The Jam -‘About The Young Idea – The Very Best of The Jam.’ (UMC/Polydor)
What? Another compilation of The Jam? This one, however, is to tie in with an exhibition taking place at Somerset House in London, entitled About The Young Idea. This compilation serves as a reminder that between 1977 and their split at the peak of their fame, just five years later.
The title of this latest compilation comes from the band’s debut single ‘In The City.’ Nearly forty years on, it still sounds like a remarkably fresh call to arms from the eighteen year old Paul Weller, and like any great debut single, sounds like a manifesto. It’s widely recognised that the Sex Pistols’ fourth single, ‘Holiday In The Sun’ borrows from it.
What this compilation – like a number of the many Jam compilations over the last thirty years – does do is cherry pick from that time, and the reality is that the first two Jam studio albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World are patchy affairs. But in 1978 ‘News Of the World’ showed that bassist Bruce Foxton was also a writer (and indeed singer), and that the band would produce a number of singles that would not appear on the albums. By the end of the year All Mod Cons showed just how much they’d matured, and how sharp Weller’s writing had become. ‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’ and the still-astonishing (and not a little horrifying) ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ were the singles and just a glimpse of how bloody good they were. They would never again be recording slightly pointless cover versions of the ‘Batman’ theme for fleshing out albums; The Jam’s b-sides were frequently just as good as the a-sides (see ‘Tales From The Riverbank’ ‘Dreams Of Children’ and ‘The Butterfly Collector’ for evidence of this).
And until 1982 the quality did not abate. In 1979 they released ‘Strange Town’ (the first video they would work on with Steve Barron), and a contender for one of their finest songs. The anger was still there, but ever more focused, as on ‘Eton Rifles’, which decades later would infuriate Weller when British Prime Minister praised it. They’d come through punk, but Weller’s love of soul was beginning to show through.
Who knows what could have happened had the band stayed together beyond 1982? Many people have never forgiven Weller for splitting the band up. Whilst it has ceased to be worthy of comment when a single debuts at no.1 in the British charts for a couple of decades, the Jam did it several times when this was almost unheard-of. And they deserved to, with ‘Going Underground,’ ‘A Town Called Malice’ and ‘Beat Surrender.’ Hell, the Jam also scored high-selling (and charting) import singles with ‘Just Who Is The 5 o’Clock Hero?’ and ‘That’s Entertainment.’
The chances are that many reading this will have bought a Jam compilation (and perhaps studio albums, I certainly hope so). Whether or not people will feel that they can or cannot live without owning the radio advert for the ‘In The City’ single which opens this album is one of only two unreleased tracks here, let this not discriminate from what is still a fine body of work.
About The Young Idea – The Very Best of The Jam is out now on UMC/Polydor.
If there’s one person whose grasp on music and image defined the 1980s and the dawn of the music video, then that person has to be Steve Barron. He’s just published his autobiography Egg’n’chips & Billie Jean – A Trip through the eighties. It’s a fantastic read about a man who got to work with some of the biggest names in music – Michael Jackson, Madonna, David Bowie and Paul McCartney, to name but four, and created iconic, groundbreaking videos. By the end of the 1980s he was working on his second film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was to become the first independent film to gross over $100 million dollars. It’s an excellent read – and bolstered by the fact that there’s a wonderful sense of ‘I still can’t believe this happened!’ running right through the book. Here he talks to 17 Seconds about his memories of Adam Ant as a school prefect, and how hamburgers helped publicise music videos before MTV…
17 Seconds: Before you started making videos, you worked on several films as a camera assistant, including A Bridge Too Far and Superman. What are your memories of working on these films – and how did this lead to you making music videos?
Steve Barron: I remember as a teenager buying my first car from the cash I earned as a clapper loader — it was a second-hand ford corsair – 75 quid — I packed a load of luggage for a big trip to Holland working on A Bridge Too Far — the car conked out when I reached the hotel car park – it sat there for the first 6 months. I woke up one day and they’d dug a trench for a pipe and made it dog-leg around the car — I don’t know why thats relevant.
17 Seconds: The first music video you directed was The Jam’s ‘Strange Town’ (my favourite song by The Jam, by the way). What was your brief when you were making music videos in the late seventies? Was it easier or harder without MTV (never mind YouTube!) as a medium to get the video across?
SB: The videos would rarely get shown because there were no shows that looked to play them. Bands had to do top of the pops live or they probably wouldn’t get on [in 1979 there was no MTV in the US and there were only three TV channels in the UK].After The Jam’s ‘Strange Town’ it all went quiet. I tried selling hamburgers for a few nights at a mod club in Charing Cross. took a projector one night and played the crowd Strange town on 16mm on the wall. The kids went mad. Kept asking to see it again. I had to keep racking the film reel – again and again – didn’t sell many hamburgers!!
17 Seconds: You mention in the book at you went to the same school [St. Marylebone Grammar School] as Adam Ant, who you directed ‘Antmusic’ for. What are your memories of him at school?
SB: I remember Stuart [Goddard, Ant’s real name] in school – he looked very grown up and sophisticated with his wire frame specs. He was a prefect, too. They were scary. A year older seemed like an eternity.
17 Seconds: When a video that you had directed the video for went to no.1 in the charts, did that feel like your no.1 too?
SB: No, it didn’t really feel like mine. It felt like ours, like our gang had done something good. Something famous. The first one was the best one -The Jam ‘Going Underground’ — seeing those white limbo studio images that we had actually filmed just a few weeks ago in a tiny studio with cameras and lights and Eastman colour and lunch and we had actually got proper crew to show up and work for us and take it seriously and who then gave us invoices that we could count and pay- and here it was on the telly in the middle of the evening looking like nothing else on telly in the middle of the evening. They actually played it! They had to play it. It was number one.
SB: Your ground-breaking video for Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ is often credited with breaking the ‘colour bar’ on MTV. Was this something that as a director based in England (Where MTV wouldn’t come for several years) impacted on you?
SB: I had no idea MTV might say no to ‘Billie Jean.’ It was a pop video of a pop song. A brilliant pop song. What’s to say no to? Seemed weird. Stupid .
17 Seconds: A-ha’s video for ‘Take On Me’ was another classic that you directed. How long did you have to work on the video for? Is it true the video cost £100,000 – which in those days would have bought a house in much of the UK!)?
SB: Yeah it was 100 grand budget – to do a proper animated vid! And more importantly we had as much time as we needed to make it – except that after four months they wanted it NOW! And there’s still a version on VH1 and Youtube that they bloody made me give them two weeks before we bloody finished!
17 Seconds: Is there a video that is your favourite above all?
SB: Fatboy Slim – Christopher Walken — great vid [‘Weapon Of Choice,’ directed by Spike Jonze].
17 Seconds: You had a fantastic eighties, from the sound of it in the book. Did you feel that people were unnecessarily harsh about it in the nineties when there was a major backlash against it and it was seen as the decade that time forgot?
SB: I wasn’t listening
17 Seconds: Which other music video directors do you admire?
SB: Spike Jonze, Russell Mulcahy – anybody who takes risks.
17 Seconds: The book finishes in 1990. After the battles you had trying to make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, will you write a second volume to let us know what happened next?
SB: Only by popular demand! Ha!!
17 Seconds: What music are you currently listening to? Do you ever see yourself making another music video?
SB: Milky Chance, Micah P. Hinson, Holly Cook, Damon Albarn — I’d love to do a video of any of their stuff! It would be great fun! I miss shooting to a melody – when film and music gel perfectly after a challenging slog of a shoot dragging a bunch of gear across muddy fields and trekking halfway up a mountain in the drizzle, there’s no buzz like it. Very little else can make me cry. ‘Oh Iona…’
17 Seconds: Finally, what are your current projects and what are your plans for the future?
SB: Just about to go to India to produce a comedy set in Bangalore in the eighties – very fun project. Am developing two big TV series, one with the BBC is with my mate Danny Kleinman – he came up with a fab idea 25 years ago over a Chicken Bhuna off the bone… fab ideas never die – they just simmer and come to the boil twenty-five years later.
Egg n Chips & Billie Jean: A Trip Through the Eighties is out now
The Jam -‘The Gift’ (Polydor/Universal)
There’s an alternate, inferior parallel universe to this one, where The Jam split up after a disappointing reaction to their second album, This Is The Modern World. I say inferior, because the The Jam produced a heck of a lot of great music in their time together as a band. However -they truly came into their own with the release of 1978’s All Mod Cons (a pun on ‘mod’? Well, what do you think?).
They were an excellent singles band (my personal favourite being the non-album cut ‘Strange Town’ from 1979), and produced some excellent albums. In 1982 they bowed out at the end of the year on a high, integrity intact and leaving their audience wanting more (there’s quite a few bands who should bear this in mind). Whilst the three members -drummer Rick Buckler, bassist Bruce Foxton and singer/guitarist Paul Weller (you may have heard of him) worked in combinations over the years, they have never reformed, and only The Smiths are more tightly debated in terms of reformation.
As I said, 1982 was the year they bowed out on a high. This was their final studio album, and despite the considerable number of UK no.1 singles they notched up, their only no.1 album. It’s long been my favourite Jam album. The single ‘Town Called Malice’/’Precious’ became a massive hit, and showcases Weller’s growing interest in soul and funk (though this can be traced back far earlier on in the Jam’s career). But -as well as the Dutch only single ‘Just Who Is The 5 o’clock Hero? (which charted in the UK on import) -there’s a number of excellent album cuts.
Album opener ‘Happy Together’ nods to the post-punk sound that the band had explored on the previous year’s ‘Funeral Pyre’ and ‘Carnation’ (later covered by Steve Cradock and Liam Gallagher) is in some ways like ‘English Rose part 2.’ But the second track ‘Ghosts’ remains one of the finest songs The Jam ever recorded (and no, nothing to do with the Japan track either).
With additional discs on various editions given over to various extras, including demos and a gig from Wembley Arena in December 1982, this a comprehensive overview of The Jam’s final year together. Not least because it also sees the addition of yet more non-album singles in ‘The Bitterest Pill I Ever Had To Swallow.’
The finest Jam album, and comprehensive reissue.
The Gift is re-issued by Polydor/Universal on November 19.
There’s bits I have liked – but the thing is that as frontman of The Jam (who were ripped off by so many of the bands of the last decade -particularly The Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines) he was responsible for some of the greatest music of the last forty years.
Not of course, that the Jam’s early career was perfect. ‘In the City’ is an awesome debut -like all the best debut singles, it sounds like a manifesto -and yet the album of the same name was patchy. The follow up This Is The Modern World wasn’t very good either -and Weller knew it. But from the era of All Mod Cons onwards to their split in 1982, they were one of the greatest bands in the world.
And I still reckon that this is their finest track:
…closely followed by this:
So…best single by The Jam, commonly reckoned to be one of the greatest singles bands ever, and quite rightly so?
That would get many people’s votes – but not mine. Close, but no cigar.
I love it, and it was nice to see it on Ashes To Ashes last week – but no.
‘News Of the World?’
Now you’re being silly, aren’t you?
No -as the clue at the top may have given it away, it’s got to be ‘Strange Town’ – ‘In the City part 2’ it may be lyrically, but this beats all the others hands down.
Oh and best non-single Jam song? I’d go for ‘Ghosts.’
No, not the Japan song, but can be found on The Gift…
These six tracks were indeed all featured in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in the early eighties, but I’m not doing this as a John Peel post per se, just fancied sharing some great music wih you, as it makes it from the vinyl to the iPod.
Is there such a thing as the best best-of ever? The Jam’s Snap! must surely be a contender…
One of my many, many planned posts for the future is one Pete Wylie and the 7,000 faces of Wah!
It’s odd to think that goth was once tagged ‘positive punk’ in NME, and that the tag was only applied to music (there were certainly gothic sounding music long before that, as far back as Mozart’s Requiem, IMHO). So often it seems ot be used as a tag of insult or abuse, erroneously as far as I’m concerned. Certainly, many bands who came out of punk seemed to have a foot in the goth camp, to say nothing of a following.
The Damned’s Machine Gun Etiquette is where they started to get gothic, and where this track comes from, though The Black Album was surprise, surprise, even more so…
The curious-sounding ‘Hong Kong Garden’ with its’ wonderful eastern overtones was a great debut single, even if the lyrics seem a little close to novelty at times.* But it was on their albums that the dark heart of this particularly gorgeous and mesmerising creature lurked, as shown on these tracks from The Scream and Join Hands. Then two years later there was Juju…
Siouxsie and the Banshees -‘Switch.’ mp3 (from The Scream)
* Oh come on: ‘Chicken Chou-mein and chop suey…Hong Kong Garden Takeaway.’
Ah the legendary Mr. Peel. Famous quotes (many more of which can be found here
Peel’s compering debut on TOTP: “In case you’re wondering who this funny old bloke is, I’m the one who comes on Radio 1 late at night and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students in basements dying of TB.”
And of course, his comment about Aretha Franklin’s duet with George Michael ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’:”You know, Aretha Franklin can make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just has.”
First up, from one of the greatest travelling albums of all time, Big Science, Laurie Anderson’s deeply spooky ‘O superman’
Laurie Anderson -‘O Superman.’ mp3 (1981 Festive Fifty no.34)
The Wedding Present had 47 entries in the various Festive Fifties between 1986 and 2004, including two entries in the millennium Festive Fifty as well as doing nine sessions. David Gedge’s other band, Cinerama had 13 entries in the Festive Fifty, and did ten Peel sessions. (When I have more time on my hands I will work out who did best out of David Gedge, Morrissey and Mark E. Smith)
Cinerama -‘King’s Cross.’ mp3 (1999 Festive Fifty no.18)
Throughout 2004, it was clear that Bloc Party were very definitely gathering pace, and they had three entries in the final ever Festive Fifty, including this:
Bloc Party -‘Little Thoughts.’ mp3 (2004 Festive Fifty no.44)
The stranglers were accused of being bandwagon jumpers during punk, Johnny Rotten labelling them short-haired hippies, but they did have some fantastic songs. Best of all was this:
The Stranglers -No More Heroes (1978 Festive Fifty no.33, 1979 Festive Fifty no.45, 1980 Festive Fifty no.58)
My all-time favourite single by The Jam:
The Jam-‘Strange Town.’ mp3 (1979 Festive Fifty no.27)
And a handful you might be a little surprised to see made the Festive Fifty. After all, weren’t they a little, y’know, poppy? What the hell, I think they’re great tracks and so did many of his listeners, evidently:
It’s easy to heap scorn on Gary Numan/Tubeway army, due to his sheer …what?, but he is slowly becoming critically rehabilitated over the advancing years, and this is a stellar track.
Tubeway Army – ‘Are Friends Electric?’ mp3 (1979 Festive Fifty no.39)
According to the website, Depeche Mode never did any sessions for Peel, nor had any entries in the Festive Fifty (nor did Erasure,, for that matter), but Vince Clark did score with two of his other, less-long lasting projects. The first ended up being a one-off, featuring none other than Fergal Sharkey on vocals (the Undertones had split up a few months previously)
Assembly -‘Never Never.’ mp3 (1983 Festive Fifty no.23)
…then the two albums only project that was Vince and none other than Alison Moyet.
Yazoo -‘Don’t Go.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.60)
Is this a guilty pleasure? Oh, whatever. I’m not the only one.
Blancmange -‘Living On The Ceiling.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.34)
This was the only entry Tears For Fears had, in those hallowed days of ‘new pop.’ It is a fantastic tune, and seems to have actually dated quite well, IMHO.
Tears For Fears -‘Mad World.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.5)
This is my 35th post this month, or something BTW. Hope you are enjoying them. Please leave feedback, I don’t bite!