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2023 Albums Thing 186 - The Jam “In The City”

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Now we get into what could well be described as the most important band in my life. Right time, right place for me and I was lucky enough to see them live on many occasions. They are still the best live band I’ve ever seen and I seriously doubt I’ll ever see anyone better. Their records shaped the way this teenager thought about a lot of things and their lyrics are (sadly) still relevant to the world this grown adult lives in over 40 years after they split up…ladies and gentlemen, I present to you “the best band in the fucking world” (thanx John) THE JAM !

It was the summer of 1977. For this then 14 year old Punk Rock was happening all around me. It was one of the most musically exciting times of my life. My Mom was going away for a few days with her friends, to a seaside town whose name now escapes me, and asked if I wanted her to bring anything back for me. I’m sure she meant a stick of rock or a bag of those mad boiled sweets that looked like pebbles on the beach but I suggested “If you come across a copy of The Jam’s LP “In The City” you could bring that back for me”. And bless her, she did ! I’m not sure either of us realised what a momentous moment that would turn out to be for me but I’ll attempt to explain over the next few records.

Punk was coming at us in waves, it felt like every day there was a new band or a new single release to find out about. The Clash, Sex Pistols, Generation X, The Adverts, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Jam. Now I know there may be some of you thinking “The Jam…Punk ?” cos this story has been (re)written casting them being a Mod (revival) band. Well listen kid, this was 1977, The Jam had given us the singles “In The City” and “All Around The World” and no-one was talking about Mods back then (apart from an older generation of gnarly, jealous (?) journo’s remarking on their suits and a sound reminiscent of The Who) this was Punk Rock matey.

This brand new LP was placed on my deck, the needle was applied to it and…4 lone chords and a shout of “One, Two, Free, Four” plunged us into “Art School”

Anything that you want to do, anyplace that you want to go, Don't need permission for everything that you want

Yep this was Punk Rock alright, fast, feisty, a bit shouty and no sappy love songs here, we got lyrics about doing what you want, seizing opportunities, making yourself heard but hurry up cos this time doesn’t last. 

The Jam were different to other Punk bands. They’d paid their dues playing working mens clubs and weddings, they could play a bit, but Paul Weller, the bands, at the time of this albums release, 19 year old singer, leader and chief songwriter, was looking for more and found it in his trips up to London and experiencing the Punk explosion as it happened. There are songs on this album that certainly pre-date Weller’s Punk conversion (“I’ve Changed My Address” and “I Got By In Time” are basically about breakups of friendships, “Non Stop Dancing” is about a night at a Northern Soul allnighter, “Takin’ My Love” reveals Weller’s Beatles/Feelgood’s leanings) and there are covers of Larry Williams “Slow Down” (also covered by The Beatles) and the “Batman Theme” (also covered by the Who). 

But then there are Weller’s newer Punk inspired songs, the aforementioned “Art School”, their debut single “In The City”

In the city there's a thousand faces, all shining bright, And those golden faces are under twenty-five

They wanna say, they gonna tell ya, About the young idea, You better listen now you've said your bit

“Sounds From the Street” … “The USA’s got the sea, yeah but the British kids have got the streets

“Time For Truth” … “And you think, you've got it sussed out? And you think, that we're brain washed, no way? And you're trying for a police state, So you can rule our bodies and minds?

“Bricks and Mortar” … “Bricks and mortar reflecting social change, Cracks in the pavement reveal cravings for success

All this anger is wrapped up in a sound that echoed Dr Feelgood, The Who, The Beatles, the Small Faces and The Jam’s own take on all that they’d learned playing in those working men’s clubs. 

But the real gem on “In The City” is what can in hindsight be seen as Weller’s first great song, “Away From The Numbers”. OK numbers is Mod slang from the 60’s (a disparaging term for lesser Mods used by Faces (the top Mods) who looked down on the badly dressed younger kids) so my earlier argument is beginning to crumble (hey I’m not saying there isn’t a Mod influence here but this is most definitely a Punk Rock album). The lyrics find Weller wanting to break out of what’s expected of him, control his own life and destiny, follow his own path and don’t leave it too long or the moment is gone. All this set among splashing cymbals, crunching chords and a performance by a 3 piece that shouldn’t sound this BIG.

I was the type who knocked at old men (History's easy)

Who together at tables sit and drink beer (Somewhere is really)

Then I saw that I was really the same, So this link's breaking away from the chain

And just to prove that it’s great to aspire to all this but it’s not always so easy to achieve it we finish on a chant of “Reality's so hard, reality's so hard”.

I was hooked from the start. For the next 5 years The Jam were MY band (many other thousands of people claim that too but no, they were MY band). I hung on every word, note, interview, picture and release, in fact they still are MY band. They developed into the biggest band in Britain, their sound grew and expanded but here, in 1977, they were another new Punk band trying to make their mark among all the others appearing on a seemingly daily basis. Thankfully I got it.

Away From The Numbers - https://youtu.be/EzLmtMg1Weg

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