This is The Jam’s finest moment. I don’t mean by this that they went downhill from here but this is the point where The Jam stepped up from being the New Wave also rans they were in early 1978 to become the most important band in the UK. This is the point at which Paul Weller introduced himself as our generations spokesman (whether he liked that or not), or our Ray Davis, a razor sharp interpreter of ordinary peoples lives, hopes and fears. When “All Mod Cons” was released Paul Weller was 20 years old !
It wasn’t easy getting to this point. Following the release of “This Is The Modern World” The Jam were packed off to the USA to tour supporting Blue Öyster Cult (who the fuck thought that was a good idea !!!), unsurprisingly it did not go well and left the band with a huge distrust of the USA for the rest of their time. Polydor were applying pressure for new material, they wanted hit singles. Paul Weller by all reports was feeling the pressure and suffering writers block. The three singles released between “This Is The Modern World” and “All Mod Cons” featured eight songs, just 3 by Weller and only one of those was an A-side (although that was “Down In the Tube Station At Midnight” so…).
Original Producer Chris Parry (replaced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven after he told Bruce Foxton he wasn’t a songwriter and should forget it and wait for Paul to come up with something) rejected most of the first batch of songs Weller offered up (rumoured titles like “I Want To Paint” and “On Sunday Morning” have never turned up in the Polydor vaults, even when A&R man Dennis Munday scoured them for the “Direction, Reaction, Creation” box set) and he had to go away and write more…thankfully it transpired. The songs he came back with make up one of my top five all-time favourite albums.
It's a record full of great characters. The rock star on the slide in “To Be Someone…”, “Mr Clean” in his suburban idyll, the daydreamer “Billy Hunt”, a guy and his girlfriend in trouble at the Vortex on Wardour Street, and the tragic hero of Weller's first truly magnificent moment, "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight"waiting for a tube to get back to his wife with a curry and a bottle of plonk but having his life smashed by drunken right-wing thugs. They even threw in 2 ballads ("English Rose”, mine and Deb’s wedding song, and "Fly") something unheard of in these angry young man, post-'77 days.
"Down In the Tube Station At Midnight" and "A Bomb In Wardour Street" (the reason to this day I don’t have to think about how to spell apocalypse) describe what a scary and violent place Britain could be back in the late ’70’s “I’m standing on the Vortex floor, My heads been kicked in and blood’s starting to pour”. They are both songs that give you a vivid picture of the times, Weller brilliantly writing in a very British, “Play For Today” 22" black and white TV style. How great and vivid an opening line is “The distant echo of faraway voices boarding faraway trains”.
To temper that violence Weller gives us the daydreamer "Billy Hunt”, which was originally slated as a single (introduced as such on a BBC “In Concert” broadcast in June ’78) possibly until Polydor discovered what Weller meant by Billy Hunt (you can work it out I’m sure !), “Billy Hunt's is a magical world, Full of strippers and long-legged girls”; the ever hopeful "The Place I Love”, where he's "making a stand against the world" in the imaginary place he goes where everything is right with the world but there are still “those who would hurt us if they heard”; "In The Crowd" addresses consumerism “When I'm in the crowd, I can't remember my name, And my only link is pots of Walls ice cream”; “Mr Clean" is a sharp pointed stick jabbed at the British class system “You miss page 3, but the Times is right for you, And mum and dad are very proud of you”.
Then, as you were listening, again,there was the artwork to drink in. It told of Sta-prest, monkey boots, targets, scooters and there was that title, which Weller has since admitted was just an excuse to get the word Mod on an album cover.
Mod ? What's that ?
And some of us started following up on what Mod was and discovered he was dripping us a bit of Brit Psychedelia with “In The Crowd” and its backwards guitars, giving us a Ray Davies song and almost leading us to The Kinks in case we hadn’t already found our way there. Weller was/is a Mod and as much as he didn’t like the tribalism and uniform of the Mod Revival it’s undeniable that it was he (and the release of The Wo’s movie “Quadrophenia”), either via albums like “All Mod Cons” or his support of a raft of bands that would form the musical arm of the Mod Revival (New Hearts/Secret Affair, the Purple Hearts, The Chords), that led us there. It's something that has left a mark on me.
Because of what Paul Weller gave us on this record, which was much more than just the music in the grooves, I found soul music and The Small Faces, 501's with 1" turn ups, Ska/Blue Beat and the thrilling sound of a Hammond B3. So there is much, much more that I owe to him and this band than just this record...but just this record would have been more than enough.
In The Crowd - https://youtu.be/B_j0HjSidIk?si=vQUEoPoyuEPKFKIB