The 10 best songs by The Jam by Rick Buckler

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The live shows are the dominant memories I have of those five years with The Jam, because we did so many, and I have lots of fond memories of touring. After that, it’s mainly memories of fleetingly getting into the studios and recording stuff. But the enduring overall memories of that time are all the firsts, because it was all such a continual rise. So getting signed for the first time, getting the first single out, getting the first album out, being on Top of the Pops for the first time, getting our first Number One – they’re the things I recall the most. It seemed to just snowball all the way through from 1977 to 1982. We worked incredibly hard throughout that period. It’s just a real shame that it ended probably a little too soon – certainly for myself and Bruce (Foxton, bass and backing vocals).

Paul (Weller, guitar and vocals) said he wanted to leave in the summer of 1982. He said that he was on a treadmill and he wanted to get off. It seemed like a ridiculous reason to break up the band, but we could understand the pressure. We were all under pressure from the record company (Polydor) to produce the product and promote it by touring. The more successful you become, the more demand there is on your time and your resources. But I think looking back on it, we just didn’t have the managerial strength to stand up to the record company, who were calling most of the shots back then. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, as they say, and we did try to talk to Paul. We said, ‘Why don’t you take a year out and do something else. Let’s take control of our career a bit more.” But unfortunately he’d made his mind up, and that was that. So we worked our way through that final tour and released a live album (Dig The New Breed) to get us out of the record contract. And then it all sort of finished in December of ‘82.

I’m obviously very proud of everything that went on during that period though, and of everything that we achieved. But let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what comes to mind…

10. ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS (single, 1981) We released this song as a non-album single just before The Gift came out. It’s one of my favourite recordings. I actually did the photo shoot for the sleeve cover, which is also why I’m fond of it. We were always pushing to get a different take on something for a three-piece band, which is why we added stuff like brass in the studio. And I think it worked. We’d often go off on little tangents and explore the possibilities of what we could do, and I like Absolute Beginners because it’s so punchy.

**9. GHOSTS **(The Gift, 1982) This one I like because it offered a real drumming challenge. It could’ve probably been done with just an acoustic guitar, because the whole track is so fragile and translucent – just like a ghost. So from a drummer’s point of view, I thought I’d do the minimum and make it as thin as possible. And if you listen to the song there’s very little in there. I’m proud of the fact that I approached the song in such a minimal way and managed to work within its parameters.

8. STRANGE TOWN (Snap!, 1983) A really driving song, married with the lyrical content of finding yourself as a stranger in a strange town – I just loved playing this one live. It always went down really well, and I’ve got some great memories of the live side of it. The video is probably one of the worst ones we ever did though. There’s an art form to music videos that we never really got, but they were only ever a promotional tool for us, and never really our forte. It’s interesting to look back on though.

7. MAN IN THE CORNERSHOP (Sound Affects, 1980) I think this is one of our best overall songs all round. I think the lyrics are great. It’s a lovely little story told in a three-minute package, and it’s just an ideal song for me. I don’t know whether it’s the ultimate Jam song, but it’s certainly a favourite of mine and when I talk to the fans they seem to take to this one too. There’s something in the song that I’m sure people can relate to as well.

6. TALES FROM THE RIVERBANK (Snap!, 1983) It’s certainly an atmospheric song this one, and definitely a tip of the hat to Ray Davies and The Kinks. It’s such a British song as well. There’s a certain sensibility with writing songs, where you tend to try and musically create what’s happening in the lyrics, and you have to really listen to what’s going on. I always find myself getting totally absorbed with what’s going on with this one, and I love it for that reason alone.

5. LIFE FROM A WINDOW (This is the Modern World, 1977) Our first album In The City was fairly straightforward. We’d almost been rehearsing for that for five years, so really it was quite easy to go in the studio and lock that one down. I think we recorded it in about 11 days. When it came to the second album we wrote a lot of it in the studio, and I think people just expected another In The City, but of course it wasn’t anything like that. This is the Modern World was a completely different album, and a completely different approach. We got criticised at the time, because the album wasn’t thought to be a progression in the right direction. So because of that we tended to kind of skip over a lot of those tracks and not play them too much live. But one of the songs that did come across really well live was Life From a Window, which I think is a fabulous track. Maybe we skipped by the rest of them a little too quickly, but there you go.

4. RUNNING ON THE SPOT (The Gift, 1982) Running on the Spot was what inspired the photographer for the front cover of The Gift. He got us up on the roof of the studio where we were recording in Oxford Street and got us to run on the spot. So that’s the connection with this song. And I just like it. I think lyrically it’s very strong. It’s probably one of my overall favourites out of all of them.

3. JUST WHO IS THE 5’O CLOCK HERO? (The Gift, 1982) This song isn’t necessarily a high-profile Jam number, but it’s one that I’m proud of and it’s definitely a fan favourite. It could apply to almost anybody as well, about the everyday things that we do that in some ways are quite heroic. My dad was a postman and my mum worked in a supermarket. Paul’s dad was a taxi driver during the winter and a bricklayer during the summer. And Bruce’s dad used to work for a coal company, collecting money from when people used to have coal delivered to their houses. So it struck a note with all of us. Secretly, I’m a little bit proud of the drumming on this one too.

2. START! (Sound Affects, 1980) You can’t leave The Beatles out of this one. They’re not getting away with it that easy. We were listening to Revolver a lot around this time, and this song really started around that round bass sound that you used to get in a lot of sixties music. Bruce mucked about a bit with the bass line for a bit, and it all sort of came from that. A lot of people compare Start! to Taxman but I think it does actually stand alone, and it’s a great record. But yeah, The Beatles influence was definitely there on the whole album.

1. MR CLEAN (All Mod Cons, 1978) I used to love playing this song live because it was always one of those ones that everyone would sing along to. It’s a clever little dig at conformist people who fall into line for no other reason than falling into line. There was a lot of frustration in the country around this time, and I think that’s probably what led to the rise of punk, because there was a lot of rebellion in the air. We fell in line musically with the punk thing to begin with because we played loud, fast rock ‘n’ roll, and we shared the same energy and youthfulness. But we were also looking for our own musical identity and sound, and we were never going to be absorbed fully into that movement because we wanted to make our own mark on the world. And I feel like we achieved that.

Rick Buckler was speaking to Matt Stocks. Rick’s book That’s Entertainment: My Life in the Jam is out now via Omnibus Press.