to offer a top ten myself, so I am gratified that I know nearly all the songs here. I would have had Mr Clean in there – perhaps not their finest hour, but I love the sneering aggression of the song. I will check out the tunes on here that I am unfamiliar with… thanks for taking the time, Neil.

  2. Alan Leadbeater
    Feb 23, 2015

    Hi Neil, as always, a thoroughly comprehensive and accurate summary of probably the second biggest band of that period. However, it didn’t start well for me with The Jam as in my final year of 6th form (’77) someone carved a 6′ x 6′ ‘The Jam’ on the inside wall of the boys toilets. Being the only punk in the school, obvious, it must have been me! Now if it had been The Clash, maybe. The Headmaster immediately seized on the opportunity to echo what was happening around the country and I was banned from school for a week. Back to your list, with so many top tunes to choose from, I am surprised that our selections are pretty much the same. The only change I would make is swapping Eton Rifles for Strange Town – which has a resonance for me when I moved from Ipswich to London in 1978. Also if I could squeeze in a 12th selection, I would add Wasteland from Setting Sons LP. Talking of which, I saw ‘From the Jam’ last November at the Clapham Grand. I wasn’t sure how I would respond having seen The Jam quite a few times previously, most memorably at Reading Festival in ’78 when I heard most of Mod Cons for the first time and then at the Rainbow mid ’79 when they were probably at their height of popularity – I seem to recall that something embarassingly called the Mod Revival was in full swing. Anyway, From The Jam were excellent, they played the whole of Setting Suns in LP order and then ran through virtually all of their hits including Butterfly Collector. Russell Hastings looks like a young Weller, but more importantly really does sound like him – 1/3rd Jam or Tribute band – I didn’t really care – they sounded just great. Bruce Foxton may be thinning a bit on top but his growling bass was dominant throughout. Being in awe of Weller, I never really appreciated how important Bruce’s bass riffs were to most of their songs. If you are wondering, yes he can still do his trademark jumps. I am also one of the few people who seem to like the Bruce/SLF LPs. Finally, if only there was a gig featuring The Undertones, From the Jam and The Beat – that would be fabulous.

    • Neil Waite
      Feb 23, 2015

      Thanks Alan. Sounds like an outrageous miscarriage of Justice regarding the school incident. Still… A week off school? Every cloud etc. I have to admit that I struggled with Strange Town. One minute it was in, the next it was out. I do love the song but I think I love it more for the ending than I do the whole song which is why it slipped out of the eleven. Strange Town is another rare Jam song that appears occasionally on Weller’s solo set list – and boy he nails it big time. I resisted seeing ‘From The Jam’ for a quite a while but finally relented and saw them at Southampton Guildhall. Unfortunately it was just after Rick Buckler left so, like you it was a 1/3 and not 2/3 Jam. But as you say, cracking stuff and well worth seeing but overlooking the fact that they are a kind of tribute band – well sort of … A bit like Mike Yarwood doing an impression of himself (showing my age there). But, as you say, Foxton is an amazing bass player and has great stage charisma, just as Weller did in his Jam days – I too like Foxton’s contribution to SLF, especially on Flags and Emblems, which I always thought was an hugely underrated LP. As for Clapham Grand …. Well we know who’s playing there soon don’t we?

    • Peter Viney
      Feb 23, 2015

      Alan, I’m relieved that your punishment for vandalizing school property so outrageously was so lenient. If you’d been at a traditional grammar school ten years earlier, you would no longer be with us and all your associates would still be traumatized by memories of what they had done to you. But times changed. I came in by retrospect … I liked the Mod aspect of Style Council, and I like Paul Weller’s strong visual sense. But listening to The Jam, to me the truly outstanding element is bass guitar. Like John Entwhistle, perhaps more so, Bruce Foxton held a three piece together with staggering bass lines

  3. Glenn Smith
    Feb 24, 2015

    I’ll go straight into my missing favourites: Set the House Ablaze, Man in the Corner Shop, To Be Someone and In The Crowd, other than that I share a lot of favs with Neil. I’m very much of the “It all starts with Mod Cons” school of Jam fans and I think that Cons with Setting Sons and Sound Effects is their best period. Foxton had some good writing moments, the highlight being Smithers Jones, but this is Weller’s band,including their sound. Sure Foxton’s Rickenbacker bass playing is fantastic, but if he’d been replaced by the third album it wouldn’t have mattered, outrageous statement on my part I know and my Weller bias is showing. For us Australians who never saw them live Dig the New Breed is a great live album and another favourite of my mine worth checking is the four track ep that came with Snap as it includes a very cool live version of the Small Faces Get Yourself Together.

  4. Keith Shackleton
    Feb 25, 2015

    Neat job: there’s no way I could commit to a Jam ten, or even eleven! I would have to include Chicken in a Basket, a.k.a. Funeral Pyre, just too good… a vicious, blistering sonic attack. And I’m going to stick up for the ‘late period’ too. The Gift wasn’t really The Jam, was it? Obviously the rhythm section was present and correct, but the northern soul references, the Teardrop Explodes trumpets… it was Weller wanting out, wanting to change things, struggling with the expectations of his dad, of his bandmates and of the fans. Which he still has to put up with to this day: last time I saw him, around the time of State of the Nation, there were still old boys leaving a storming gig disappointed, and journalists echoing their disappointment the day after. I just wanted to slap them. This is what he is now, be happy for the guy. Anyhow, to the final Jam years… here’s three that would definitely push for a place on my list. No blood and thunder here: Ghosts, Carnation and The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow).

  5. David Lewis
    Feb 26, 2015

    I won’t class ‘Town Called Malice’ as a ‘What! No?’ because everyone knows it, but its absence from such a list reminds us all just how great the Jam was. Most bands would never top such a song. You’re right though Keith, Weller has earned his right to be and do whomever and whatever he wants.

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