The Jam Play “Town Called Malice”

Jam-towncalledmalice1Listen to this track by Woking Surrey all mod cons power trio The Jam. It’s “Town Called Malice”, a smash single taken from 1982’s The Gift, their last record together. The song would be their third number one in Britain, and their first charting single in the United States. It would go on to grace soundtracks of movies for many years, including Billy Elliot, a story that is partly about life in a British town beset by economic woes.

The song is indeed a slice of life story of a town. In this case, it’s the hometown of the band, which is about forty minutes on the train outside of London. This is the suburbs, the same place in which another song, 1980’s “That’s Entertainment”, is set. But, instead of the youthful restlessness we saw in that tune, “Town Called Malice” reveals something more sinister underneath its similar scenes of suburban life, with something more at stake than youthful boredom and the need to break away.

Read more

The Style Council Play “Shout To The Top”

Here’s a clip of left-leaning young soul rebels and bona fide pop collective The Style Council. It’s “Shout To The Top”, a single which appeared on the UK album Our Favourite Shop, and on the US album Internationalists, both released in their respective markets in 1985. The single appeared in October of 1984 on the British charts where it reached a respectable top ten showing.

Style Council Our Favourite ShopThis was during a time when social and economic issues were particularly polarized in Britain, and in North America as well, which may explain the political undercurrents in this song about being at the end of one’s rope, with nothing left to do but rage against the machine, so to speak. The Style Council helped to pioneer this approach to writing politically informed material as established on their earlier album Café Bleu aka My Ever Changing Moods as it was known in North America. The result was the creation of a sort of pop music political manifesto. Our Favourite Shop puts the band into their sharpest focus.

This artistic fluidity of the band was extensive, mixing Northern soul, jazz, mod-rock, and even early hip-hop sounds. Thematically speaking, they’d aim pretty high too, often bordering on the polemical, and sometimes into downright pretension. This would go south for them later in the decade when they strayed a bit too far, and when popularity and sales began to wane. But, in the mid-80s, leader Paul Weller, who had gained some similar thematic traction when he fronted The Jam, demonstrated his full array of pop smarts in this new musical milieu, along with the political content to be found in his lyrics to go along with them.

That’s why this song just zings. This is a bright, bouncy song about not taking it anymore, a shining soul-pop gem about being tired of being oppressed. You might wonder how it’s possible to get a top ten showing on the charts while making such strident statements about society, even if it is wrapped in a stunning pop sheen. But, this was the ’80s, friends!

Does that mean that audiences were more receptive to political messages in their pop at the time? Or did it mean that they weren’t listening very carefully? Was there another reason? Read more

Paul Weller Performs “Wild Wood”

Here’s a clip of Jam head-honcho, Style Councilman, and all-around modfather Paul Weller, with the title track off of his second official solo album.  It’s “Wild Wood”, as taken from 1993’s LP of the same name,  Wild Wood.

Paul Weller was something of a wunderkind, forming the Jam in the late 70s while still a teen, and defining a sound that drew from punk, yet also from mod-era British Invasion too.  And later, he would explore the flipside of mod culture when his next band, the Style Council, fashioned a sound initially from soul music, R&B grooves, with a sprinkling of Parisian jazz for good measure.  That band would wander stylistically by the end of the 1980s, with critical praise diminishing as they did so. By the end of the decade, the Style Council was dissolved.

Yet, Weller was above all things a songwriter, despite his interest in being a bandleader with ambitions that perhaps outweighed that of his groups.  It was time to strike out on his own as a solo artist, getting to the core of his own skill as a writer of pop songs.  By 1993’s Wild Wood album,  his embrace of becoming a singer-songwriter produced more stylistic departures, with his sound being more akin to late-60s Traffic more than to either punk or soul music.

He would release higher profile albums after this, but this is the one which solidified him as an enduring figure in British rock music.  Weller would be instrumental in inspiring bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Oasis, and many others to reach further back into rock history to make vibrant new music.

Recently, Paul Weller lost his father John Weller who had also been his long-time manager from his Jam days until very recently.  You can offer your condolences at the official Paul Weller website.

To hear more music, take a wander over to the Paul Weller MySpace page.


The Style Council Perform “Headstart for Happiness”

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.

The Style CouncilPaul 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.


Article About Music and Politics from The Guardian Newspaper

Paul WellerI recently read a piece in the Guardian newspaper about the changing relationship between music and politics, and who is into which, in Britain. Where once musicians spoke out against the government in no uncertain terms, a recent interview with Britain’s Conservative Party leader David Cameron reveals that he was, and is, a fan of many of the bands who did so in the 1980s. This includes the Jam and the Smiths – decidedly anti-Conservative and anti-Margaret Thatcher bands who laid out their views pretty candidly. This has caused a number of musicians – including Paul Weller, who wrote a number of anti-Tory songs while fronting the Jam – to scratch their heads in wonderment. Here is a great quote from Weller himself about Cameron’s recent admission that the Jam were and are one of his favourite bands:

“It’s like, which bit didn’t he get?” he says. “It’s strange, but the whole nature of politics has shifted, hasn’t it? The stark contrasts of Thatcherism and socialism have gone: you can’t really tell who’s Brown or Cameron or anyone else. I don’t know what Cameron’s for or against, really…'”

(Paul Weller image courtesy of Brother G )

Weller goes on to elaborate on the business of fronting an anti-Tory band in the 1980s, not knowing that many of those in the audience would become leaders of the very party being criticized on stage. If Weller had been told that there were probably ardent, or soon-to-be ardent, Tories in the audiences he played to in the early 80s, Weller had this to say:

“I’d have been really, really surprised. I think I pretty much nailed where I was at to the mast. But people come to gigs for different reasons: it isn’t necessarily about what the person on stage is singing. But at the same time, you do think, ‘Well, maybe this’ll change their minds.'”

I mention a cue-card that featured in the video for the Jam’s 1982 single Town Called Malice, which featured the slogan “If we ain’t getting through to you, you obviously ain’t listening”. “How prophetic that was,” he says, drily.

You can read the entire article here.

I think that this brings up a number of issues about how effective a vehicle music is perceived to be in politicizing an audience, and what the dynamics are between artist and audience as far as conveying and interpreting that sort of information. I do think part of the dynamic at work is a generational one as much as a political one. Entire generations of people have grown up in an era where the forces which drive political agendas are less about ideology, and more about self-interest and economic leverage. And perhaps this is why it’s harder and harder to tell whether or not any given political platform is Tory or Labour, Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican. If it serves the non-partisan goal of securing a financial foothold in some way, then it’s fair game. I certainly believe this to be true of the Iraq War, which is as much about defending democracy as nuclear physics has to do with the Three Stooges.

The underlying point of the article to me is that criticizing the government is not the same as it once was. This could certainly account for the decidedly lacking amount of political commentary in pop music and in the arts today overall. But, perhaps the more pertinent point is that where once we knew where the lines were upon which to base political debate, it seems that those lines are now less defined, or even entirely absent. To me, this has sinister implications.

What do you think, good people? Is this article proof that politics and music don’t mix? O, is it the artist’s job to comment on society, no matter who gets or doesn’t get it?