The Jam – ‘The Gift’

If I had to pick my favourite album by The Jam I’d have to go for All Mod Cons, but as a pre-pubescent 12-year old it came a few years too early. By 1982 and with my schooldays coming to an end, The Gift was The Jam’s sixth and final long-player and whilst not their finest, there were new sounds and new influences that felt fresh, leading to a voyage way beyond its eleven tracks.

Soul and Motown had already become regular visitors to my turntable, but The Gift introduced me to a whole new scene. I was about to discover northern soul. Weller was never shy of nicking a riff, and with Trans-Global Express he could be accused of daylight robbery. I had little knowledge of northern, and much less than that of World Column’s pounding So Is The Sun, but I, like many others I sourced Weller’s inspiration and used it as my own.

The Gift, in patches, was heavy on the funk, none more so than on Precious, a double A-side single with soul-stomper Town Called Malice and the band’s third UK No.1 single. With northern, funk and stabs of jazz appearing for the first time, it was an album less immediate than its predecessor Sound Affects, but more an exciting, eclectic mix of new, old sounds. Weller was clearly getting into his early mod roots, seeking out the jazz riffs and digging the French café culture. This was Weller’s first foray into a different kind of early 80s new romantic.

Whilst Weller was delving further into his mod roots and broadening The Jam’s sound he was still a master of writing a classic, and Carnation was up there with his best. Beautiful, inward looking and riddled with self-doubt, it struck a chord with my ever-growing shy and introverted softer side. Then, to counter that emotion I would crank up the volume to the max to bring in the album’s rousing finale, The Gift. Then I’d play it again, and again almost as if to instil its positive message and can do attitude to ward off my self-doubt and shyness. Not for the first time and certainly not the last Weller was shaping my outlook on life and the way I lived it.

“Move – move – I’ve got the gift of life
Can’t you see it in the twinkle of my eye
I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down
I gotta keep movin’ – I gotta keep movin’
All the time that gets wasted hating
Why don’t you move together and make your heart feel better”

– The Gift

The Who – ‘Quadrophenia’

Emotionally, as a soon to turn 16 year-old, my internal thoughts, insecurities and voyage of discovery were just about to go into overdrive. The usual teenage dramas were prominent, fuelled and fanned by the music and lyrics that I was consuming daily with fevered gusto. Over thirty years on and I would say with some certainty that the one album that has done more to develop and change, to challenge and question, to confuse and ultimately to inspire me is Quadrophenia, The Who’s glorious homage to the Mod scene of the 1960s and Pete Townshend’s story of Jimmy’s own tortuous voyage of discovery.

I wasn’t and never have been a Mod, but emotionally, musically and stylistically I felt a connection, a solid bond, initially through The Jam and ensuing influences, but primarily through Quadrophenia, the film and this incredible album. By the time I saw the film I’d developed a love of soul, motown and much of the mod influenced sixties. Watching, and then listening to Quadrophenia was musically majestic, from the sound of the first waves crashing and Entwhistle’s thunderous bass, but emotionally it acted as a catalyst for an introspective discovery that I was already struggling to keep pace with. I devoured it. It challenged me, changed me and for all the questions it asked, it gave me an identity and in Jimmy a character to empathise with and to be inspired by.

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Lyrically the album is full of confusion, of inner turmoil and insecurities. It’s about fitting in and the journey into adulthood, from the mind of a troubled soul, disillusioned by society, by people and friends he was desperate to identify with and gain respect from. At times it’s heartbreaking, at others brilliantly provocative, and as a shy 16 year-old wannabe cool-kid exactly what I wanted from an album.

Why do I have to be different to them? Just to earn the respect of a dance hall friend. We have the same old row, again and again. Why do I have to move with a crowd of kids that hardly notice I’m around? I have to work myself to death just to fit in. – ‘Cut My Hair’

Girls of fifteen sexually knowing, the ushers are sniffing eau-de-cologning. The seats are seductive, celibate sitting. Pretty girls digging, prettier women. – ‘5:15’

And amongst the angst, at times it was simply beautiful…

The beach is a place where a man can feel he’s the only soul in the world that’s real. – ‘Bell Boy’

Only love can make it rain the way the beach is kissed by the sea. Only love can make it rain like the sweat of lovers laying in the fields. – ‘Love Reign O’er Me’

The music is as affecting and constantly stimulating as the lyrics. From gentle strings and atmospheric coastal sound waves, into synthesised head-fucks and thunderous, climactic melodic orgasms. And Roger’s screaming… pleading, searching. The combination of Moon and Entwhistle’s monstrous rhythms and Townshend’s screeching guitars has never been more dynamic and impactful, whilst the perfect use of synths and sound effects adds depth and theatre.

If there is essential listening for a 16 year-old, this is it. Fuck X-Factor and The Voice, fuck Miley fucking Cyrus, fuck Justin Bieber and Wrong Direction. Fuck piss-weak manufactured bullshit… stick Quadrophenia on your ipod and go on a beautiful, intense and all-consuming departure from mindless banality into your real, emotional inner-self. Be inspired.

Marvin Gaye – ‘Anthology’

By early 1982 my love affair with the Top 40 was all but over. I still consider 1979-81 to be a fantastic era for music; blessed with the energy of punk, lyrically influenced by the societal issues of the day and stylistically inspired by 60s, ska and roots – at least the stuff I loved anyway. By ’82 synthesisers and emotionless new romantics with fake plastic sentiment had replaced Dexys, The Jam and The Specials. Fuck that. I was looking elsewhere for inspiration and musical kicks. I was heading back to the 60s.

Marvin Gaye was next. A few of his singles were well known to me inspiring me to make this 3-disc mountain of classic Marvin my next purchase and new obsession. It contained everything from his early Motown releases up to and including gems from his classic What’s Going On, the tracks from which soon became my focus. Marvin Gaye sung like an angel, oozing laid-back cool. Duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tami Terrell just brought smiles, epitomising happiness through perfect vocal harmony. But it was those later tracks that I couldn’t resist – this was cool with a conscience – groundbreaking for the Motown hit factory.

Once more this was my classroom. Inner City Blues, What’s Going On and Mercy Mercy Me raised my conscience, despite being penned ten years previously these issues were still real and even more relevant. “Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas, fish full of mercury / What about this overcrowded land / How much more abuse from man can she stand?” And this music was beautiful; notes were gently caressed, beats were blessed, flowing with ethereal refrain and Marvin’s vocals… stunning, soulful and sublime.

My love of Marvin Gaye still remains after more than 30 years. He led the way in developing black music both musically and politically, changing attitudes and beliefs whilst influencing his and future generations. I look at this album cover and I feel joy, I feel awakening and I feel love.