As Dawn mentioned yesterday, we have been having no end of computer and ISP problems between the worms, virus and spybot scans, security patches, and every other manner of heinous horseshit. I had to download an anti-virus program from BitDefender, which is cool and all (that reminds me to run their SobigF removal tool), but the BitDefender logo pops up at seeming random on my screen – “BitDefender to the rescue dum ta dum!!!” – and every time it does so I hear “Beat Surrender” by the Jam playing in my head because, in a cosmic coincidence, we listened to the new Jam collection The Sound of The Jam in the car on our recent vacation. Oh the vagaries of fate!
One of my favorite aspects of the steady flow of reissues and collections on CD – which never seems to end and well it shouldn’t as long as I get them for free – is that you get to hear an artist’s oeuvre anew, and often long-forgotten or never-heard songs jump out and assert themselves among the obvious “hits.” This is not the case with the Jam, I’m sad to say, whom I loved at the time (’77-’82) even seeing the trio (Paul Weller – guitars and vocals, Bruce Foxton – bass and vocals, Rick Buckler – drums) front row at a small club on their first U.S. tour. Only the “hits,” the songs I remembered, are really very good, and a band that at the time was considered a rival of the Clash, has been rightly reduced to also-ran status.
Not that they sucked – their best material is as good as most anything from the era – and though they were considered “punk,” they were much more an updated ’60s “mod” band like the Kinks (made explicit by their cover of “David Watts”), Small Faces, Who, etc., than they were thrashing punkers.
They were most punkish at the beginning (the CD is helpfully arranged chronologically): their first single “In the City” slashes and punches with punk intensity and riffage, “The Modern World” rocks but the tempo and intensity were already mitigating. By “Going Underground” they were true mods with harmonies, call and response vocals, ringing rather than slashing guitar chords, even a modulation! “Start!” incorporated some ’60s soul funkiness that would manifest itself in Weller’s Style Council post-Jam.
The lovely acoustic guitar stylings of “That’s Entertainment” proved Weller an accomplished melodist as well as a keen (if young and naive) social commentator. By the time of their greatest songs, “Town Called Malice” and “Beat Surrender,” the Jam was a charging bass-organ-drums soul-pop band – English Motown – not recognizably punk at all.
Hold the spunky Jam well in your memory, but don’t confuse them with greatness.