Thursday, 4 November 2010
35 In The City - The Jam
Tracks : Art School / I've Changed My Address / Slow Down / I Got By In Time / Away From The Numbers / Batman Theme / In the City / Sounds From The Street / Non-Stop Dancing / Time For Truth / Takin My Love / Bricks And Mortar
This was bought in Leeds on a trip to change some library books for an essay on Anglo-Saxon England. It was a "make do" purchase; having found nothing better in the shop for a reasonable price I bought this one (which was now permanently in the mid-price range) to help complete my Jam collection. Having not been interested in the band until "David Watts" came out I didn't think either of their first two LPs would have much to offer so my expectations were fairly low. Incidentally, in between the Blue Zoo LP reviewed last and this, I bought "Reach The Beach" by The Fixx but soon passed on its colourless AOR and sold it on within a year.
This isn't going to be a particularly long review partly because the LP itself barely crosses the 30-minute mark and musically at least, variety isn't its strongest suit. Paul Weller, glaring zit-faced from the cover was only just 19 when this came out in May 1977 and that's where the interest lies; in pop, teen anthems written by a genuine teenager are rare. Even Townshend had turned 20 by the time he wrote My Generation. The Who are the most obvious influence on the LP with Weller and Rick Buckler in obvious thrall to their counterparts musically and Weller attempting to update Townshend's anthems for his generation.
The first track "Art School" gives an early hint at Weller's suspicion of punk rock's middle class antecedents (hello Mr Strummer) which would famously lead him to a temporary dalliance with the Tories as a gesture of defiance to the public school left. Here he's dispensing his tips for teens over Foxton's racing bassline and getting a pre-emptive strike in against the music press he never expected to like his band - "The media as watchdog is absolute shit".
The trouble with changing the world of course is that you can't afford to be tied down by ordinary commitments so in "I've Changed My Address" Weller is hiding out from a girl who wants to tie him down to "this matrimony thing". In fact she's probably better off without a guy who tells her "Better think of it this way.there's other fools to entice".
Next comes "Slow Down" (and you're already wishing they would) a Larry Williams R & B hit also covered by The Beatles. Weller snarls away while the band play at 100mph and that's all there is to say about it really.
"I Got By In Time" purloins the bassline from the mod fave Heatwave for a more reflective song about rejection with a second verse about his estrangement from original Jam member Steve Brookes. It suffers for the lack of a chorus.
"Away From The Numbers" has often been regarded as the first bona fide classic song by Weller.
Certainly in the context of the LP its more considered pace and melodic chorus stand out and it introduces some key themes in his songwriting. There's the antipathy towards pub culture -"old men who together at tables sit and drink beer" - which would reach its apogee in 1984 with The Style Council's Cappuccino Kid nonsense . The main theme of escape from the fools around him would of course blossom into Going Underground three years later. For me it doesn't quite make classic status because the music's still too unpolished and in obvious thrall to Won't Get Fooled Again .
The first side closes with a redundant version of Neil Hefti's Batman Theme which had already been done by The Who and falls into a long line of tiresome comic punk covers alongside the likes of The Dickies or Splodgenessabounds.
Side Two begins with the title track and first hit single which benefits from the best production on the LP and the prominence of Foxton who soubles up on a lot of the vocals and provides that unforgettable descending bassline. Weller took the title and the odd melodic phrase from a Who B-side and the plectrum-scraping sounds from their early hit Anyway Anyhow Anywhere but it's his own voice declaring a revolution of the young with a sidewipe at the police -" I hope they never have the right to kill a man" . We can smile at its naivety but its energy is undeniable. A classic punk single and definitely the best thing on the LP.
"Sounds From The Street" continues the theme with a more relaxed vibe, Foxton contributing some rudimentary Beach Boys harmonies over Weller's Rickenbacker arpeggios. Weller demonstrates a wobbly sense of geography with the line "The USA's got the sea but the British kid's got the streets " (well some poor kid in the Midwest is much further from the sea than anyone in Britain, Paul) As a song it starts out triumphalist and then becomes much more pessimistic "We're never gonna change a thing and the situation's rapidly decreasing" an early example of the restless unease which has has sustained his extraordinarily long career.
"Non-Stop Dancing" is a tribute to the Northern Soul scene which effectively acknowledges the musical theft from that scene's totemic record Out On The Floor by Dobie Gray by mentioning it in the lyrics. There's also a namecheck for James Brown in the lyrics an early example of the meta-pop practice which became endemic in the early 80s. It ends with Weller's first attempt at a real guitar solo.
"Time For Truth" is fun because it's so confused politically. Weller wants to attack then-PM "Uncle Jimmy" Callaghan (and this is the only song I know of that directly does so) but has no real idea of what he wants to say. Attacking the union man Callaghan for supposedly sleeping in silk sheets is ironic from the man who would be hobnobbing with the non-artisan likes of Kinnock and Livingstone a few years later. And the line "Whatever Happened to the Great Empire ? " is unmistakably a protest from the Right rather than the left. He then attacks him for prevaricating on the case of Liddle Towers, a man who died after an encounter with police in 1976 although with no majority to speak of it's difficult to charge Callaghan with anything in this regard. It would be good to know when they last performed it. Musically , the jagged staccato guitar is quite interesting
"Takin My Love" is the oldest Jam song here being originally co-written with Brookes but presumably re-worked enough to justify taking his name off the credits. An early effort is what it sounds like too with its embarrassing sexist lyrics and Weller's attempts to imitate Wilko Johnson's guitar-playing.
"Bricks And Mortar " rounds things off - a fuzzy reactionary protest about the reconstruction of Woking that runs out of ideas after a couple of verses (with their strange possibly coincidental echo of Big Yellow Taxi ) and rounds the album off with half a minute of feedback sounds.
It's difficult to believe that many people nowadays would put this one on their turntable in preference to one of their later LPs and in some ways it , together with the horrors of The Style Council and the imminent entrance of a new British guitar band to my affections, helped to put The Jam in mothballs for me for a number of years. Certainly we have a long way to go before I complete the collection. It's a necessary part of the band's story -and punk's - but not a classic.