Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beat Surrender

If you put the Who, the Kinks, Smokey Robinson, and the Clash in a blender, and added a shot of ginseng, you'd wind up with the Jam.

There are some inexplicable holes in my music collection. It amazes and astonishes me that I never owned a record by the Jam (although I wore out a cassette that had Sound Affects on one side and This is the Modern World on the other, listening to it every day as I drove to and from my first post-college job).

The Clash had the political cred and the Sex Pistols had the punk cred, but it's hard to think of any English band to emerge from the mid-1970s who had more musical cred than the Jam.

Initially, the Jam were considered yet another punk band. But their musical ambitions were always a little grander. They wanted to be a Motown band. And a Pub Rock Band.

And in an era when they're contemporaries wanted to bury "dinosaur" bands like the Who, the Jam secretly dreamed of being the Who. But they didn't entirely take that ambition seriously and were willing to mock their Who-obsession by calling their third album All Mod Cons. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

But then things changed. And the band started becoming a faster, more punk version of the Kinks, chronicling the uniquely British details of their lives. This made them superstars in the U.K., but ultimately probably made it much harder for them to break through in the U.S. (which they never quite did, despite incongruous appearances on shows like American Bandstand):

While their music always retained the same propulsive drive, they moved into more of a soul sound before finally calling it quits in 1983. Maybe all they really wanted was to finally be Martha and the Vandellas:

Paul Weller wound go on to found the Style Council and a solo career and his bandmates Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton wrote a book about the Jam that slammed Weller. Buckler and Foxton recruited a singer from a Jam tribute band and toured as "From the Jam" in 2007. Weller insists he'll never get back together with the Jam and described reunion tours as "just embarrassing and sad."

Maybe so. But to this day, when I'm feeling sad there's still nothing that cheers me up quite like the doomed-but-also-hopeful tone of the Jam's "Monday."

And (like the song goes) I will never be embarrassed about that again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remind me to tell you about the radio station in Maine that fired me for playing "Beat Surrender." I defended myself by saying the line "Bullshit is bullshit, it just goes by different names" wasn't obscene because it was true.

The P.D. laughed and fired me anyway.