511. ‘Beat Surrender’, by The Jam

On with the next thirty. And to start, The Jam return for one final chart-topper.

Beat Surrender, by The Jam (their 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, 28th November – 12th December 1982

In my last post on them – ‘Town Called Malice’ / ‘Precious’ – Paul Weller and his bandmates had made some sonic advancements. Away from punk; into soul, funk and Motown. ‘Beat Surrender’ is more of the same. It’s intro, for a start, is the love-child of ‘I Will Survive’s piano flutter, and ‘Dancing Queen’s glissando.

I’m not even sure there’s a guitar involved here. Certainly not a lead guitar. There’s a piano, and lots of horns. It’s slick and glossy. But that’s not to suggest that The Jam have lost their edge. It’s still a great pop song, with a great hook: Come on boy, Come on girl, Succumb to the beat surrender…

And like most Jam songs, it’s lyrically dense. The title is a play on ‘Sweet Surrender’ and the idea of beating a retreat, which makes sense when you realise that this was The Jam’s final release, their farewell single. Weller intended it as a call to their fans, to young, up and coming bands: Seize the young determination, Show the fakers you ain’t foolin’…

The band also drop some pearls of wisdom from their time as one of the country’s biggest acts: Bullshit is bullshit, It just goes by different names… A line that I think – unless I’m forgetting something obvious – delivers our first example of swearing in a #1 single. Lonnie Donegan, The Stones, Billy Connolly have all flirted with it, but didn’t go all the way. It took five hundred and eleven chart-toppers, though, which is impressive. Safe to say this won’t be the last…

I do admire the way that The Jam didn’t stand still, never seemed to recycle a sound or a style, in their five years of success. Here we have a great moment, when the soulful riffs of the first two verses drops down to a galloping disco bassline. It’s a risk, for a rock act, you could alienate your fans by daring to try new things (gasp!). But it didn’t seem to hurt The Jam. ‘Beat Surrender’ entered at #1 – making them the second act to do this three times (after Slade). Of course, announcing that this record was to be their final ever release probably didn’t hurt its chances, and ensured a fair bit of demand…

 Though I’d say that it hasn’t remained in the collective memory as much as their three previous number ones. It’s a good one – none of their chart-toppers are anything less than a seven-out-of-ten – but perhaps its success wasn’t just for musical reasons. Anyway, after this Paul Weller formed The Style Council, with whom he continued his chart-success (though they never made it to #1) and then found himself cast as the cool uncle of British rock in the 1990s (‘The Modfather’), enjoying a hugely popular solo career that shows no signs of ending: his latest release topped the album charts just last year. Bruce Foxton, the bassist, formed ‘From the Jam’ in the mid-2000s, and Paul Weller has guested on some of his tracks, though he seems pretty set against a full-on reformation.

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495. ‘Town Called Malice’ / ‘Precious’, by The Jam

Straight in at number one with the lead-single from their final album… The Jam do Motown.

Town Called Malice / Precious, by The Jam (their 3rd of four #1s)

3 weeks, 7th – 28th February 1982

We’ve been treated to some iconic intros in recent weeks: ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Don’t You Want Me’, ‘The Model’… ‘Town Called Malice’ is right up there too. It’s not really a riff, more an explosion of exuberance, a technicoloured smile with a jaunty bassline and a cheesy organ. I know it’s The Jam, because it’s a well-played classic, but it sounds a world away from their earlier #1s.

This being Paul Weller and The Jam, however, things aren’t as rosy as they sound. The title perhaps gives it away, and a quick google of the lyrics (sorry Paul, but they are quite hard to make out) reveals a deeply downtrodden song. Malice is a town where people dream of rosy days and the quiet life, where decisions have to be made: buy beer or clothes for the kids. Some of it is darn near poetic: Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard, And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts…

When he starts to sing about Sunday’s roast beef, I get a huge sense that this is an early-eighties take on Ray Davies’ suburban odes from a generation earlier. Weller wrote it based on his childhood in Woking, a commuter town outside London. Funnily enough, this middle-eight is the most modern-sounding bit of the song, as we go from The Supremes to The Specials’ ska tones. And at its core – which wasn’t always the case with The Kinks – I think ‘Town Called Malice’ is optimistic. It’s up to us to change, A town called Malice… Life may be shit, but you still have to live it as best you can.

Despite being as biting as ever, The Jam do sound happier than they did in 1980. Success puts distance between you and any hardships you’ve endured, and maybe that left them feeling free to experiment with different sounds. It’s certainly a sneak-preview of the soulful sounds that Weller would push to the forefront with The Style Council. And in my mind this song will forever be associated with the scene in ‘Billy Elliot’, where he dances across the rooftops of County Durham (though, much like the contrast between ‘Malice’s melody and lyrics, Billy was dancing in frustration, rather than joy…)

For the second post in a row, we have a double-‘A’ to write about. I’m not sure how much airplay ‘Precious’ got, but the history books have it at #1 and so we must give it a spin. If ‘Town Called Malice’ was a departure for The Jam, then ‘Precious’ is a giant leap. I’d describe it as ‘disco-funk’. There are chucka-chucka guitars, there are horns… I’m half-waiting for Weller to shout ‘Shaft!’ It’s another moment where you can see that The Jam were nearing the end of their shelf-life.

Not that it’s bad. Or that bands shouldn’t try new things. But when you’ve gone from punk to funk in barely five years, it’s clear that the confines of a three-piece, guitar, bass ‘n’ drums band are not enough to satisfy the members’ creativity. Like ‘Malice’, the lyrics are very hard to make out, but unlike ‘Malice’, I feel no compulsion to look them up. This record is a groove, a mood. There’s a short single edit and a longer album version, towards the end of which things go very acid, with a free-styling saxophone.

It all adds to the fact that this has been a brilliantly eclectic start to 1982, with all four number ones (six songs, if you count the two double-‘A’s) bringing something very different to the top of the charts. And for all this talk of the end nearing for The Jam, they have one more #1 to come: their very last release. They’ll be going out on top, then, one of the decade’s most distinct and successful bands. Until then…

482. ‘Ghost Town’, by The Specials

When a song both begins and ends with police sirens, then you know things might just be getting a little tense at the top of the charts…

Ghost Town, by The Specials (their 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, 5th – 26th July 1981

What makes this record great, though, is that the tension, the anger in this record, is controlled and channelled into a brilliant pop song. In The Specials’ first #1, ‘Too Much Too Young’, the message was spat out, obnoxiously. ‘Ghost Town’ still has that two-tone anarchy, but here it’s under control. They have a plan: every note and lyric is set for maximum impact, and it’s catchy as hell.

This town, Is coming like a ghost town… The band look around Coventry, their hometown, and see clubs closed down, disenchanted kids kicking lumps out of each other… Bands won’t play no more, Too much fighting on the dance floor… They look around, and they know just who to blame.

What makes this record great (Pt II) is that they perfect a ‘haunted house’ vibe with creepy organs and eerie flutes, plus the high-pitched, ghoulish backing vocals, but at no point does it sound like a novelty record. It does mean that this song is fated to be wrongly included on Halloween playlists for the rest of eternity; but that’s a small price to pay for such a unique sounding chart-topper.

Is this the most political number one single yet? The Jam might argue their case, but I think, compared to ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Going Underground’ sounds a little one-dimensional, as great as it is. Here the social commentary is blended with the funky horns and the catchy chorus line. The anger comes through slowly, peaking when Neville Staple starts chanting: Government leaving the youth on the shelf… No jobs to be found in this country… before ending with the succinct: The people getting angry!

‘Ghost Town’ was at #1 as riots broke out across the UK in the summer of 1981, with unemployment rates heading rapidly towards three million, making it sound very prescient. Sadly, the band couldn’t enjoy their ‘told you so’ moment: they split up, according to the history books, as they were waiting to record the song’s ‘Top of the Pops’ performance. Many Coventry locals weren’t too impressed either, hearing their home described as a dying town on radios across the land. Perhaps the truth hurt too much?

I’ve got to the end of this post without mentioning my two favourite bits of this song. The brassy middle-eight, that sounds completely different to the other three minutes, all swinging and upbeat, as they reminisce about the good old days inna de boomtown... And then there’s the drumbeat, that only becomes obvious as the song fades out. It sounds really modern, like ‘90s trip-hop. It sums up a very cool, and very important, moment at the top of the charts.

479. ‘Stand and Deliver!’, by Adam & The Ants

I’ve just realised something… The eighties have finally begun. 1980 was full of stars – Blondie, Bowie, ABBA and ELO – but they were stars from the seventies. Our recent number ones have introduced us to some brand new stars, huge names of the early ‘80s: Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and now, biggest of all, Adam Ant.

Stand and Deliver, by Adam & The Ants (their 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, 3rd May – 7th June 1981

Punk, New-Wave and something else collide here. What that something is I couldn’t say… but it is very new and very thrilling. And very eighties. It’s frantic – there are horns, sound effects, nonsense chanting, and a band dressed as eighteenth century highwaymen… As I said in my last post, glam is back, baby!

I’m the dandy highwayman, That you’re too scared to mention, I spend my cash on looking flash, And grabbing your attention… It’s a statement of intent, this record: a war-cry to kids across the land to ditch old-folks’ fashions, to slap chunky blocks of make-up on their faces, and join the insect nation… It’s the sort of song your nan would have screwed her face to during TOTP, wondering just what was wrong with young folk these days.

There’s a bit of everything here. We go from the verses, in which Adam Ant sounds like Ray Davies trying his hand at rapping, to a Shadows-esque surf-rock solo with monkish chanting for backing. And the main hook is a killer: Stand and deliver, Your money or your life… And I mean literally a killer – it’s what Dick Turpin would have shouted back in his heyday. Meanwhile, the music video – we need more and more often to start referencing the videos for #1 singles now – sees Adam and his band holding up carriages full of uncool types clutching their lame records. Rather than robbing them, he shows how terrible they look in his foppish, handheld mirror.

It’s certainly a breath of fresh air, and there’s a feeling of a new musical order starting to assert itself. And there’s a great pop song here, underneath all the frippery (that’s a nice way to sum up the entire 1980s, to be honest). Adam and the Ants hadn’t appeared out of nowhere, though – they had been around since 1977, and had been scoring Top 10 hits for a year or so before this smash.

And a ‘smash’ it was. ‘Stand and Deliver’ entered at #1, which means the band were at the same level of popularity as The Jam and The Police. Plus its five-week run at the top is the longest of the decade so far. They were a band that burned brightly, but briefly, and they and their charismatic leader will be back with a couple more equally manic chart-toppers in pretty soon.

465. ‘Start!’, by The Jam

The Jam make a quick return to top spot, with a very famous bass-line. One that you may have heard before…

Start!, by The Jam (their 2nd of four #1s)

1 week, 31st August – 7th September 1980

‘Start!’ is notoriously indebted to The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ – there’s no avoiding the fact that the bass riff is pretty much a note for note copy – but while the former has a hash-haze to it, the latter is a squeaky-tight, short and sharp blast of punk-funk. That’s right. I’m inventing new genres as I go along…

It’s a song about a one-night stand… It’s not important for me to know your name… Or some kind of fleeting encounter… If we communicate for two minutes only it will be e-nough… At first glance it’s less of a war cry, compared to the band’s first chart-topper, but it’s actually just as cynical. Knowing that someone in this life, Loves with a passion called hate…

I’m really not sure if Paul Weller is grateful for their two-minute connection, or if he’s glad about never, ever seeing this person again. What I am sure about is that this is a great pop song: minimalist, with razor-sharp guitars and cool drum-fills. It’s as natty as The Jam’s mod-suits and shades combo in the video.

Speaking of the video, the single release of ‘Start!’ shaves fifteen seconds off the album version, trimming the gritty solo and losing the horns that play out over the closing refrain. For me the horns add to the funk here, placing the record firmly in the early-eighties, so if you were choosing between the versions I’d go album every time.

Without wanting to disrespect what I think is a great record, I think a sharp-blasting, one-week #1 like this needs only a sharp blast of a blog post on it. ‘Start!’ probably gets lost among The Jam’s better-known hits, ‘Going Underground’ before it and ‘That’s Entertainment’ after (which charted at #21 by selling only imported copies – a sign of the band’s popularity in 1980). It was also the only one of their four chart-toppers not to enter at the top. But it’s good one, and if this post has just turned you onto the song’s quality, then that will be a start!

454. ‘Going Underground’ / ‘The Dreams of Children’, by The Jam

Well, isn’t this quite the shot of adrenaline! The line between new-wave and punk becomes very blurred as The Jam score their first number one single…

Going Underground / The Dreams of Children, by The Jam (their 1st of four #1s) 

3 weeks, 16th March – 6th April 1980

The guitars are tight, and fast. Lead-singer Paul Weller spits the opening lines out with venom: Some people might say my life is in a rut! But I’m quite happy with what I’ve got! It’s a record that grabs you by the lapels of your smart, modish suit and doesn’t let you go. These angry young men are not happy with modern life, with their leaders’ lies and atomic crimes, and are off underground.

The lyrics are not always easy to make out – delivered as if Weller just has to get them off his chest before their three minutes are up – but one line stands out: The public wants what the public gets, But I don’t get what this society wants… I’m going underground…! And then there’s the ‘braying sheep’ on his TV screen. They’re words that ring just as true today – you could probably apply them to any point since WWII, to be fair – but after an economically difficult seventies, and less than a year into Thatcher’s government, dissent is growing…

‘Going Underground’ really does sound very raw, and very punk. It could be a hit from 1977, and is much more primitive when compared to new-wave’s two other big guitar bands, Blondie and The Police. This is perhaps The Jam’s last moment as an ‘underground’, if you will, band. This hits number one, and their sound expands and progresses. Only in the break, before the final chorus, does it sound a little more of its time, drippy and echoey, but only for a second before the guitars chop right back in.

‘Going Underground’ was actually only listed as the double-‘A’ due to a printing error. ‘The Dreams of Children’ was intended to be the lead, and it does sound much more of the moment. It starts with a cool false-beginning, guitars and vocals played in reverse, and has a great, chiming riff. But, I’d say it lacks the urgency of the flip-side. I hope that whoever buggered things up at the printing plant wasn’t punished too harshly…

If you were hoping for a more positive take on modern life here… well, nope. Paul Weller is having sweet dreams – the innocent dreams of a child – but wakes sweating and paranoid to this modern nightmare… I was alone and no-one was there… Before long, the song has turned into a sort of horror movie theme, voiced by a sinister dream-catcher.

Something’s gonna crack on your dreams tonight, You will crack on your dreams tonight… he sings, as the twiddly backwards effects return and things get genuinely creepy. Sorry kids, your dreams are just that: dreams. Real-life will grind you down. I mean, it’s not your run-of-the-mill #1 single material, but everything can’t be all sweetness and light. Neither of these songs sounds like a chart-topper, but it’s great that they got there.

And they got there in some style. This was the first record to enter at #1 since Slade did it with ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ over six years ago. Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles and, er, Gary Glitter were the only other acts to have achieved this feat before 1980. It pretty much announces The Jam as one of, if not the, biggest band in the country (or at least the band with the most devoted fanbase, who ran out to buy the song as soon as it was released…)

However, can I just add before I go that it is a shame that The Jam’s previous single – their first Top 10 hit – wasn’t the big #1 debut. As great as this record I’ve reviewed today is, ‘The Eton Rifles’ stands as a brilliant commentary on the British class system: angry, and funny, and another one that still rings true today. We just don’t learn, do we?

449. ‘Brass in Pocket’, by The Pretenders

Here we are then. The nineteen eighties. Synths, post-punk, Thatcher, Reagan, the 2nd British Invasion, MTV, SAW, Yuppies, Hip-Hop, ‘Thriller’, Madonna… The decade in which I entered this world… A decade that, I have to admit, I used to rank way below the sixties and seventies in terms of its music. But not any longer. I’m ready for it!

Brass in Pocket, by The Pretenders (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 13th – 27th January 1980

And what a cool way to start the decade. I got brass, In pocket, I got bottle, I am gonna use it… This one’s all about the hustle. Picture Chrissie Hynde, stepping off the bus in London town, and picturing just how she’s going to make it BIG. Gonna make you, Make you, Make you notice!

She’ll use her arms, her legs, her style and her sidestep, and in the space of three minutes the capital will have fallen. I’m special, So special, Gotta have some of your attention… This could come across as wildly obnoxious, but it doesn’t, somehow. Give it to me! Probably helps that it’s a woman singing these lines. Since punk, women can be bad-ass singers of rock ‘n’ roll bands. These days people’d call her a Boss Bitch.

The obvious comparison to make – a female lead singer in an otherwise male new-wave band – is with Blondie. Hynde sounds nothing like Debbie Harry, but her voice still drips with the same kind of attitude. And the music is more British post-punk – Police-like chiming guitars and a bouncing, reggae-ish beat – than Blondie’s spiky, New York sound.

In the second verse, she’s a little more explicit about how she may be getting her ‘brass’. Got new skank, So reet… I thought it was a drug reference, but apparently it’s about moving your body. You know, like dancing, or… There has been some discussion over whether the song is actually about The Pretenders’ first ever concert, or about the singer’s first sexual experience with a new partner. Either way, Hynde sums it up: “The tradition of ‘Brass in Pocket’ is that you’re cocky, and sure of yourself.”

This was The Pretenders breakthrough hit from their debut album – they had only been a band for just over a year. They would never return to the top of the charts (though a cover of one of their songs will…) but they managed impressive longevity: a handful of Top 10 hits spread out over fifteen years. Chrissie Hynde, meanwhile, will have another #1 under her own steam (sort of).

And so, with this short, sharp little record – that manages to be both clever and catchy – the eighties have kicked off. In previous decades, the first number one singles have been perfectly pleasant pieces of pop (Michael Holliday’s ‘Starry Eyed’ in 1960, and Edison Lighthouse’s ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ in 1970) with little indication of where popular music is heading at that moment, but ‘Brass in Pocket’ actually sounds like a statement of intent…