What? Another compilation of The Jam? This one, however, is to tie in with an exhibition taking place at Somerset House in London, entitled About The Young Idea. This compilation serves as a reminder that between 1977 and their split at the peak of their fame, just five years later, The Jam were a truly essential band.
The title of this latest compilation comes from the band’s debut single ‘In The City.’ Nearly forty years on, it still sounds like a remarkably fresh call to arms from the eighteen year old Paul Weller, and like any great debut single, sounds like a manifesto. It’s widely recognised that the Sex Pistols’ fourth single, ‘Holiday In The Sun’ borrows from it.
What this compilation – like a number of the many Jam compilations over the last thirty years – does do is cherry pick from that time, and the reality is that the first two Jam studio albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World are patchy affairs. But in 1978 ‘News Of the World’ showed that bassist Bruce Foxton was also a writer (and indeed singer), and that the band would produce a number of singles that would not appear on the albums. By the end of the year All Mod Cons showed just how much they’d matured, and how sharp Weller’s writing had become. ‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’ and the still-astonishing (and not a little horrifying) ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ were the singles and just a glimpse of how bloody good they were. They would never again be recording slightly pointless cover versions of the ‘Batman’ theme for fleshing out albums; The Jam’s b-sides were frequently just as good as the a-sides (see ‘Tales From The Riverbank’ ,‘Dreams Of Children’ and ‘The Butterfly Collector’ for evidence of this).
And until 1982 the quality did not abate. In 1979 they released ‘Strange Town’ (the first video they would work on with Steve Barron), and a contender for one of their finest songs. The anger was still there, but ever more focused, as on ‘Eton Rifles’, which decades later would infuriate Weller when British Prime Minister praised it. They’d come through punk, but Weller’s love of soul was beginning to show through.
Who knows what could have happened had the band stayed together beyond 1982? Many people have never forgiven Weller for splitting the band up. Whilst it has ceased to be worthy of comment when a single debuts at no.1 in the British charts for a couple of decades, the Jam did it several times when this was almost unheard-of. And they deserved to, with ‘Going Underground,’ ‘A Town Called Malice’ and ‘Beat Surrender.’ Hell, the Jam also scored high-selling (and charting) import singles with ‘Just Who Is The 5 o’Clock Hero?’ and ‘That’s Entertainment.’
The chances are that many reading this will have bought a Jam compilation (and perhaps studio albums, I certainly hope so). Whether or not people will feel that they can or cannot live without owning the radio advert for the ‘In The City’ single which opens this album is one of only two unreleased tracks here, let this not discriminate from what is still a fine body of work.