The Jam - In the City (Polydor, 1977)
The Jam - I Got By In Time
The Jam - Non-Stop Dancing
This is all Dickie VD's fault. Recently, whilst commenting on the Fall and Rise of the Arctic Monkeys, he compared their live show to that of those epochal "revivalist" R n' B masters, The Jam. Of course, this sent me on a huge trip back to my own musical youth of 1999 when 'Direction, Reaction, Creation' was on constant rotation to the extent where I almost began to think 'This is the Modern World' was a decent album (that naivete has since been replaced with a constant desire to box Bruce Foxton's ears for inflicting 'Don't Tell Them You're Sane' on unsuspecting publicans) and decided that 'Down In A Tube Station at Midnight' was the best pop single of the 1970s; an opinion which I stand by today. Hence, this brief sampling of hidden delights from the band's debut LP, 'In The City'. This was preferred to a run through their only live LP, 'Dig The New Breed', due to the fact that I neither possess nor have even heard a single note of that particular album. The fact that it would have engendered a cumbersome discussion attempting to compare the two bands when I possess close to zero knowledge of those pesky Yorkshire simians or their rambunctious stage routines was also a factor.
Just before I provide a quick rundown of the brace on display today, I wish to provide a small rant on a subject that always niggles at me whenever The Jam pop up in conversation. This is fair warning to you all so if you don't wish to be dragged into my own personal greivances toward musical journalism then push forward my friends to the Gates of Valhalla of the next paragraph! There will be gore, gravy and gamecock for all who wish to sample their various delights. This little niggle to which I have previously referred is the tendency of journalists to pigeonhole the band, certainly in its embryonic stages before the facelift of 'All Mod Cons', as Punk. Not that the labelling of an artist as such somehow demeans them or their music in any way but often it misses the point. Yes, Weller did attempt to convey an image of England as occupying a culture of self-imposed decay accompanied by an entrenched class divide that bordered on Marxist dialectic materialism. As a result of this, his intial lyricism was overshadowed by his love affair with London: the centre of this perceived class struggle. Both of these traits would be shared by other bands in that year of '77 with the Pistols' anthems of anti-monarchism and insurrection, The Clash's portrait of the Notting Hill Riots, The Ruts' 'Babylon's Burning' was framed by the sounds of urban chaos and Siouxsie Sioux would, like the Jam, immerse herself in historic imagery (albeit totalitarian in her case). What people tend to forget though is that punk was a faltering step toward post-modernism bordering on deconstructionism which would flourish later as post-punk. Sioux wasn't a Nazi - she once responded to a gang of skinheads appearing at her gig by walking onstage wrapped in the Star of David, called them all an extremely naughty word, and began to belt out 'Israel' - but she courted this imagery which itself had been perverted by National Socialism and turned it on its head. The Pistols' were a product of McLaren's intellectualism which sought to respark the Paris Riots' ideological war. The bands often flaunted the de rigeur
inability to play their instruments, take for example Vini Reilly (who we all know can play the guitar wonderfully well) playing with The Nosebleeds in 'Ain't Bin To No Music School'. It was John Cage anti-music brought to a cruder, universal level. Whereas, Punk was post-modern, The Jam were blatantly a product of Modernism with their pure adrenaline double quick Northern Soul and appropriation of 60s Mod culture. Not to say that they were over on the other side of the spectrum in the camp of "revivalism" (a finger you can point squarely at the Lambrettas, The Merton Parkas, and even Secret Affair) with Weller himself answering such claims with a sing round his neck stating "How can I be a revivalist when I'm only eighteen?". Quite right too. As well as all this, you had Weller's constant political posturing as he sought to weave and bob through the debris kicked up by Punk's Size 12 Doc Marten boots with his statement that the band would vote Tory in the next election and the subsequent, unfortunate association with the National Front.
Well that's that done with. 'In the City' is labelled one of the greatest punk singles of all time and that I can live with. It's triumphant shout of 'Youth explosion!!!" with grindstone Rickenbacker chords and simplistic rhythm earn it such an honour but, to be honest, it has more of the early Who to it than anything else. 'I Got By In Time' is certainly not anything resembling punk with the guitar hauled back to allow the rhythm to push the song along. If you substituted Weller's Surrey snarl for Little Johnnie Taylor, Dobie Gray or Brenton Woods and kicked the tempo down two dozen beats or so and you would have something that could have proudly graced the floorboards of Wigan discos. Having said that, I love Weller's vocal on this track as he opts for a smoother delivery without losing the underlying distaste. 'Non-Stop Dancing' is pure R n' B with a choppy blues progression and Bruce Foxton raiding in with his trademark backing vocals. It's nice to include something that trades off between a pastiche of the band's musical influences and a subtle yet positive comment upon the modern culture where dancing becomes a tonic for the other ills of society. Weller's mellowed with age into what some self-aggrandising tart termed "dad rock". Check this out and hear what it was like when he was doing it for the kids.
NB: Bugger. Sorry about the lack of Non-Stop Dancing for 24 hours. Neglected to check if it had uploaded. Apologies to you all for my absent mindedness.
Buy - The Jam - In the City