I’m not going to lie, I have been waiting for about eight years to write an article like this. Ever since I started taking music seriously and pursuing it as a career path, I have thought about being involved with stuff like this. When the opportunity came along to write about one of my favourite bands of all time, The Jam, I just had to get in on it. Apologies to the other lads in the band, I’m totally hogging this one.
Narrowing it down to 10 tracks is not going to be easy, but I’m going to give it a good crack…
Liza Radley (Start! B-side, 1980)
I feel like a good place to start this “journey” as such is at the beginning – 16 years ago, sitting on my single bed as an 11 year old boy, clutching my brand new Yamaha ERG-121 in my hands thinking, “What the fuck do I do with this?!” Luckily for me, my old man plays a bit of guitar too, and he came up with the perfect song to set me off on my way to becoming the second best guitarist in the whole of SEASONS. A wonderfully simple song, with incredible lyrics, it was the catalyst for my hunger to want to improve and become as good as I could be on this instrument. This song literally started it all.
Going Underground (Single, 1980)
I think what endears me to this band so much is not simply the guitar work, or the lyrics, or the melodies, but it’s the combination of everything that makes their music. One of the best examples of this comes from the absolutely legendary song, Going Underground. Probably their best-known song and their first British number one single, I’ve lost count of the weekends I have woken up to this song being blasted at full volume from the living room. The way the bass lines and guitar riffs intertwine to form a bustling, pounding accompaniment for Weller’s lyrics, it just excites me. The song feels timeless. It features one of my favourites of Weller’s lyrics as well, ‘You choose your leaders and place your trust, as their lies wash you down and their promises rust.’ I’m just going to leave that there…
The Eton Rifles (Setting Sons, 1979)
This song is a typical example of what The Jam were about. It would be one of the first songs I would play to someone who had never heard them before and wanted to know what they did. Foxton’s classic bass riff driving the song, Weller’s crashing Rickenbacker pure overdrive tone. This single came out around the mid-point of their career, a time I believe they were creating their best music. It’s the first song I learnt to play on bass guitar. The memories of jamming this out with my dad and younger brother are among my favourites.
Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (All Mod Cons, 1978)
Best bass line ever. As much as I can appreciate a solid bassist who nails the roots and keeps a song grooving along, the best bassists for me play their part and enhance a song. Not only that, but if you take their bass line out of the song and play it on its own, it could be a completely different piece of music altogether. Bruce Foxton is one of the most underrated bassists in my humble opinion. Not for his technical ability, but for his writing. As is the case with so many Jam songs, his bass line makes this song. I always remember driving to football on a Sunday morning, and my dad would turn the volume down to zero just before the middle eight section of this song and have me sing along to nothing and see how far out of time I was when it kicked back in. It’s another family favourite and if you search YouTube hard enough, you might just find a video or two of our own rendition.
Boy About Town (Sound Affects, 1980)
I’m not entirely sure why, but this song makes me feel incredibly happy. I instantly start bobbing my head when I hear that familiar Foxton bass line. As you can probably tell, The Jam have a very poignant family connection for me. I have my dad to thank for that. The second I hear that very unconvincing fake cough at the start of this track, my mind casts straight back to the long car journeys I used to spend with my dad as he ferried me around the country to various different boxing gyms. I can always remember how eager I was to get home after a training session and sit and learn a new bass line.
In The City (In The City, 1977)
So here it is, the debut single. It has to be in there. I learnt so much about music and melodies and harmonies from listening to this song. It basically taught me how to sing a fifth vocal harmony. I love the youthful attitude of the lyrics and how brave they were for such young men. For them to openly write about key political talking points of the time like police brutality took a lot of guts. I respect that. Hearing that kind of fearless attitude in songs at a young age really made me feel like music was more than just notes and beats, but it was a way to communicate and affect those who listen.
That’s Entertainment (Sound Affects, 1980)
Anytime I feel like I have writer’s block, or like we as a band are struggling with a song, I think back to this track. Weller claims he was in London, he’d had a few beers, and he was simply sitting there writing down what was going on around him. He says it took him 10 minutes to write this incredible song. For him to be able to create such vivid imagery and catchy melodies in a such a short space of time, goes to show that a song doesn’t always have to be overthought and rewritten a thousand times for it to work. It’s an important lesson for any songwriter. Sometimes simpler is better.
Start! (Sound Affects, 1980)
Second best bass line ever! Okay so maybe it’s a complete rip-off of the Beatles’ Taxman, but I don’t care. Neither did the rest of the UK allegedly, since this was their second single that reached number one. This is always the opener when me, my dad and my brother play a few songs at the local open mic night!
Strange Town (Single, 1979)
I would probably go as far as to say that Strange Town is my all time favourite song by The Jam. I think the level of songwriting in this song is exceptional. Weller said himself that it’s in the top three best songs he’s written in his career. Couldn’t agree more, old chap. It’s so simple yet so effective, I love everything about it. The guitar solo, the bass line, the pictures Weller creates with his lyrics, it all swirls around in my head. If I had a play counter for the songs I sing in my head from day to day, this would undoubtedly be at number one.
Town Called Malice (The Gift, 1982)
There are so many other songs I have no space to mention, songs that have not only inspired me musically, but brought so much happiness to my life and dragged me through the slightly less happy times. I can easily say that Town Called Malice is one of those songs that has been there for me. This song always reminds me of my sister, because she loves it so much. When she was involved in a car accident at the end of 2016, we had a long few weeks of agonising waits, praying for her to get better, and trying to come to terms with what had actually happened. During those times this song took on a whole new meaning for me. It meant family. It meant being there for each other. It meant making the most out of the time we have because ‘Time is short and life is cruel’. It’s inspired me to follow my dreams, because if I don’t, I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life, and if I don’t try now, I may never get the chance.
I grew up in a house where music was waiting for me around every corner and in every cupboard and drawer. Over the years I have learnt valuable skills and lessons from all types of music, from countless styles and artists and my taste in music is constantly growing and evolving. But there’s one thing for me that I know will never change: it all began with The Jam.
SEASONS’ new EP, Chapters, is out on April 20th. Catch them live at its launch show, April 28th at The Camden Assembly