Boy About Town: The Jam as an upbeat pop band

There's more than you can hope for in this world - so cheer up, lads!

There’s quite a few different sides to Paul Weller’s songwriting for The Jam – the angry young man of “Going Underground”, the melancholy folk singer-songwriter on “That’s Entertainment”, the would-be Northern Soul artist on “Ghosts” and the the budding social commentator on “Town Called Malice.”  I like a lot of that, and some of it I like a lot, but when it comes down to it, my favourite songs by this band are the simple three or four chord, three minute bop tunes about love, music and being an excited kid, that are spread out across their six studio albums and on a few singles.

These tunes are all major key, up tempo, with melodic guitar riffs and often boppy horns as well, and are full of lines like “The kids know where it’s at” and “We got the gift of life” and my favourite, “There’s more than you can hope for in this world.” Mixed in with all that is an urgent desire to make the most of today, and a kind of bittersweet sadness about lost opportunity and fading youth. Maybe some of them were supposed to be light relief from their more serious tracks, but to me, they actually represent the best of this band.  No other band ever captured this mood in quite the same way.

Weller carries this “yearning kid” thing off perfectly, singing with a kind of eager boyishness and optimism that you could only really get away with if you were a teenager or in your very early twenties, and hey, let’s remember, he was! Their professionalism makes it easy to forget it but this band were babies, they’d had mainstream success at age nineteen and the band was wrapping up by the time Weller was twenty-three. No wonder he’s had such an interminable bloody solo career. Ahem…

Anyway, here’s the tunes I’m talking about. I’m not sure about a few of these but ten are rock solid.

  1. In the City
  2. Art School
  3. Sounds From the Street (?)
  4. It’s Too Bad
  5. Fly (?)
  6. When You’re Young
  7. Girl On The Phone
  8. But I’m Different Now
  9. Dream Time
  10. Boy About Town (mp3)
  11. Absolute Beginners
  12. The Gift

By the way, I’ll be posting a single of the Jam live in Japan at some point pretty soon. The live version of ‘But I’m Different Now’ is excellent.

Steve.

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Live Wire: Best of the Bon Scott Era

well if you're looking for trouble...

Like all good Aussie boys, I love me some Bon and Co. especially when I’ve had a few, but when I think about it, there are some paradoxes in my attitude to AC/DC, viz:

  • Even though I think all their songs sound the same, I love some to death, while others bore me (to death), and I find the “good track to filler” ratio pretty intolerable on the majority of their records. So, something stands out about some songs but I don’t know what it is.
  • I don’t normally think of them as a singles band, yet my “best of” track list has lots of singles.
  • I think I can only stand them in “small doses”, but I will happily listen to selected songs (“Live Wire” and a few others) about ten times in a row, getting increasingly louder each time.
  • I think of them as a mood band, yet some of their songs just get me no matter what mood I’m in. In fact, they put me in the mood to listen to them more.

I’ll probably never figure them out. But anyway, here’s my Bon Scott era, reduced to the 12-song “best of” LP – incidentally, something the band themselves haven’t ever really released.

  1. Jailbreak
  2. Long Way to the Top
  3. Rock and Roll Singer
  4. Live Wire
  5. TNT
  6. High Voltage
  7. Dirty Deeds
  8. Let There Be Rock
  9. Riff Raff
  10. Whole Lotta Rosie
  11. Kicked in the Teeth
  12. Highway to Hell

I’ve included ‘Live Wire’ as an mp3, just so that in case you are a novice AC/DC listener, you can hear what plain rock music should sound like. I I fucking love the intro to this song. It’s just such an obvious piece of rock, someone just had to do it, and AC/DC decided that someone was them, and did a great job of it, too; it’s simple, solid, stirring, ballsy, and really well recorded.

Enjoy,

Steve.

I'm the man to see...

London Calling as a Single LP

(More filler posting to keep this place ticking over. I will post more music soon.. honest. Like, this week).

Running with the general theme of weeding out bad songs by good bands, here’s my pick for London Calling as a single LP. Think of the wonderful album that might have been if only the dross filter had been set to a higher level when they were making their selection. For starters, the band could have taken nearly all of 1980 off, and the world of music would be none the poorer.

London Calling:

  1. London Calling
  2. Brand New Cadillac (cover version)
  3. Hateful (Jones)
  4. Rudie Can’t Fail (Jones)
  5. Spanish Bombs (Jones)
  6. Lost in the Supermarket (Jones)
  7. Clampdown (Jones sings in middle eight)
  8. The Guns of Brixton (Simonon)
  9. Koka Kola
  10. Train in Vain (Jones)

I’m pretty sure that the band would have still recieved the same amount of critical accliam for this tight, Jones-led effort as they would for the sprawling mess they released instead because they allowed Strummer’s “but I’m the lead singer” ego to get in the way. Lyrically, he just wasn’t in top form that year. Moreoever, I’m sure that you, gentle reader, can’t even remember the name of lots of the other songs of the real double LP without looking it upon Wikipedia. Can you?

As for Sandinista – I can’t even make a good single album out of the entire six sides. To Mack’s suggestion of “Somebody Got Murdered” I’d add “The Call Up” which combined could have made the basis of a decent EP, I suppose. Anyway, can anyone actually name a really good triple album? Seems like hubris of the highest order to even attempt one.

S.

Not really a ‘fan’ any more…

When I was a teenager I was a fanatic follower of various bands and would have easily been able to tell you what my twelve favourite albums were. I would have been happy if someone asked me. Of course, no-one ever did.

Then I got into playing music and stopped listening so much. When you are spending every day jamming or performing, or listening to your friends’ bands, you don’t listen to recorded music for entertainment. Well, I didn’t, anyway. I needed a break from it. Silent time was good time.

For the last ten years or so I have been getting increasingly into music but something has changed… I’m not a fan any more.  For example, I used to love The Buzzcocks to the point where I would have argued heatedly if you pointed out that A Different Kind of Tension is a bad record in a lot of places. Now…I’d probably be the one telling you that.

I don’t want to hear Pete Shelley’s bad songs! Can’t I just listen to the good songs? Isn’t that what compilation albums are for?

I’ve been this way for a while. I remember laughing, years ago, when someone tried to defend London Calling as a “brilliant punk album.” My point was that lots of the second half is bullshit. (I can’t even remember how a lot of those songs go, they are so ordinary. I just want to hear Hateful and Coca Cola). But this guy was prepared to stand there and say that “every song is totally fantastic and that The Clash were the best band ever.”

I kind of miss that. I don’t seem to be able to defend bands any more. And there’s virtually no single album from back then I’d listen to the whole way through.

Consequently when I come to review my list of top twelve albums I have a lot of caveats and a lot of my favourite bands don’t even make it. Here’s an alphabetised list of what I’m talking about…

The B52s: The self-titled debut is easily on the list of favourite albums but Wild Planet suffered incredibly from difficult second album syndrome. I loved the direction they were going on Mesopotamia but let’s face it, they didn’t really have the talent to sustain it. The rest of their stuff is wack. ‘Love Shack’ included.

The Buzzcocks: The first two albums are great punk but  eh, I’m not happy with Singles Going Steady as a choice here. I prefer a compilation called I Don’t Mind The Buzzcocks and even that has some shit choices and key songs missing.

The Clash: This band really do not have a single LP that makes the list, let alone a double or a triple. Sandanista is just crap. I love the songs ‘Stay Free’, ‘All the Young Punks’  and ‘Safe European Home’ so much that I can say Give Em Enough Rope is my favourite record by this band but that is about all I can say.

The Cramps: This band had flashes of total genius on every early album but I can’t imagine sitting through a whole record and Off the Bone has all the wrong songs on it. How can you say it is a “best of” without ‘Teenage Werewolf?’

Devo. OK, this is an exception. Duty Now For the Future is amazing, and I could say it is one of my favourite records by a favourite band. Are We Not Men is close behind.

The Gun Club: Fire of Love is one of my favourite records but I actually don’t like much else by this band…so I couldn’t say they are one of my favourite bands.

Hunters and Collectors: The Jaws of Life. This is the best record ever made in Australia, although I don’t listen to much other HanC and find their early stuff a bit too arty (although the Towtruck EP is sublime) and their later stuff too wussy. I think this is almost brilliant by accident: a confluence of a very good band in perfect form with a great producer.

The Jam: I love this band, and Sound Affects is probably in my top twelve, but Dig the New Breed is another option. So, probably an exception, altough once again I’d really rather just make my own compilation…

Joy Division: Lots of Unknown Pleasures is actually kind of boring and maudlin and most of their really good songs are not there. Whoever chose the tracks on Substance has parts of their brain missing. I can say that Closer is may favourite record by this band, and that they are one of my favourite bands. But strangely, this does not translate into saying it is one of my favourite albums.

New Order: ‘Procession’ is my favourite song and I have gotten exquisite pleasure listening to this band on early recordings but would not put either Movement or Power, Corruption and Lies on my list, and actively hate a lot of their new stuff.

The Ramones: End of the Century. I hate a lot of the Ramones later work but the songwriting is good enough on this record to carry it. Only a few tracks stink. I would miss ‘California Sun’ and ‘Sheena but there really is a lot of filler on those early records and I couldn’t listen to a whole one.

Velvet Underground: I’m almost tempted to say Loaded just because the two singles were so good, but really The Banana Album is their best work and if it isn’t in my top twelve, I don’t know what is. I’m not even sure if I like this band the rest of the time.

So, y’see what I’m saying, right? I’m just not a fan any more. A lot of music is just too…bad.

The White Album as a single LP

Ah, the White Album. So white, so albummy, and so…variable. The high point of the Beatles’ creativity, the best album they ever made, the beginning of the years of misery, the worst time they had in the studio, and containing some of their worst ever songs.

George Martin is often quoted as saying the band should have released this as a single album, and Ringo Starr chimed in with the notion that two seperate albums would have been the go. Perhaps they could have been called The White Album and The Shite Album, with “Don’t Pass My By” as side 1, track 1 on the second LP. God, that is a truly awful song.

As far as I know, neither Martin or Starr actually specified which tracks should have been included on the ‘good’ single album, but if you look at the track listing it isn’t hard to work something out, and most sane people will only vary in a few choices.

Here’s my version of the album as a single LP, containing 15 songs, exactly half the total number.

  1.  Back in the USSR
  2. Dear Prudence
  3. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  4. Happiness is a Warm Gun
  5. I’m So Tired
  6. Blackbird
  7. Piggies
  8. Birthday
  9. Yer Blues
  10. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
  11. Helter Skelter
  12. Long Long Long
  13. Revolution
  14. Savoy Truffle
  15. Good Night

 For those keeping score – and let’s face it that was always part of the fun – the results are as follows:

  • Lennon 6
  • McCartney 4
  • Harrison 4
  • Starr 1

That’s about right.