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
For my 14th birthday The Jam released Going Underground, and much appreciated it was too. Prior to this No.1 single (straight in at the top spot; no mean feat at the time) I’d dug The Jam, but had yet to become a Weller obsessive. That was about to change. I was looking for inspiration, for excitement and a hero to worship, and like many other impressionable teenagers who sought a role model from their TVs, radios and record players, Paul Weller was that man. A good choice. A very good choice indeed. Paul Weller was a passionate, gobby, working class, mod-obsessed, Beatles-inspired super cool motherfucker.
Prior to Going Underground The Jam’s previous two LPs Setting Sons and All Mod Cons had gone by relatively unnoticed. I was still largely a singles kid, obsessed with Top of the Pops and the Top 40, and Strange Town and Eton Rifles in particular were singles that had already turned me on to The Jam. The financial restraints of a 13 year-old meant albums were few and far between (I probably had a dozen or so, and a bunch of oldies I’d nicked from my dad just to beef up my collection) and it was The Jam’s next album Sound Affects released in late 1980 which was the first of theirs to feel the sweat of my eager mitts. Going Underground was a perfect single; screeching guitars, thumping bass riffs, hammond keys and spat out harmonies, but it was Weller’s passion and cool that won me and thousands of others over.
“You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don’t get what this society wants
I’m going underground…”
See, kids, our heroes were people we could relate to, speaking for the common man and the kids on the street. They were largely untouched by the corporate system that pukes out most of your modern day ‘idols’. Yes, there were also your watered down pretty boys and girls with nothing to say – some people always care more for style than substance – but in 1980 pop stars weren’t part of the system, instead they sung out against it. Fuck, even UB40 had a political conscience, Signing Off being a brilliant dub-heavy statement of disillusionment. Going Underground cemented The Jam’s position as the biggest band in the UK in 1980. For an awkward sod like Paul Weller to reach such heights was a sign of the times. Shit was happening and Weller told it how it was. Soon, a certain John Lennon would become my obsession, but until they split in ‘82 Weller, Foxton & Buckler were my world.