Thursday, November 25, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #103

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun! I cannot take anymore requests for this month, but please always feel free to suggest bands you might like to see featured in future NW4NW posts. You may do so either in the comments section of this post, on Twitter, or on the Facebook Fanpage.]

The JamCover of The JamAmong the list of suggestions my friend Maureen Gamber offered in her request was one of the greatest bands of the era, regardless of genre; a band who, while never having much commercial success here in the States, was voted #5 British band of all time by Virgin Radio poll of the 100 Best British Bands as voted by their listeners - with the band's lead singer/songwriter coming in at #21 as a solo artist and his next band coming in at #93!

Not a bad showing for Mr. Paul Weller, who fronted the outstanding mod trio, The Jam.  Along with bassist Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler on drums, The Jam took a 6-year journey from angry young (but well-dressed!) punks to British pop icons, leaving behind a catalog of recorded material that ranges from damn good to unbelievably excellent.

Wearing their musical influences (most notably, The Who) on their mohair sleeves and with Rickenbackers flashing, The Jam brought 1965 to 1977, charging out of the gate with two fantastic albums in less than a year.  Their debut, In The City, bristled with enough energy and angst for the band to have been quickly lumped in with the '77 Punk crowd (that the title track's main riff was nicked by The Sex Pistols for their "Holidays In The Sun" single only solidified that mis-categorization). The immediate follow-up album, This Is The Modern World, added a touch more melody to the proceedings, but did not dial back the roar.  Both are absolutely essential albums.

All Mod Cons, released a year later, began to stretch the band's boundaries.  Musical references to The Who were now evolving into sonic echoes of The Kinks (whose "David Watts" gets covered to great effect), and Weller as a songwriter was becoming more of a storyteller, even if those stories were somewhat harrowing ("Down In The Tube Station At Midnight").  1979's Setting Sons kept The Jam's evolution on track, and scored them not only their first visit to the US album charts, but their first Top Ten single in the UK, "The Eton Rifles." 

The dawn of the new decade saw The Jam take a sudden but not completely unexpected turn towards a Rubber Soul-era Beatles sound with the release of Sound Affects.  The lead single, "Going Underground," showed that the band could still deliver the tough stuff when they cared to, but the stunning "That's Entertainment" began to reveal a new, more wistful side of the band.  A couple of non-album singles, "Funeral Pyre" and "Absolute Beginners," took this sound to the next level, adding some R&B influence to the mix.  The Jam was really hitting its stride.

Which made it all the more surprising that their next album, 1982's The Gift, would be their last.  Sporting a couple of top-notch singles in "Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero?" and "Town Called Malice," The Gift finally gave The Jam a #1 album in the UK.  After two more non-album singles, the stunning "The Bitterest Pill" and the bopping "Beat Surrender," Weller dissolved the band, choosing to focus more on the R&B side of his music with his new band, The Style Council. 

They went out on top and have never reunited, nor does there seem to be any likelihood that they will.  So we can only enjoy the half-dozen albums they left behind.  Here are two of my favorites, which happen also to neatly bookend The Jam's career: First up, "In The City" from their 1977 debut, then "Town Called Malice" from their 1982 swansong.  My great thanks to Maureen for this request- great call!

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