The Jam were easily one of the best things to come from the U.K. punk-rock scene. This is an unusual consideration, given that nothing about the band really screamed punk-rock. The members of The Jam were polished in appearance and musical experience, and they were clearly influenced by American rock and R&B acts from Motown, Stax and Atlantic. They were as mod as one could get without joining the cast of Quadrophenia. But their sound had an edge that bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols would share, making for a deft mix of edgy rock and bouncy pop that became something of a British musical treasure. Jam leader Paul Weller would become an icon of the U.K. rock scene, first in The Jam and then as part of The Style Council and on his own, but it would never get better than those early years. (One of the funniest lyrics in Tears for Fears' "Sowing the Seeds of Love" - "Kick out the style/bring back the jam!" - is a cutting reference to just how influential Weller was and is.)
With the forthcoming deluxe reissue of The Jam's Sound Affects in November, it seemed like a good time to journey through the band's catalogue, Back Tracks-style, and give those absolute beginners a chance to discover The Jam.
In the City (Polydor, 1977 - reissued 1997)
The Jam's first album was applauded by critics, which is particularly interesting because The Sex Pistols were turning British rock on its ass. (They had already shocked the U.K. with their borderline insane antics, having been dropped by two labels already and about to be picked up by Virgin, who released "God Save the Queen" within a month after In the City.) Weller and company were politically charged, too, but overall they spent their political energy in the opposite direction. Their style and lyrics suggested a slight streak of Conservative thinking - "Time for Truth" bemoans a crumbling British Empire and the prime minister who couldn't seem to keep it together (said PM, James Callaghan, would be succeeded by Margaret Thatcher, a favorite of Conservatives everywhere). Despite the political streak that The Jam would later regret, the album was well-received, mostly for capturing teen angst in ways not explored since the heyday of The Who and The Kinks. The LP was digitally remastered in 1997 with no bonus tracks.
This is the Modern World (Polydor, 1977 - reissued 1997)
Released within seven months of In the City, it would be easy to peg Modern World as a sophomore slump. But critics were still positive about The Jam, and the album did well despite no big hit (a censored version of the title track dented the U.K. Top 40, a bit of a disappointment after non-LP single "All Around the World" hit No. 13). The reissue was another straight remaster that ignored "All Around the World" or its B-sides (including live covers of "Sweet Soul Music" and "Back in My Arms Again" that backed the "Modern World" single).
All Mod Cons (Polydor, 1978 - reissued 1997/expanded Polydor/UMC, 2006)
It's amazing that Weller allegedly wasn't as interested with the making of All Mod Cons (producer Chris Parry, it's said, rejected the first run-through of the record, most of it penned by bassist Bruce Foxton, as substandard). The resultant LP was one of their best received, particularly darker tracks like "'A' Bomb in Wardour Street" and "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight," which now criticized those right-wingers the band once sided with. This album has received one of the most expansive reissues in the band's catalogue, combining the album with non-LP material and demos (a few of which were unreleased at the time) and adding a making-of DVD.
Setting Sons (Polydor, 1979 - reissued 1997/expanded Collector's Choice, 2001)
This is the album that bought The Jam to commercial success that matched their critical acclaim. First single "The Eton Rifles" hit No. 3 on the charts, their highest yet, and the album even managed to chart in the lower reaches of The Billboard 200. The album, with its harsher criticisms of the far right political spectrum in England, was only a prelude to greater success, as a nearly unbroken string of Top 10 singles was about to occur. The Collector's Choice reissue included several of the non-LP sides that had been released at the time, including a cover of Martha and The Vandella's "Heat Wave" and chart-topping single "Going Underground" (which became an A-side by accident, when the record plant mislabeled the single sides).
Sound Affects (Polydor, 1980 - reissued 1997/expanded Polydor/UMC, 2010)
With another chart-topper ("Start!") and a fan favorite that even Morrissey can love ("That's Entertainment," which Moz covered - only a No. 21 hit because it was only available on import), Sound Affects may be The Jam's best work, an opinion Weller himself maintains. With a sound that consciously crosses The Beatles' Revolver with Michael Jackson's Off the Wall, the band aimed for the fences and easily got there. The forthcoming deluxe edition includes a heap of demos and rarities on a bonus disc.
The Gift (Polydor, 1982 - reissued 1997)
Though it spun off yet another clutch of hit singles, including the chart-topping "Town Called Malice," The Gift was not as successful as previous Jam records. Weller's soul stylings were coming into full bloom - brass arrangements are all over the record - and the gradual retreat from the pub-rock sensibilities that earned The Jam a fan base was a source of discomfort to the rest of the band. Consequently, they split up after a few non-LP singles following this record. But the catalogue work kept coming.
Dig the New Breed (Polydor, 1982)
A live anthology that spanned the band's entire career, this was released on CD in the U.K. and Japan but was not part of the 1997 remaster series.
Snap! (Polydor, 1983 - reissued Hip-o Select, 2004)
Considered to be one of the U.K.'s best greatest-hits comps, Snap! contained all The Jam's singles (most of them in their single mix/edit versions, although "That's Entertainment" was a demo!) plus a handful of album sides and B-sides on two discs. Despite its popularity, the set was cannibalized for CD (as Compact Snap!), but Hip-o Select released a plush edition that not only restored the album order but included a third disc of live cuts that was included as a rare EP with initial copies of the original compilation.
Greatest Hits / Extras (Polydor, 1992)
The hits disc wasn't much of a departure from Snap! (although it did hit No. 2 on the U.K. charts). Instead, the appeal of the hits disc is that it was released alongside another compilation, Extras, which included most of the band's B-sides and a heavy helping of unreleased demos. Some of those tracks have never appeared anywhere else, making Extras an essential item for any Jam completist.
Live Jam (Polydor, 1993)
This set works as a nice companion piece to Dig the New Breed, as its more live tracks from many of the same shows covered on the 1982 live disc.
Direction, Reaction, Creation (Polydor, 1997)
Not sure which Jam album to start with? Why not get them all at once? This five disc set included every one of the band's studio LPs with a handful of B-sides and yet another selection of outtakes and demos (only some of which were present on Extras). This set is quite a find and was surprisingly popular in its time; when else can you remember a box set peaking at No. 8 in the U.K. (or the U.S. for that matter)?
45 RPM: The Singles 1977-1979 / 1980-1982 (Polydor, 2001)
This pair of box sets, 18 discs in all, covered all the territory that Direction, Reaction, Creation might have missed, including every single mix and B-side, represented on CD just like the original vinyl singles were. They also have the videos embedded on them, which is a nice extra treat for visual fans.
The Jam at The BBC (Polydor, 2002)
Released on the same day as another compilation (The Sound of The Jam) to mark the band's 25th anniversary, this may be one of the best live sets The Jam has for sale. As if they weren't full of enough musical chops, the presentation on the BBC is crisp as always. Some copies include a third disc recorded at London's Rainbow Theatre in 1979, a show which formed the basis for some of the previously-released live Jam material.
The Complete Jam on Film (Chronicles, 2002)
This two-DVD set compiles just about any European TV appearance you can imagine Weller and crew being on, including The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Tube, as well as all their videos in one spot. (Sadly not included are the band's rare appearances on U.S. television, including performances on American Bandstand and Fridays.)