The Jam were an English punk rock/New Wave/mod revival band active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were formed in Woking, Surrey. While they shared the "angry young men" outlook and fast tempos of their punk rock contemporaries, The Jam wore smartly tailored suits rather than ripped clothes, and they incorporated a number of mainstream 1960s rock and R&B influences rather than rejecting them, placing The Jam at the forefront of the mod revival movement.
They had 18 consecutive Top 40 singles in the United Kingdom, from their debut in 1977 to their break-up in December 1982, including four number one hits. As of 2007, "That's Entertainment" and "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?" remained the best-selling import singles of all time in the UK. They released one live album and six studio albums, the last of which, The Gift, hit number one on the UK album charts. When the group split up, their first 15 singles were re-released and all placed within the top 100.
The band drew upon a variety of stylistic influences over the course of their career, including 1960s beat music, soul, rhythm and blues and psychedelic rock, as well as 1970s punk and new wave. The trio was known for its melodic pop songs, its distinctly English flavour and its mod image. The band launched the career of Paul Weller, who went on to form The Style Council and later had a successful solo career. Weller wrote and sang most of The Jam’s original compositions, and he played lead guitar, using a Rickenbacker. Bruce Foxton provided backing vocals and prominent basslines, which were the foundation of many of the band’s songs, including the hits "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight", "The Eton Rifles", "Going Underground" and "Town Called Malice".
The Jam formed in Woking, Surrey, England, in 1972. The line-up was fluid at this stage, consisting of Weller on guitar and lead vocals together with various friends at Sheerwater Secondary School. They played their first gigs at Michael's, a local club. The line-up began to solidify in the mid 1970s with Weller, Foxton, guitarist Steve Brookes and drummer Rick Buckler. In their early years, their sets consisted of covers of early American rock and roll songs by the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They continued in this vein until Weller discovered The Who’s "My Generation" and became fascinated with Mod music and lifestyle. As he said later, "I saw that through becoming a Mod it would give me a base and an angle to write from, and this we eventually did. We went out and bought suits and started playing Motown, Stax and Atlantic covers. I bought a Rickenbacker guitar, a Lambretta GP 150 and tried to style my hair like Steve Marriott’s circa ’66." Eventually Brookes left the band, and was not replaced. Up to this point Weller had been playing bass and Foxton had been the band's second guitar player; he persuaded Foxton to take over bass duties and developed a combined lead/rhythm guitar style influenced by The Who’s Pete Townshend as well as Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson. The line-up of Weller, Foxton, and Buckler would persist until the end of The Jam’s career.
Throughout, the band were managed by Weller’s father, John Weller, who then managed Paul’s career until he died in 2009.
In the following two years, The Jam gained a small following around London from playing minor gigs, becoming one of the new lights on the nascent punk scene. In many ways, however, they stood out from their punk peers. Though they shared an "angry young men" outlook, short hair, crushing volume and lightning-fast tempos, The Jam wore neatly tailored suits where others wore ripped clothes, played professionally where others were defiantly amateurish, and displayed clear 1960s rock influences where others were disdainful (at least ostensibly) of such music (which had been a major influence on the "stadium rock" and "prog rock" of the 1970s). Indeed, the band were tagged by some journalists as "revivalists". They were signed to Polydor Records by Chris Parry in early 1977.
Early recordings (1977)
On 29 April 1977, Polydor released The Jam's debut single,"In the City", which charted in the Top 40 in England. In early May, the band released their debut album of the same name. The album, like those of The Clash and the Sex Pistols, featured fast, loud and pointed songs. What set it apart from the records of those two bands was its more prevalent 1960s rock influences. The Jam covered Larry Williams's "Slow Down" (also covered by The Beatles) and the theme song of the 1960s TV series Batman, which was somewhat of a standard for 1960s rock bands. Their originals revealed the influence of Motown Records, The Beatles and The Who.
The Jam had political lyrics, condemning police brutality ("In the City") and expansionist development ("Bricks And Mortar"). However, one of their most openly political songs, "Time For Truth", bemoaned the decline of the British Empire and expressed disparaging sentiments about "Uncle Jimmy" (the Prime Minister, James Callaghan) in no uncertain terms ("Whatever happened to the great Empire?" / "I think it's time for truth, and the truth is you lost, Uncle Jimmy"). These pro-Empire sentiments and ostentatious displays of the Union Flag began to earn the group the tag of "Conservative". Misunderstandings in the music press about The Jam's political or social stance are usually attributed to Weller's lyrical perspective. Even as he pointed out what he saw as wrong and demanded change, Weller's lyrics reflected a deep affection for an idealised vision of England, much in the style of The Kinks' Ray Davies. This contrasted with the Sex Pistols' calls for destruction, or The Clash's calls for revolutionary change.
After the non-LP single "All Around the World" nearly reached the UK Top 10, The Jam, having achieved a notable following in such a short time, were pressed to produce more material quickly. Their second album, This Is the Modern World, was released later in 1977. Bruce Foxton, generally considered a lesser songwriter than Weller, contributed two songs to the LP ("Don't Tell Them You're Sane" and "London Traffic"), both of which attracted criticism. His composing output gradually decreased, leaving Weller firmly established as the band's chief songwriter. Despite displaying more stylistic variety than before, including some ventures into introspective pop, This Is The Modern World was not widely praised. However, when John Peel first heard the album, he played it in its entirety on one show, one song after the other.
All Mod Cons (1978)
In March 1978, the Jam released "News of the World", a non-album single that was both written and sung by Foxton. It charted at No. 27 in the UK, and was the band's second biggest hit to date. This was the only Foxton solo composition to be released as a Jam A-side. When the band went back into the studio to record a third album of primarily Foxton contributions, their songs were dismissed by producers as poor, and they held off recording an album in hopes that Weller would once again find inspiration. "News of the World" is now used in the opening theme of the BBC television show "Mock the Week".
Returning to his hometown of Woking, Weller spent much of his time listening to albums by The Kinks and coming up with new songs. The Jam released their next single, the double A-side "David Watts"/"'A' Bomb in Wardour Street". "David Watts" was a cover of the bouncy Kinks classic; Weller and Foxton traded lead vocals throughout the song. "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street" was a Weller original. One of their hardest and most intense songs, Weller cursed the violent thugs that plagued the punk rock scene over a taut two-chord figure. It became their most successful 7" since "All Around the World".
It wasn't until their next single, "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight", that The Jam really regained their former critical acclaim. The song was a dramatic account of being mugged by thugs who "smelled of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right-wing meetings." Around this time, The Jam slimmed their team of two producers to one, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, who helped develop the group's sound with harmonised guitars and acoustic textures. In 1978, the Jam released their third LP, All Mod Cons, which included three previously released tracks among the 12 in total: "David Watts", "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street", and "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight". (It also contained two songs Polydor had previously rejected for single release, the manic "Billy Hunt" and the acoustic ballad "English Rose".)
Going Underground (1979–1981)
Following two successful and critically acclaimed non-LP singles, "Strange Town" and "When You're Young", the band released "The Eton Rifles" in advance of their new album. It became their first top 10, rising to No. 3 on the UK charts. November 1979 saw the release of the Setting Sons album, another massive UK hit, and their first chart entry in the US, albeit at 137 on the Billboard 200. The album began life as a concept album about three childhood friends, though in the end many of the songs did not relate to this theme. Many of the songs had political overtones; "The Eton Rifles" was inspired by skirmishes between demonstrators on a Right to Work March – a campaign initiated by the left wing Socialist Workers Party – and pupils from Eton College; "Little Boy Soldiers" was an anti-war multi-movement piece in the vein of Ray Davies. Another notable song from the album was Bruce Foxton's "Smithers-Jones", originally a b-side to "When You're Young". The song is almost unanimously considered to be his greatest contribution to The Jam; the song was given a complete makeover, including a strings arrangement, for the album release.
The band's first single of 1980 was intended to be "Dreams of Children", which combined bleak lyrics lamenting the loss of childhood optimism with hard-edged, psychedelic instrumental backing and production. Due to a labelling error, however, the a- and b-sides of the single were reversed, resulting in the more conventional "Going Underground", the single's planned flipside, getting much more airplay and attention than "Dreams of Children". As a result, only "Going Underground" was initially listed on the charts, although the single was eventually officially recognised (and listed) as a double A-side by the time the release reached No. 1 in the UK. When promoting the album in the United States, the group appeared on American Bandstand, performing "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave", a cover of the hit song by the Motown girl group Martha and the Vandellas. They also appeared on the short-lived American sketch comedy series Fridays, playing the song "Private Hell".
Sound Affects was released in 1980. Paul Weller said that he was influenced by The Beatles' Revolver and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall also. Indeed, several of the songs recall Revolver-era swirling psychedelia, such as "Monday", "Man in the Corner Shop", and the acoustic "That's Entertainment". Weller allegedly wrote "That's Entertainment", a bitter slice-of-life commentary on the drudgery of modern working-class life, in around 15 minutes upon returning (under the influence) from the pub. Despite being only available as an import single, it peaked at No. 21 on the UK charts, an unprecedented feat. It is now arguably The Jam's most celebrated song. Despite the group's lack of commercial success in America, it even made American magazine Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
"Start!", released before the album, became another No. 1 single. It had a very similar bass line, rhythm guitar and guitar solo to The Beatles' Revolver cut "Taxman", but arranged as an otherwise completely different song. Some contemporary American R&B influence, including Michael Jackson, show up in Buckler's driving beats that power the album (such as on "But I'm Different Now"), and most obviously in Foxton's funk-influenced bassline in "Pretty Green". The album also reveals influences of post-punk groups such as Wire, XTC, Joy Division, and Gang of Four. The album was a No. 2 hit in the UK and peaked at No. 72 on the US Billboard charts, their most successful American album.
The Gift and dissolution (1981–1982)
Two non-LP singles, "Funeral Pyre" and "Absolute Beginners", abandoned the psychedelic pop of Sound Affects; "Absolute Beginners" (named after a cult novel of the same title) had a more R&B-flavoured sound, and "Funeral Pyre" was influenced by New Wave music. "Funeral Pyre" is built around Buckler's drumming, and aside from the Sound Affects track "Music for the Last Couple", is the only song in the group's catalogue that carries a joint Buckler/Foxton/Weller writing credit. ("Funeral Pyre" and "Music for the Last Couple" are the only songs for which Buckler receives any writing credit).
The 1982 release The Gift – the band's final LP – was a massive commercial success, peaking at No. 1 on the UK charts. It featured several soul, funk, and R&B-stylised songs; most notably the No. 1 hit "Town Called Malice", which boasts a Motown-style bassline somewhat reminiscent of The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love". The song included work by Keith Thomas and Steve Nichol, who later became well known as members of the R&B groups Legacy and Loose Ends respectively. "Town Called Malice", another reality-based tale of dealing with the hardships of life in a small, downtrodden English town, is one of the few Jam songs Weller still performs at concerts (along with "That's Entertainment", "Man in the Corner Shop", "Strange Town", "Art School", "Start!" and "In the Crowd"). When "Town Called Malice" reached number one the group had the honour of performing both it and its double A-side, "Precious" on TOTP – the only other band to be accorded this honour being the Beatles. After the string-laden soul ballad "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)" peaked at No. 2, the band followed with their finale and another No. 1, "Beat Surrender". The Beat Surrender EP had success in the British charts, and both its graphic design and music resembles early Style Council releases. After a farewell tour of the UK and appearances on Top of the Pops and The Tube to promote Beat Surrender, Weller disbanded the group in December 1982.
After The Jam
Weller formed The Style Council with Mick Talbot of The Merton Parkas. They would eventually split in 1989.
Following a short stint recording demos with Jake Burns and Dolphin Taylor, formerly of Irish punk outfit Stiff Little Fingers, Bruce Foxton released his debut single "Freak" on Arista Records. Entering the UK Singles Chart at #34 on 30 July 1983, it eventually peaked at #23 and secured an appearance on Top of the Pops. Album "Touch Sensitive" followed in 1984, but subsequent singles "This Is The Way", "It Makes Me Wonder" and "SOS: My Imagination" failed to enter the Top 40. A final single "Play This Game To Win" was released on Harvest Records in November 1986.
Bruce Foxton went on to replace Ali McMordie in a reformed Stiff Little Fingers in 1990, remaining with the band until January 2006, when he quit to pursue other projects. Later that year he joined Simon Townshend (Pete Townshend's brother), Mark Brzezicki (Big Country) and Bruce Watson in the band Casbah Club, which released an album called Venustraphobia.
After The Jam split, Rick Buckler formed Time UK with Jimmy Edwards and Ray Simone, formerly of Masterswitch and ex Tom Robinson Band guitarist Danny Kustow. The band released three singles "The Cabaret", "Playground Of Privilege" and "You Won't Stop" before folding. In 1986, Buckler and Foxton released the single "Entertain Me" under the name Sharp.
Six different greatest hits albums by The Jam have also been released.
A five-CD box set Direction Reaction Creation, featuring all of The Jam's studio material (plus a disc of rarities) peaked at No. 8 on the UK album charts upon its release in 1997; an unprecedented achievement for a box set. In 2002, Virgin Radio counted down the top 100 British music artists of all-time as polled by listeners and The Jam were No. 5 on the list. Weller made two other appearances in the poll; as part of The Style Council at No. 93 and as a solo artist at No. 21.
In 2006, Rick Buckler, who had not been playing for several years after Sharp quit, formed a band named The Gift playing material from The Jam with musicians Russell Hastings and David Moore. Russell Hastings, who spent many years as a local musician including a couple of years in a Jam tribute band, took on guitar and lead vocal duties. In 2006, Bruce Foxton performed on stage with The Gift at their concerts in Chichester, Brighton and Birmingham, which rekindled rumours of a full or partial reunion of The Jam in 2007, for the 30th anniversary of the band’s signing.
After The Jam split, Weller and Foxton reportedly went 20 years without speaking. However in June 2006, it was reported that Weller and Foxton met backstage at The Who's Hyde Park concert, and a ten-minute conversation ended with an embrace. Foxton claimed that the two became friends again in 2009 and this led to them collaborating for two tracks on Weller's solo album Wake Up the Nation in early 2010. In May 2010, Weller and Foxton appeared together on stage for the first time in 28 years at The Albert Hall in London. However, Foxton ruled out a Jam reunion and as of 2010, Weller and Buckler are said not to be on speaking terms.
From The Jam
Foxton stayed on as bassist with The Gift, with David Moore moving to second guitar and keyboards. At this point the group changed its name to From The Jam. In an official press release in 2007, Foxton and Buckler announced that they were working on a new album and UK tour, which sold out in ten days. Weller did not take part, and has publicly expressed his lack of interest in any type of reformation. In a 2006 interview with BBC Radio 6 Music, Weller stated that a reunion of The Jam would "never, ever happen", and that reformations are "sad". He said "Me and my children would have to be destitute and starving in the gutter before I'd even consider that, and I don't think that'll happen anyway ... The Jam's music still means something to people and a lot of that's because we stopped at the right time, it didn't go on and become embarrassing." and New Zealand – a first for Foxton and Buckler.
A complete concert (recorded at the London Astoria in December 2007) was released on DVD through London-based indie label Invisible Hands Music in November 2008. David Moore left the band in early 2009, releasing an album with Matt Douglass in April the following year on Invisible Hands Music, under the name The Squire Circle. Rick Buckler announced his departure from the band in late 2009.
In October 2012, a new album "Back in the Room" was released under Bruce Foxton's name to generally favourable reviews. The band featured Bruce Foxton (Bass/Vocals) and Russell Hastings (Guitar/Vocals) with Mark Brzezicki of Big Country on drums. Released on Bass Tone Records, the album was recorded at Paul Weller's Black Barn studios, with Weller himself appearing on several tracks, including the lead single "Number Six". Other special guests on the album include Steve Cropper (Booker T and the M.G.'s) and Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet). A second single from the album "Don't Waste My Time" is to be released on 28 April 2013.
- Paul Weller – lead vocals, guitar
- Bruce Foxton – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Rick Buckler – drums, percussion
- Steve Brookes – guitar (left group prior to their recording career)
- In the City (1977)
- This Is the Modern World (1977)
- All Mod Cons (1978)
- Setting Sons (1979)
- Sound Affects (1980)
- The Gift (1982)
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Image from Discogs