Patrick O'Flynn

Spotify Sunday: Going underground with The Jam

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The Jam were once described as the ‘last great English singles band’. For a group that released such classic chart-toppers as ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Town Called Malice’ that might seem fair enough, but it grievously underestimates their musical canon. The quality of their output on LPs, B-sides and even on recordings that were never released while the band existed is stunning.

 

So today I wish to take you beyond the obvious Jam anthems, glorious though they are, and present some neglected gems.

 

Away From The Numbers

The finest song on the debut In the City album sees the 18-year-old Weller ponder one of the major themes of his Jam years: the struggle to find authentic individual identity at a stage in life when most are clinging grimly to their peer group. 

‘Things are getting just too cosy for me,’ opens Weller defiantly to crashing guitar, driving bass and drums. Later in the song he admits: ‘I realised that I was the same, now this link’s breaking away from the chain.’ With astonishing, unsparing self-confidence he adds: ‘And all those fools I thought were my friends / They now stare at me and don’t see a thing / Until their life is over and they start to moan / How they never had the chance to make good / Away from the numbers.’ 

Youthful arrogance doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Life From A Window 

The notoriously ‘difficult’ second album was just that for the Jam. The best thing on This is the Modern World is Woking boy Weller’s joyous tribute to the love of his life: London. ‘I’m looking from a skyscraper / I’m standing on the post office tower / So I can see / All there is to see.’ A delight.

In The Crowd

From All Mod Cons (the one Jam LP feted by the critics), this track again explores the theme of individual versus group identity, but the guitar and bass lines have become more sophisticated. ‘When I’m in the crowd I don’t see anything, my mind goes a blank in the humid sunshine,’ begins Paul. Two-thirds of the way through the song catches fire in a made-for-pogoing explosion of pace and urgency.

When You’re Young 

The Jam did not create many great videos but made an exception for this brilliant song. Filmed in Queen’s Park, north-west London, kids from the local estates are happy to lollygag in the background as the band go through their paces. Even the normally taciturn Weller is seen to crack a smile. The atmosphere of optimism and youthful potential makes a heartbreaking backdrop to the brilliant diagnosis of the class system encapsulated in the lyrics: ‘You find out life isn’t like that / And it’s so hard to understand / Why the world is your oyster / But your future’s a clam that’s got you in its grip before you’re born.’

No-one In The World 

This song is a rarity that only gained widespread exposure on the superb Extras collection. I defy anyone from a working class or suburban English background to listen to this beautiful song without a lump in the throat. ‘Come down, your tea’s on the table,’ is the plaintive opening line and we are instantly transported back to the innocence of childhood with its comfy rituals. 

Burning Sky 

From the masterpiece Setting Sons, which is unaccountably never listed in top 100 LPs lists. The lyrics are set out in the form of a letter from one childhood friend to another explaining why he has drifted away. (‘Because we’ve all grown up and we’ve got our own lives / And the values that we had once upon a time / Seem stupid now ‘Cause the rent must be paid / And some bonds severed and others made’).

Liza Radley 

The B-side to the single ‘Start’, ‘Liza Radley’ is another song about struggling to sustain individual identity amid the pressure to conform. This time the protagonist is a girl who can be seen ‘creeping across summer lawns at midnight’. ‘And all the people in the town where we live say / She’s not quite right / But she don’t fit in with a small town.’ It’s a heartbreaking work.

Man In The Cornershop 

A highpoint of the Sound Affects LP, this dissection of the class system always reminds me of late-1970s Coronation Street, with its corner shop visited by the boss from the factory buying his cigars. Each rung of society envies the level above, notes Weller, though they all come together in church on Sunday to celebrate that ‘God created all men equal.’ The biting lyrical content contrasts with gentle, almost subdued instrumentation and singing. 

Tales From The Riverbank

This is Paul Weller’s Wind in the Willows moment, a superbly evocative recounting of a childhood spent roaming the lush Surrey countryside: ‘Paradise found down by the still waters / Joined in the race to the rainbow’s end / No fears no worries just a golden country / Woke at sunrise, went home at sunset.’

Ghosts 

‘Ghosts’ is a neglected masterpiece from The Gift LP and once more finds Weller reflecting on the failure of so many lesser-spirited people to reveal their authentic selves or to fulfil their potential as human beings, singing: ‘Why do you turn away and keep it out of sight? / Oh, don’t give up to your given roles / There’s more inside you that you won’t show.’ And most chillingly: ‘How do you feel at the end of the day? / Just like you’ve walked over your own grave.’ A few weeks later he broke up the band.

You can listen to the playlist on Spotify here.

Patrick O’Flynn is Chief Political Commentator for The Daily Express.