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

Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’

When Searching For The Young Soul Rebels was released in the summer of 1980 the UK singles chart was littered with funk and disco; the golden age of both had had their day, but the likes of Chic, Diana Ross, Gibson Brothers, Detroit Spinners, Brothers Johnson and Odyssey were still hugely popular. Soul, however, was a far more distant memory. Not since the heyday of Motown had authentic soul acts really bothered the Top 40. Funk and disco were hanging in, ska and mod was in the middle of a massive revival and then along came Dexys Midnight Runners, bringing with them a new soul vision.

To me, a 14-year old who was soaking up anything and everything, soul was something I’d just dipped my toe into when Geno stormed to No.1 in early 1980. I loved it, the passion, the image, the brass and in particular Kevin Rowland’s uncomfortable, blue-collar cool. There There My Dear was equally magnetic, teaching me valuable lessons I’d never learn in the classroom.

“If you’re so anti-fashion why not wear flares instead of dressing down all the same”.

Soon (not soon enough) I’d be wearing nothing but second hand clobber. I went to work in a ‘trendy’ menswear emporium, but a few of us only laughed at those who simply, stupidly, blindly followed fashion. It was bands like Dexys who taught me to think for myself.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels had so much to say, politically, culturally and from its opening minute of radio hiss and snippets of The Sex Pistols, The Specials and Deep Purple I devoured it as if my life depended on it, which at the time it pretty much did. Amongst blaring brass and cool keyboard stabs Rowland’s voice was brilliantly painful; harrowing, pleading, so different from what the charts were (by the time this album had its wicked way with me in 1981) becoming – a synthetic, soulless, new romantic upchuck. Whilst their hit singles were upbeat and immediate the album’s slower tracks are those that really reach the soul; The Teams That Meet In The Caffs, I’m Just Looking, I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried and in particular the brilliantly scornful Keep It.

For me the album was a springboard to soul and all manner of social references, but more than that it was a genuine inspiration and the more I listened the more I felt enlightened. That said, to love it and believe in it as I did was further evidence of not just a love of music, but an appreciation and acceptance of the fact that music was moulding my life, asking me as many questions as it was giving me answers. Soon I would be gorging on soul as part of an unrelenting 60s binge, but for now Dexys Midnight Runners were – much as Geno Washington was to Kevin Rowland – a perfect inspiration.