The Jam: A Band For The Modern World

The Jam: A Band For The Modern World

There are three pillars to mod culture. Music, fashion and attitude. One band that embodied all three of these essential characteristics, was the Jam.

This three-piece from Woking burst onto the music scene in 1977 with their first album, ‘In the City’. Spearheaded by the Modfather himself, Paul Weller, the rise to the forefront of the music scene was rapid.

But six albums, five years and four number one hits later, the story of the Jam was over. When Weller decided to close time on the band, he left behind a huge footprint on not just mod culture, but the world of music in general.

But where did the Jam come from? And how did two boys playing along to a Beatles songbook lead to this iconic band?  

The book was called Beatles Complete, and founding Jam members Weller and Steve Brookes went through page by page, learning the chords that were behind the hits they heard on the radio. Weller was McCartney on the bass, and Brookes was Lennon on guitar. Rick Buckler completed the set by joining on drums, and the first incarnation of the three-piece that would become The Jam was born.

In the pubs around Surrey, the three would play the songs they love. This consisted of Beatles tracks as well as other famous rock songs. Before long Bruce Foxton was bought in as rhythm guitarist and the three-piece became a four.

Like most guitar bands of the time, The Jam worshipped at the altar of the American Gods, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The same bands the Beatles covered in their early days in Hamburg and the Cavern Club were occupying places on the Jam’s setlist, but that was soon to change. Weller was emerging as a leading figure in the band, and his musical influences were beginning to change.

In 1975, a 17-year-old Weller’s musical reach had led to the soul and Motown music of the 1960s. Wilson Pickett was such an influence, his song ‘In the Midnight Hour’ features on the Jam’s 1977 album, ‘This is the Modern World’. Other influences for the Modfather was the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown, Dinah Washington, Marvin Gaye, The Wailers, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane.

Not only did he devour the soul, Motown and jazz music of the 50s and 60s, but he also witnessed a revolution right in his homeland. The Who, Small Faces and The Kinks were all big on the music scene, and a young Weller found a love for these bands that would stay with him throughout his career. One of the first gig’s he went to was Dr Feelgood, where Weller watched the maniacal Wilko Johnson strutting violently across the stage, head jerking left and right like a bird, and he was transfixed.

The broadening of Weller’s musical horizons led to a change in the look for the Jam. A trip to Burton occurred, in which four black suits were purchased. They had gone from boys to men, and their style pushed them into a modernist bracket. Weller styled his haircut on Steve Marriott, the mercurial frontman of Small Faces, and purchased a Lambretta. The only thing that shined brighter than Weller’s Rickenbacker guitar was the white and black shoes the band wore. The Jam were mods, and their music began to change to reflect this, which not Everyone agreed with.

Steve Brookes wanted to carry on in the style that the Jam had started with when they would play along to the Beatles Complete songbook. He left, leaving a berth on vocals that would soon be filled by Weller. Not wanting to play bass and sing, he moved to the guitar and Bruce Foxton took control of the bass, and the most famous lineup of this legendary band was formed.

Now a 3-piece again, The Jam began to play gigs in London. It was here Weller was introduced to the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The music was angry, and more importantly, it was about things that were happening now. It was ferocious, it was political, and it was right up the bands street.

Getting drunk in the back of a Transit van travelling from gig to gig and taking in the music that was spreading like wildfire through the capital is looked upon as the best time of the Jam by Weller now, and it’s easy to see how his songwriting changed due to this time. His songwriting became about real things. It was focused on the young and the struggle for jobs, the battle against authority and violence that took place on the street of London on a Saturday night. 

Jump forward to 1977, and the Jam are signed by Polydor. Their first single was ‘In the city’, a song that is still a classic for the disillusioned youth of the county. A song that showcases the mod and punk leanings that were influencing the band. It spoke of police brutality and the power of the movements that were taking place. The album may not have been a huge commercial hit, but as Weller yelled ‘you’d better listen man, because the kid’s know where it’s at’, bedecked in a fitted black suit with black and white shoes on Top of the Pops, a whole nation of punks and mods were introduced to the Jam.

The album of the same name showcased many of the band’s influences, with R and B covers (Slow Down by Larry Williams) and of course, a homage to one of Weller’s musical loves, the Who. No matter how fast the guitar riffs got and how thumping the rhythm section was, the Jam maintained a professional, sharp look. Gleaming guitars, smart suits, and bright shoes made the band stand out amongst many of their contemporaries.

‘This is the modern world’ followed in 77, followed by ‘all mod cons’ in 78. Weller was beginning to finetune his songwriting skills, and his lyrics were just as political. Watching the students of Eton berating a right to work march led him to write ‘Eton Rifles’. Other songs such as ‘Down by the tube station at midnight’ and ‘A bomb in Wardour street’ were angry songs telling violent stories of assaults and fighting. 

The Jam released three more albums until Weller called time on the band in 1982. At this point, they had become more than a band. They were the spearheads of a movement and spokesmen for a generation. Weller remains to this day the Modfather, one of the most important figures of modernist culture.

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