In every collection there are records that get played all the time, many of them for years, decades even. Then there are those that, while no less treasured, somehow fall by the wayside to lie in wait, ripe for rediscovery. In the first of an occasional series designed to chronicle a few nuggets as they resurface from my own back pages it’s time to put the needle on the record, put the needle on the record and it sounds like this…
The Jam – In the City (Polydor, 1977)
The Jam were my band, the first (and last) I cared about so deeply that I thought they had all the answers. That way lies silliness of course, but when you’re young it makes perfect sense… for five minutes at least. I was only ten when their debut album came out and although I saw their appearance on the first Marc Bolan TV show that summer and then heard the big kids at school play their first few singles, it wasn’t until I bought Down in the Tube Station At Midnight the following autumn that I started to join the dots and make the connections.
So I arrived at In the City after backtracking from All Mod Cons, a record I loved (still do) and felt I’d known all my life. After the crafted production of All Mod Cons and its lavish (I’d never seen a prog rock elpee at that time) packaging, In the City seemed far more of its time. The stark cover, the lack of a lyric sheet, the snapshots on the back of the sleeve – it looked like it was in a hurry. Then I put the needle on the record…
From the outset it was fast and furious – Art School, I’ve Changed My Address, the cover of Slow Down, breathless stuff. I Got By In Time offered hints of The Jam I knew from All Mod Cons but even though this album had only come out 15 months earlier, it sounded like it was from a different age, a time I had missed out on.
The title track provided a standard to rally round, but the album’s one true classic that stands up tall even 40 years down the line is Away From the Numbers – mordant, reflective, stirring, Weller in perfect control of his Rickenbacker, Foxton and Buckler fuelling the fire.
They were clearly not a punk band but the punks at school liked them. By this time of course the Pistols were spent, but The Clash thrilled me, so did Buzzcocks. However, The Jam sounded closer to Dr Feelgood and they spoke of an altogether different era. All this was to crystallise over the coming months, accelerated by the media brouhaha surrounding Franc Roddam’s film of Quadrophenia and what was swiftly marketed as a Mod revival with The Jam pulling off the impossible trick of somehow being right at the heart of it all and yet totally distinct – away from the numbers, indeed.
I was 12 years old and already a bar had been set by which all future sonic experiences could be measured. It has been raised many, many times since, but I’m forever grateful The Jam set it so high in the first place.