The Jam were the most popular band to emerge from the initial wave of British punk rock in 1977; along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Buzzcocks, The Jam had the most impact on pop music. While they could barely get noticed in America, the trio became genuine superstars in Britain, with an impressive string of Top Ten singles in the late '70s and early '80s. The Jam could never have a hit in America because they were thoroughly and defiantly British. Under the direction of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Paul Weller, the trio spearheaded a revival of mid-'60s mod groups, in the style of the Who and the Small Faces. Like the mod bands, the group dressed stylishly, worshipped American R&B, and played it loud and rough. By the time of the group's third album, Weller's songwriting had grown substantially, as he was beginning to write social commentaries and pop songs in the vein of the Kinks. Both his political songs and his romantic songs were steeped in British culture, filled with references and slang in the lyrics, as well as musical allusions. Furthermore, as The Jam grew more popular and musically accessible, Weller became more insistent and stubborn about his beliefs, supporting leftist causes and adhering to the pop aesthetics of '60s British rock without ever succumbing to hippie values. Paradoxically, that meant even when their music became more pop than punk, they never abandoned the punk values -- if anything, Weller stuck to the strident independent ethics of 1977 more than any other punk band just by simply refusing to change.
Weller formed The Jam with drummer Rick Buckler, bassist Bruce Foxton, and guitarist Steve Brookes while they were still in school in 1975; Brookes quickly left the band and they remained a trio for the rest of their career. For the next year, the band played gigs around London, building a local following. In February 1977, the group signed a record contract with Polydor Records; two months later, they released their debut single, "In the City," which reached the U.K. Top 40. The following month, the group released their debut album, also called In the City. Recorded in just 11 days, the album featured a combinations of R&B covers and Weller originals, all of which sounded a bit like faster, more ragged versions of the Who's early records. Their second single, "All Around the World," nearly broke into the British Top Ten and the group embarked on a successful British tour. During the summer of 1977, they recorded their second album, This Is the Modern World, which was released toward the end of the year. "The Modern World" made it into the Top 40 in November, just as The Jam were beginning their first American tour. Although it was brief, the tour was not successful, leaving bitter memories of the U.S. in the minds of the band.
This Is the Modern World peaked in the British charts at number 22, yet it received criticism for repeating the sound of the debut. The band began a headlining tour of the U.K., yet it was derailed shortly after it started when the group got into a nasty fight with a bunch of rugby players in a Leeds hotel. Weller broke several bones and was charged with assault, although the Leeds Crown Court would eventually acquit him. The Jam departed for another American tour in March of 1978 and it was yet another unsuccessful tour, as they opened for Blue Oyster Cult. It did nothing to win new American fans, yet their star continued to rise in Britain. Bands copying the group's mod look and sound popped up across Britain and The Jam itself performed at the Reading Festival in August. All Mod Cons, released late in 1978, marked a turning point in The Jam's career, illustrating that Weller's songwriting was becoming more melodic, complex, and lyrically incisive, resembling Ray Davies more than Pete Townshend. Even as their sound became more pop-oriented, the group lost none of their tightly controlled energy. All Mod Cons was a major success, peaking at number six on the U.K. charts, even if it didn't make a dent in the U.S. Every one of the band's singles were now charting in the Top 20, with the driving "Eton Rifles" becoming their first Top Ten in November 1979, charting at number three.
Setting Sons, released at the end of 1979, climbed to number four in the U.K. and marked their first charting album in the U.S., hitting number 137 in spring of 1980. At that time, The Jam had become full-fledged rock stars in Britain, with their new "Going Underground" single entering the charts at number one. During the summer, the band recorded their fifth album, with the "Taxman"-inspired "Start" released as a teaser single in August; "Start" became their second straight number one. Its accompanying album, the ambitious Sound Affects, hit number two in the U.K. at the end of the year; it was also the band's high-water mark in the U.S., peaking at number 72. "That's Entertainment," one of the standout tracks from Sound Affects, charted at number 21 in the U.K. as an import single, confirming the band's enormous popularity.
"Funeral Pyre," the band's summer 1981 single, showed signs that Weller was becoming fascinated with American soul and R&B, as did the punchy, horn-driven "Absolute Beginners," which hit number four in the fall of the year. As The Jam were recording their sixth album, Weller suffered a nervous breakdown, which prompted him to stop drinking. In February 1982, the first single from the new sessions -- the double A-sided "Town Called Malice"/"Precious" -- became their third number one single and the band became the first group since the Beatles to play two songs on BBC's Top of the Pops. The Gift, released in March of 1982, showcased the band's soul infatuation and became the group's first number one album in the U.K. "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero" hit number eight in July, becoming the group's second import single to make the U.K. charts.
Although The Jam was at the height of its popularity, Weller was becoming frustrated with the trio's sound and made the decision to disband the group. On the heels of the number two hit "The Bitterest Pill," The Jam announced their breakup in October of 1982. The band played a farewell tour in the fall and their final single, "Beat Surrender," entered the charts at number one. Dig the New Breed, a compilation of live tracks, charted at number two in December of 1982. All 16 of the group's singles were re-released by Polydor in the U.K. at the beginning of 1983; all of them recharted simultaneously. Bruce Foxton released a solo album, Touch Sensitive, and Rick Buckler played with the Time UK; neither of the efforts were as noteworthy as the Jam biography the two wrote in the early '90s, which contained many vicious attacks on Weller.
Immediately after the breakup of The Jam, Weller formed the Style Council with Mick Talbot, a member of the Jam-inspired mod revival band the Merton Parkas. After a handful of initial hits, the Style Council proved to be a disappointment and Weller fell out of favor, both critically and commercially. At the end of the decade he disbanded the group and went solo in the early '90s; his solo albums were both artistic and popular successes, returning him to the spotlight in the U.K. The legacy of The Jam is apparent in nearly every British guitar pop band of the '80s and '90s, from the Smiths to Blur and Oasis. More than any other group, The Jam kept the tradition of three-minute, hook-driven British guitar pop alive through the '70s and '80s, providing a blueprint for generations of bands to come.
On their debut, the Jam offered a good balance between the forward-looking, "destroy everything" aggression of punk with a certain reverence for '60s beat and R&B. In an era that preached attitude over musicianship, the Jam bettered the competition with good pop sense, strong melodies, and plenty of hooks that compromised none of punk's ideals or energy, plus youth culture themes and an abrasive, ferocious attack. Even though the band would improve exponentially over the next couple of years, In the City is a remarkable debut and stands as one of the landmark punk albums.
Words - Chris Woodstra
The Jam recorded their second album during a hurried schedule to capitalize on the success of their debut album barely six months earlier. It is an album so completely redolent of early Jam with exuberant, short, retro feeling songs but there is also a more introspective Paul Weller on tracks like, Life From a Window and I Need You (For Someone) – there was nothing like this on the first album. Not their greatest album but still full of great tunes played by a band on the cusp of greatness.
The Jam regrouped and refocused for All Mod Cons, an album that marked a great leap in songwriting maturity and sense of purpose. For the first time, Paul Weller built, rather than fell back, upon his influences, carving a distinct voice all his own; he employed a story-style narrative with invented characters and vivid British imagery a la Ray Davies to make incisive social commentary -- all in a musically irresistible package. The youthful perspective and impassioned delivery on All Mod Cons first earned Weller the "voice of a generation" tag, and it certainly captures a moment in time, but really, the feelings and sentiments expressed on the album just as easily speak to any future generation of young people. Terms like "classic" are often bandied about, but in the case of All Mod Cons, it is certainly deserved.
Words - Chris Woodstra
The Jam's Setting Sons was originally planned as a concept album about three childhood friends who, upon meeting after some time apart, discover the different directions in which they've grown apart. Only about half of the songs ended up following the concept due to a rushed recording schedule, but where they do, Paul Weller vividly depicts British life, male relationships, and coming to terms with entry into adulthood. Weller's observations of society are more pointed and pessimistic than ever, but at the same time, he's employed stronger melodies with a slicker production and comparatively fuller arrangements, even using heavy orchestration for a reworked version of Bruce Foxton's "Smithers-Jones." Setting Sons often reaches brilliance and stands among The Jam's best albums.
Words - Chris Woodstra
Musically, Weller drew upon Revolver-era Beatles as a primary source (the bassline on "Start," which comes directly from "Taxman," being the most obvious occurrence), incorporating the occasional odd sound and echoed vocal, which implied psychedelia without succumbing to its excesses. From beginning to end, the songs are pure, clever, infectious pop -- probably their catchiest -- with "That's Entertainment" and the should-have-been-a-single "Man in the Corner Shop" standing out.
Words - Chris Woodstra
The Gift is the sixth and final studio album by British band The Jam. Released on 12 March 1982, it reached #1 on the British charts.
The Jam's enduring, eternal popularity in the U.K. meant an ever-increasing number of archival releases that cropped up over the years, with Live Jam, a fine counterpart to the other official concert album, Dig the New Breed, turning up in 1993. Like that earlier effort, it draws together a slew of tracks from shows ranging from 1979 to 1982, including some cuts from the band's almost-farewell headlining bows at Wembley Arena. Quite happily, there's no track overlap at all with Dig the New Breed, making the two perfectly complementary recordings in ways.
The real treat, thanks to the expanded space on CDs, is the inclusion of nine songs from two December 1979 shows in London, the best portrait of what an actual specific show must have been like. A masterful rampage through "Down at the Tube Station at Midnight" is well worth the entire disc, but takes on "Billy Hunt," "Mr. Clean," and "Away From the Numbers" are also high up there, the threesome making enough righteous but tuneful noise for a band three times its size.
Two stand-alone cuts from separate shows had to be included just because they were so clearly awesome -- a strong "The Eton Rifles" and an absolutely spectacular "Strange Town" that completely blows the socks off the studio take and then some. If there's one song to take away from the whole disc, that's it, but performances of "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street," "David Watts," and "A Town Called Malice" from later shows get close to the sheer energy of that number. At the end a couple of songs show all too well the huffy bluster masquerading as real soul which would dog Weller's career in later years, but, on the whole, Live Jam is manna for believers and entertaining for newcomers -- the right kind of balance.
Words - Ned Raggett
Released in 1983, just after Paul Weller disbanded the band at the peak of their popularity, Snap! was the first greatest-hits album from the Jam. At the original 29-track length and sequencing, Snap! is nothing short of a masterpiece, a record that briskly and bracingly tells the story of one of the great rock bands. This isn't just an introduction, it's a narrative, tracing the rapid rise of the Jam from nervy, confrontational teenage punks to sharp modern pop purveyors to stylish soul-inflected rockers.
Since this is a compilation, their growth is more dramatic and evident than on their individual albums, and since a lot of this growth happened on singles that didn't reach the LPs -- particularly the brilliant middle years, when Weller was spitting out classic singles like "Strange Town," "When You're Young," "Going Underground" and "Dreams of Children," while leaving such remarkable numbers as "The Butterfly Collector" and "Tales from the Riverbank" as B-sides -- this is necessary to get a complete picture of the band; after all, even the farewell singles "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)" and "Beat Surrender" were not on the swan song The Gift although their presence would have improved it considerably. So, as a way to get these, some of the band's very best songs, Snap! is essential.
Arguably, it's even more essential for how it captures the essence of the Jam so completely. There are major songs missing -- "To Be Someone," "All Mod Cons," "In the Crowd," "English Rose," "Girl on a Phone," "But I'm Different Now" -- but they're present on already-essential albums like All Mod Cons and Setting Sons, and what is here tells the full story of the band at a breathless pace. For neophytes, it's a flawless introduction, but it's something more than a mere primer: it is a thrilling, addictive listen, so good that it stands as the definitive Jam album and one of the greatest greatest-hits albums of all time.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The album's 20 tracks proceed in chronological order, documenting the Jam's progression from sharp, aggressive mod-influenced rock ("Modern World," "In the City") to explicitly Motown-influenced post-punk R&B ("Town Called Malice"), with frequent forays into surreal balladeering ("Butterfly Collector") and ambiguous love songs ("English Rose"). The band's sociopolitical stance is not always comprehensible, especially to American ears (and particularly to American ears born somewhere around the time these songs were written), but it clearly has something to do with populist politics, open-hearted romance, and some kind of gentle socialism. That such sentiments could translate into reliably tight, beautifully constructed guitar pop with a serrated edge is a testament both to frontman Paul Weller and his fellow bandmembers. Weller would later go on to make records of an increasingly unpredictable and inconsistent nature with the Style Council, but as Sound of the Jam makes clear, his first band got the best of his prodigious early talent. Highly recommended.
Words - Rick Anderson
Telling the complete story of any band as successful as prolific in such a short time as the Jam is tricky stuff but this 2006 compilation comes very close to succeeding. It’s the perfect way to introduce friends and family, or anyone else for that matter, to a band that helped shaped modern rock music.