Bob Lethaby celebrates the thirty-fifth birthday of a seminal album that was nearly washed away with punk
I watched a Youtube documentary this afternoon about the making of All Mod Cons, the third album by The Jam that remains firmly in place as one of my top ten albums of all time.
When I was watching this documentary it dawned on me that All Mod Cons dictated the route of my music taste from the first time I secretly played it on my brother’s record player when he was out and about with his mates fighting and drinking.
My two elder brothers had different tastes in music and whilst the elder of the two, Bruce, listened to bands like Nazareth, Hawkwind and Black Sabbath, Graham had swung towards the rebellion of punk and new wave that was sweeping across the country in the mid to late seventies.
I had already heard the first two Jam albums (In the City and Modern World) but the second had bombed and The Jam were on the verge of being washed away with the punk era, even if they were trying to distance themselves from it.
With new producers on board and Paul Weller revitalised as a songwriter, All Mod Cons not only rescued The Jam from the abyss, it also rescued me from a life listening to music by Rainbow, Whitesnake and Foreigner. Along with The Clash and The Sex Pistols, The Jam rescued the young generation from a life of tedious, self-indulgent prog rock by wankers like Fleetwood Mac.
All Mod Cons altered all my musical tastes because on the back of hearing it, I also began to listen to The Kinks, The Small Faces and latterly, Northern Soul and Motown. It was an album that changed everything from the way I dressed to the way I perceived life and what dictated the music choices of my future.
All Mod Cons was packed with anger, aggression, love and bitter break ups that thousands of teenagers could relate to, particularly but not exclusively, lads who came from suburban over spill sprawls like Woking, Reading, Bracknell, Basingstoke and Milton Keynes before it soon went viral, spreading to record collections of young lads across the nation.
It also taught me that love songs can be cool, not just soppy ditties written by The Carpenters or The New Seekers; English Rose is a timeless classic that must go down as one of the great modern love songs. The Place I Love, In the Crowd, It’s Too Bad and the unforgettable To Be Someone are just great songs backed by punchy guitar riffs and the accomplished bass playing of Bruce Foxton.
All Mod Cons was of course the vehicle that catapulted The Jam towards unprecedented commercial success and in the same way they were influenced by The Who and The Kinks, The Jam became the song book for future bands such as Oasis and Blur amongst God knows how many others.
The Jam split up at the height of their fame and years of bitterness followed as Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler struggled to come to terms with Paul Weller smashing the gravy train of success into the buffers and going on to join former Merton Parkas keyboard player Mick Talbot to form the commercially successful but often mediocre soul/pop band The Style Council.
After The Style Council fizzled to a desperate and pitiful end, despite the temptation of high financial reward during a period of depression and writers block, Paul Weller resisted a lucrative Jam reunion and re-invented himself as a solo artist with a host of 1990’s albums such as Wild Wood and Stanley Road that sold millions.
It was an extraordinary comeback that now sees him dubbed as the Modfather and places him firmly on the list of the most respected songwriters in modern music history.
So The Jam never did come back, well they sort of did, with Buckler and Foxton teaming up with Russ Hastings to form a kind of upmarket Jam tribute band called From the Jam. I have seen them several times and they are actually very decent, if not the real thing. They are playing a 35 year anniversary concert in Guildford in November and I will be going along for a bit of light hearted nostalgia if nothing else.
Many Jam fans of my age that were never quite old enough to see The Jam feel that Paul Weller owes it to them to re-form but the fact is, Paul Weller doesn’t owe anything to anyone. There are three types of people in life: those who are addicted to nostalgia, those who live for the moment and those who look to the future. Paul Weller is constantly moving on and experimenting with his music, some of it good, some of it awful but that’s just how he is.
Bands like the Rolling Stones can go on until they drop dead because they are a rock and roll band and rock roll can be played to any generation; Brown Sugar for example, is a good song but not synonymous with an era, not really.
If Paul Weller was to get on stage and start singing songs such as Art School, When You’re Young, Saturday’s Kids and That’s Entertainment it would all be rather pathetic and lack meaning; Even worse, imagine him as a 56 year old bloke singing ‘To Be Someone’ a track that is about a young man who imagines what it would be like to be a rock singer, footballer or a film star.
Every Jam fan who heard their final single, the awful Beat Surrender, should realise that by 1982 The Jam were done for creatively. Because they broke up when they did, we can all listen to The Jam and All Mod Cons with nostalgic fondness of an era rather than cringing with embarrassment as they announce a set of Butlin’s reunion gigs.
As the late Joe Strummer once said:
“When you’re hot you’re hot, when you’re not you’re not.”
Many people will disagree with me but I am glad that when I listen to The Jam they remind of an era and not middle aged Butlin’s weekender with Madness.