Six albums in one box.
As an eight year old, the news of The Jam’s split in 1982 should have passed me by. Like most kids of that age, football and my Action Man figures were way more important than some old band, if you had an Action Man yourself you’d understand why, it had moving eyes and everything.
I started buying my own 7” singles in ’82 but I’d already inherited a collection, mainly hand me downs of The Stranglers, Elvis aping creep Alvin Stardust and my most cherished copy of ‘Dare’ by Human League for Christmas, 81. I was aware of The Jam and other bands like Madness and The Specials by hearing the older local Mod kids raving on about them but I was pre-occupied by Wham, Depeche, The Pretenders and the like, The Jam were for old people.
I became very aware of The Jam on the day they announced their split, going down to Susan Hornsea’s house to play in the garden 5 doors down like most days, the house on this occasion had a bizarrely tense edge to it. Dave, Susan’s older brother, who seemed ancient at the time but judging on his pubey failure of a moustache, he was probably no more than 16 was locked in his room. He’d been crying and there were no signs of it ending, he’d also smashed a bunch of stuff which lay in pieces on the floor, cheap plates and the supposed ‘good cups’, their mum dutifully tidying the mess up as I arrived.
Dave eventually resurfaced, sullen, with eyes of red and revealed the reason for his anguish; The Jam had split up. To see someone older than you crying is something of a shock, to find out the trigger for those tears is because a band has split even more so. This reaction made me realise how much of a big deal The Jam were, how essential they were to some people although Dave was probably being a bit of a cry baby.
The Jam have since been repackaged to high heaven, box sets, regular best ofs, expanded re-issues and now this ‘Classic album’ in a box, the one thing that sets this apart from other issues is that, like the recent box set of albums by The Smiths, they’re encased in vinyl aping gatefold covers, no expanded versions, no new liner notes…it’s literally the albums in a box. It doesn’t have the same quality of the aforementioned Smiths box, that was lavishly packaged and felt like a quality product, you even got a badge and obviously the music on the whole was way better.
When the box set ‘Direction, Reaction, Creation’ exists, is there a reason for this box set to exist? Nah, not really, but with Christmas coming up, it’s a great stocking filler and I’m sure Dave, wherever he is now, will be opening it come the 25th.
So what of its contents? My personal faves are ‘Sound Affects, their pop album, their most Beatles’ referencing of the lot and hello… the singles ‘That’s Entertainment’ and ‘Start’ are on this even better than that is their final album, ‘The Gift’. It’s the sound of a band and its leader moving in different directions, the band, limited in skill trying to stick to the sound it knows best and leader trying to make the band sound like anything other than The Jam, it’s their Stax album, their strongest indication of Paul Wellers love of northern soul, it’s short , snappy and as funky as some skinny guys from Woking could possibly get, a pre-curser for Weller’s next band, The Style Council.
So what are the best tracks? There’s no point listing the classics here, if you know The Jam, these are done to death, if you don’t know The Jam, they’ll probably be the first tracks you hear. All six albums contain some real classics; here are the best of the rest…..
‘Away from the Numbers’ (From ‘In the City’)
The first indication of how Weller could knock out an anthemic tune when he chose to. This one, a tale of wanting to break out from the rat race and not repeat the mistakes of his peers slows down the pace of the frenetic punk sounds of the rest of their debut album, half way through, the tune breaks down and relocates George Harrison and John Lennon vocal harmonies to the dole queue in London, greatness ensues.
‘Sounds from the street’ (From ‘In the City’)
Although acknowledged as being an integral part of the bands DNA, the actual sound of The Who isn’t referred to that often, this being the most explicit cribbing from one of their influences. An uplifting declaration of optimism given to a Country where at the time there was none, “The USA’s got the scene, yeah but the British kid’s got the streets, it’s something new, it’s something young for a change”. No wonder the kids were so galvanised, Rick bloody Wakeman wasn’t going to do that was he?
‘English Rose’ (From All Mod Cons)
Much discussion come from this one, a tender acoustic ballad which opens with the sound of the sea and incoming ferries into the ports of the UK, is this song about a past lover, or a love letter to the country of his birth whilst feeling homesick whilst on tour? Weller has said it’s a literal song so ex-lovers it is, but it means whatever to whoever, if you hear it, it’s there.
‘In the Crowd’ (From All Mod Cons)
A mid paced track incorporating Macca-esque basslines and psychedelic guitars with a surging anthemic chorus. This track gets going halfway through with Weller utilising the backward guitar scrawling sound Hendrix used to jaw-dropping effect on ‘Are you experienced’, it’s a glorious three minutes of three piece losing themselves in their instrument of choice. On the outro Weller references the chorus of a previous track “Away from the numbers”, linking the two songs together, particularly in sentiment.
Mr Clean (From All Mod Cons)
A particularly bilious rant from Weller against the corporate Times reading, Cambridge attending man; deliciously dark in sound, Weller’s lyrics are rabid but brilliantly observational; “Daylight dawns, you wake up and yawn, Mr Clean. A piece of toast from the one you love most, and you leave”. After David Cameron’s endorsement of The Jam classic ‘Eton Rifles’, despite the lyrical content being in direct opposition of people like him, Weller would do well to re-introduce this one into his live set, especially with the beautifully threatening couplet; “I hate you and your wife and if I get the chance I’ll fuck up your life…Mr Clean”
Pretty Green (From Sound Affects)
The shuffling beat and Niles Rogers aping basslines of ‘Pretty Green’ are The Jam at their poppiest, musically at least with a gloriously throw-away lyric about getting money, spending money and getting stuff in return then do it again. The deal breaker here is the four sitar strokes at the end of each guitar riff during the middle eight, such a minute detail which elevates the song from great to classic.
Monday (From Sound Affects)
For all that’s made of the limitations of The Jam’s rhythm section, they worked as a cohesive unit effectively, none more so than on this sweet song for lovers, a highlight of ‘Sound Affects’
Ghosts (From The Gift)
One of The Jam’s absolute best songs; no drum beat, just a tracker keeping time, Weller giving it all Chic guitars and a a woozy bass with lyrics trying to entice someone to give coupling up with him a go; “SO why you frightened, can’t you see that it’s you? At the moment there’s nothing so there’s nothing to lose, lift up your lonely heart and walk right on through”. It’ short, simple and the sweetest moment of theirs.
‘The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong’ (From The Gift)
Broadening their sound with flamenco guitars and steel drums, this track is the nearest sounding thing The Jam released to the material of Weller’s subsequent band The Style Council. This jaunty number is the cheekiest song in The Jam’s catalogue and it masks the anger of the lyrics brilliantly. Rallying against the eyesore council blocks that went up in the seventies, Weller vents his spleen from the outset, “Letting loose the lunatics, wasn’t the greatest idea, giving them plans and money to squander should have been the worst of our fears. Perils of council estate living is documented throughout, washing that’s stolen when it gets dark, screaming children, broken dreams, Weller summing it up perfectly; “If people were made to live in boxes, god would have given them string, to tie around themselves at bed time to stop their dreams falling through the ceiling”. Even more depressing is the fact that even now, thirty years later, the story told here is still an everyday one for thousands in the UK.
Carnation (From The Gift)
What initially sounds like a sign of Weller softening with age with a soppy song, the darkness of ‘Carnation’s is easily missed. The moody organ gives the song a funereal sound behind the soulful crooning of Weller, another strong sign of what was to come with his subsequent band, and the lyrics are some of his darkest; “If you gave me a dream for my pocket, You’d be plugging in the wrong socket, With me there’s no room for the future, With me there’s no room with a view at all”. A song so strong even Liam Gallagher couldn’t make a botch job of a cover version…although he tried his best.
All that is left to be said,is that with the passage of time, I forgot ‘eagle eyes’ n’ stuff, but never the music and definitely not this trio of musicians. 9.5