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.
This 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
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.
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.