Here’s a clip of the Style Council in 1984 with one of the highlight tunes of the band’s career, “Headstart for Happiness” taken from their album Cafe Bleu. Of course, they sound more like 1970 here, being retro before retro was cool.
Paul Weller’s decision to make R&B and jazz overtones his main musical reference points when leaving the Jam and forming his next band was a bold move. A lot of Jam fans were bemused. Yet, soul music was always a big part of mod culture, a template which Weller followed pretty closely. And it’s not like the influences of soul music didn’t have some impact on songs like “A Town Called Malice”, which certainly owes a debt to Motown. In this respect, Weller’s move away from the guitar-bass-drums punk rock sound and into a smoother soul sound isn’t as big a leap as might be first thought.
The Style Council was made up of Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot, along with a number of other contributors including stalwart Weller drummer Steve White, and vocalist D.C Lee who Weller would eventually marry. The trajectory of the group was a bit shaky after their first EP and subsequent debut album and the band would fold by the end of the decade after having released albums of uneven quality. Weller would continue as a solo artist. But the band managed to produce a number of excellent pop songs along the way like “My Everchanging Moods”, “You’re the Best Thing”, “Shout It to the Top”, and others, all infused with radiant soul music influences.
“Headstart for Happiness” is one of my favourite Weller songs all-around, sounding like a classic pop soul gem of the early 70s more so than a tune coming out of the early 80s. In the middle of a very tense time in world history, a time when nuclear war was a constant threat, this song just beams optimism. As such, it comes off as a sort of protest song in a way. Weller and his bandmates would protest in another way, with their involvement in The Red Wedge, which was a sort of musical expression of pro-Labour Party politics and a reaction against what was considered to be an attack on the social fabric of Britain in order to promote laissez-faire economic policies by Thatcher’s Conservatives. The Red Wedge movement was short-lived, and in many ways marks the time as one where musicians stood in direct opposition to the Establishment, perhaps for the last time.
All of that aside, Weller still knew how to write a great tune, and this is one of his best.