ZANI Analysis The Jam’s Vinyl Box Set with Rick BucklerWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
© Words Matteo Sedazzari
November 2013 saw Universal Music re-release all of The Jam’s studio albums, on viny In the City May 1977, This Is the Modern World November 1977, All Mod Cons November 1978, Setting Sons November 1979, Sound Affects November 1980 and The Gift March 1982 (originally released on Polydor). Six great albums LPS (if we are going to get nostalgic) that have certainly stood the test of time well. Be it the poignant, yet angst, Away from The Numbers (In The City), the rhythmic paranoid and eerie Scrape Away (Sound Affects), or the power pop ballad Carnation (The Gift).
Outstanding songs that now inspire the children of the original Jam fans. The formula of The Jam, was simple, Bruce Foxton (Bass and Vocals), Rick Buckler (Drums and Percussion) and Paul Weller (Guitar and Vocals), three young talented musicians from Woking, Surrey. Working class lads who, through aptitude with hard work, grit and determination, created a band that in turn has become a phenomenon. This is down to a number of reasons, The Jam were well dressed and sharp, adopting the classic Mod look of the sixties. They were wearing three button black suits at their debut in 1977, the year of the punk explosion, in which many of their peers were dressing down, the Jam’s dress sense alone showed confidence and bravery. Be it the studio or live, The Jam were clearly passionate and would always give their all. There was a strong and an amazing alliance with the fans, kids (many adopting the culture of Mod) who were allowed into their sound checks, the recording sessions and the tales of young Londoners travelling to the US to see the band, with no way home. Paul, Bruce and Rick had a whip round and made sure the lads returned to ‘old blighty’. The Jam also gave a sense and drive of creativity to their fans. Weller quickly emerged as a talented song writer, and Foxton and Buckler were equal to him in providing a strong backbone in terms of rhythm. So above all else, the music needed to be good, and everything else fell into place.
From the opening chord attack of the debut single In The City to the fading trumpets of their cover of The Chi-lites' Stoned Out of My Mind on the Beat Surrender EP (The Jam’s final seven inch single), the songs were always unique, well structured, intelligent use of the instruments, well produced and all three members of The Jam had their signature sound, Foxton’s thumping and frantic bass line, Buckler’s solid and strong drumming, Weller’s bitter and melodic guitar coupled with an angry yet harmonic British voice. Even though they had a distinctive sound, every song did sound different from single to album, including the covers, which always bore the hallmark of The Jam, be it Batman theme (In The City) to Heat Wave (Setting Sons) “We always strived to avoid being boring and to become stuck in a rut” reflects Rick Buckler, and the boys certainly achieved that.
You could be forgiven for being cynical, as Universal are not offering anything new in terms of releases, there are an additional two new discs of non-album tracks and B-Sides. A 44 page hardcover book with a foreword by Paul Weller, and notes from John Harris (Guardian/Mojo) which are eye catching and presented well. I personally think Universal should have included The Thick as Thieves documentary I was involved in, where new and old fans, as well as some of those involved in their career, chat about the band, oh well, I am sure the man behind the release, Johnny Chandler at Universal Music, knows what he is doing. There are no demos, covers, live tracks or alternate versions, which did feature heavily in The Jam Extras (Polydor 1992) and The Jam’s anthology from 1997, Direction Reaction Creation, a marvellous box set that I still treasure (as I do with all my Jam collection), with disc five of the set featuring gems like The Jam sweating it out with James Brown’s I Feel Good, the funkier version with the horn section of Tales of The Riverbank, a rough cut of Weller and his electric guitar demo-ing Dream Time from Sound Affects, delightful. Perhaps there is nothing left in Polydor’s vault. However Rick knows otherwise “I do have some live recordings and other tapes of album running orders, run off at the time that have not been officially heard.” Come on Universal pick up that phone.
However, without doing a u-turn, it is brilliant that 31 years ago, since their final show in Brighton, Universal are still promoting and releasing their music, and with six strong studio albums being re-released, fans ponder which one is their favourite. For me, it’s a hard one, as one day I can play Sound Affects in its entirety then the following day, All Mod Cons (BTW I use the word day as a figure of speech, I can go days if not weeks or even months without listening to Woking’s finest,) as all the albums mean so much to me on so many different levels. Rick is no different “As far as studio albums go it is a difficult choice, at the moment it would be ‘Setting Sons’, but Rick seems to prefer the live aspect of the band, “Most of my fondest memories of The Jam comes from the live shows, so I love ‘The Jam Live’”.
There are many times whilst listening to The Jam, that I have literally stopped in my tracks and thought how the fxxk did they do that, for example In The Crowd (All Mod Cons) a song about being alone in a crowded place “When I'm in the crowd, I don't see anything, My mind goes a blank, in the humid sunshine” cutting lyrics from Weller backed with his sixties influenced guitar sound, and the powerhouse rhythm section of Foxton and Buckler pushing the song, leading to a crescendo with a backwards Rickenbacker guitar, as Bruce and Rick are clearly enjoying themselves as they take the listener into a frenzy of music with echoes of a previous Jam album track, Away from The Numbers. I often wonder how these songs came about, “We always worked quite fast on any of the songs. We seemed to know what would work or not in the instrumentation and we were well aware of our capabilities, so there are not many that we struggled with, playing live in the studio, the drum tracks would always go down live in a single take, maybe re-recording the bass and certainly the guitar and vocals were overdubbed along with backing vocals and percussion. It was a formula that was used on nearly all studio recordings,” reveals Rick.
Paul, Bruce and Rick were the foundation of The Jam, there is no argument there. Yet there were many great men behind the band helping to achieve their success, their manager Paul’s father, John Weller, a former builder with no previous experience of the music industry, but he was tough and didn’t suffer fools gladly. There was Dennis Munday, senior A ‘n’ R man for Polydor, an original Mod from South East London. Highly instrumental in the logistics of The Jam, the larger than life tour manager Kenny Wheeler, looking like wrestler Giant Haystacks, who no one messed with. All three of them were important and the fans appreciated and respected the role they played. There were the producers, Vic Coppersmith Heaven, who cut his teeth in the late sixties as an engineer on The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed, and who produced five out of the six Jam albums, and the final Jam album, The Gift, was produced by Pete Wilson. An album which saw The Jam pushing for a more soul and funkier sound, with tracks like Precious and Trans Global Express. I have always been curious about the difference between them. “Vic was very meticulous and would keep everything, he was also very helpful in being able to stand back and make some very creative suggestions for the guitar parts for Paul who would often struggle against the idea of ‘lead guitar parts’ as this was seen as too self indulgent or too rock star. Pete was more of a great engineer and concentrate on the sounds alone.” Rick explains.
And for the lads from Woking, was the studio a hardship or a barrel of laughs ? Rick enlightens me “There was a job to do and we got on with it, we were nearly always well rehearsed before going into the studio. The studio was also a welcome break from live work but there was always an air of anticipation for the finished take and looking forward to bringing the new material on the road. ”That was something special about a Jam tour, the way the band always pushed new songs, and by the end of the gig, you knew the song well”. Paul Weller was the main songwriter of The Jam, and Bruce and Rick were always ready when Weller put another song on the table “Paul would usually play his idea of a song to us and we would then start to add to the arrangement working it through to the end. The best way we would iron out the song was playing it live.”
So the key to their success after being talented, was being well organised and disciplined, and the results speak volumes. Nevertheless, The Jam’s road to success wasn’t so straight forward, after releasing two albums In The City and This is The Modern World in 1977, they had achieved moderate chart success and sell out tours in major venues. However they were still being overshadowed by other bands that had spawned from the Punk explosion of 1976/77 such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and even their own label, Polydor, was allocating their marketing budget to label rivals Sham 69. So it would be fair to say The Jam were on the fringe and the next album was literally make or break, and in Jam folklore the third album very nearly didn’t see the light of day, which would have seen the demise of the band or at least a major setback. However, when the third album did arrive All Mod Cons, with the iconic album cover, with Weller and Buckler seated, and Foxton standing in a bare but stylish room, with a simple message, we are The Jam are you with us? And the inner sleeve with a technical drawing of a scooter on one side, and the other side classic Mod memorabilia, which acted as a blue print to aspiring next generation Mods, a revival that would hit the UK the following year in 1979.
All Mod Cons charted at No 6, their first top ten album at the time. But what of the rumours, that this album very nearly didn’t surface. Rick sets the record straight “There was not so much a scrapped third album as we went away and reworked the material we had. Maybe we were being lazy, I don’t know, but Chris Parry (the man who signed The Jam to Polydor) was the one who pointed out to us that what we had was not good enough and we all had to work much harder if we were to survive the sales figures that was required of us, it was a pressure we needed.” The pressure worked, and The Jam had firmly established themselves.
As mentioned, This is a Modern World was their second album, and for many years seen as their weakest album. But many old and new fans appreciate the album, as there are many standout songs on it, such as Life From A Window, a poetic and power pop song, The Combine, a forerunner to In The Crowd, Standards, a Who style guitar riff, I Need You, The Jam showing their sensitive side for the first and certainly not the last time. Rick is equally fond of the album “I love the album for the rich deep sounds, the thoughtful quality of the songs and measured tempo that certainly contrast to In The City album. I think, although it was not was expected at the time, we felt that we wanted to progress.”
The Jam did progress and by the close of their career, they were the biggest band in England, and then bang, as quickly as it had started, it was over. But their legacy lives on, yet the chances of a reunion look slim, even though Foxton and Buckler did reunite in 2007 with From The Jam with Russell Hastings taking over the regions from Weller. In addition Weller and Foxton did briefly join up in 2010, with Foxton contributing to two tracks on Weller’s solo album Wake up the Nation and performing with Weller in May 2010 at The Royal Albert Hall and Woking, for three songs, one being The Jam’s first top ten single Eton Rifles from 1979. And last year, Foxton released a solo Back in the Room, recorded at Weller’s Black Barn studio in Ripley, featuring Weller on three of the tracks. Buckler left From The Jam at the end of 2009, the year Weller and Foxton reconciled, it is unclear whether this is the reason why Buckler left, as for many years Buckler and Foxton hadn’t spoken to Weller. However, by all accounts Buckler and Foxton are speaking again. Will he join From The Jam again, it seems doubtful as he has moved into management and using his experience to nurture and promote young talent, like The Brompton Mix, a great rock band from The Jam’s home town Woking, who are already turning heads with their no nonsense in your face sound.
It seems a complex association between all three, and even if they never play again together as a unit, I think I speak for all fans, young and old, new and original, it would great to see all of them speaking again. If they ever do, who knows ? I would like to think so. So therefore, Universal re-releasing all of the albums on vinyl, is a good move, as it helps to remember The Jam and the great music they produced. Plus I have heard that vinyl is trendy again. Anyway forget which trends are in or out, I am sure the boys must be proud that, 31 years on, they are still going strong. “Very much so”, are the final words from Rick, and he should be proud, for not only did he play drums on them, he played drums on some of the best records to ever come out of England.
The Studio Recordings Vinyl available here from Amazon