When Paul Weller was only 18 he released his debut album with The Jam, and the rest, as they say, is history
1977 was quite a remarkable year for album releases that have since reached seminal status and one of those surely has to be the debut album by The Jam - 'In The City'. In the same year that Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler burst on to the effervescent music scene of the late 70's the Sex Pistols released 'Never Mind The B******s, Here's the Sex Pistols', Pink Floyd released 'Animals', Fleetwood Mac released 'Rumours' and Meatloaf released 'Bat Out Of Hell'.
The mix of artists, genres and styles populating the charts and setting the tone were as wildly disparate as they've ever been. Kraftwerk were pioneering their electronica, David Bowie was mid way through his Berlin trilogy on 'Heroes', Disco dance floors were being filled with the likes of Chic, Rose Royce, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees and ground breaking albums seemed to arrive every week. Already in 1977 The Damned had released 'Damned Damned Damned', the Clash had released their eponymous debut and Talking Heads had dropped 'Talking Heads 77'. Still to come was Ian Dury's 'New Boots And Panties', Wire's 'Pink Flag' and Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life'. To make your mark in the late '70's you needed to be something special and The Jam were just that.
The atmosphere of frustration, pent-up emotion and general dissatisfaction that was coursing through every fibre of youth culture in 1977 was perfectly captured and expressed on The Jam's, succinct, 32 minute, 12 track debut album. 'In The City', released just ahead of Paul Weller's 19th birthday, showcased the very essence of a young, vital band at the beginning of their remarkable and incredibly influential journey. The Jam seemed fully formed when they arrived; they had the music, the attitude and just as importantly in the very beginning, a look that would be shared by their army of fans for decades to come.
Paul Weller and The Jam delivered a new sound and rejuvenated Mod culture, embracing an element of tailored style and sophistication when many of their contemporaries were wearing bondage trousers or still sporting denim jackets with embroidered band names. The Jam looked cool because they were cool. Weller personified the look and lead the band like an iconic frontman from the beginning. It was maybe too early to crown him then but you can clearly see, even on 'In The City', why Mr Weller has become known as 'The Modfather'.
The Jam have been, or were known for a time, as a singles band. The lead track, and only single release from their first full length record, was it's title track - 'In The City'. Released just three weeks before the album, the band's debut single for Polydor gave The Jam their first Top 40 hit, albeit peaking at number 40. The opening lyrics - "In the city there's a thousand things I want to say to you, But whenever I approach you, you make me look a fool, I wanna say, I wanna tell you, About the young ideas, But you turn them into fears" coupled with Weller's urgent guitar, Foxton's brilliant bass line and Buckler's tight percussive drive combined to give up one of the best 2m17s of angry punk-pop you're ever likely to hear.
The Jam's first album shouldn't be defined solely by it's only single though, it was much more than that. Opener 'Art School' is a perfect introduction to the band and to the album. Like almost all of The Jam's songs there is nothing on this track that is wasteful, indulgent, whimsical or unwanted. 'Art School' is an incendiary two minutes of Punk purity that grabs you from the off and never lets go, it's a frenzied whirlwind of energy manifested as the most indispensable music of the time.
The Jam, still only just signed and finding their own sound, included two key staples from their live back catalogue of soul, rock and roll and blues covers in 'Slow Down', by R&B/Rock 'n' Roll songwriter Larry Williams, and the 'Batman Theme' by Neal Hefti. 'Slow Down' was speeded up, stripped of it's piano and given shredded guitars with Weller doing his best to emulate Jerry Lee whilst The 'Batman Theme' let Buckler and Foxton close out side one of the album in a gloriously grungy garage style.
Weller, and his band, were, like many at the time in 1977, still angry young men. Angry at the government, angry about their lack of rights, angry about their lack of prospects and generally angry about not having a voice. Punk in particular helped change that narrative, and The Jam were part of that change, even if there was distrust among Punk purists that the suit wearing trio were not the real deal.
Elsewhere on 'In The City' you can clearly hear the lineage from 60's heyday Kinks or The Who on tracks like 'Time For Truth' and 'Away From The Numbers' but on the same record you can hear pointers to where The Jam, and in particular Weller, are heading. 'Sounds From The Street' and 'I Got Time' skilfully infuse a soulful undercurrent into a pumped up soundtrack that help set The Jam, and then The Style Council, apart from most of their contemporaries, helping to give their sound a longevity others could only dream of.
'In The City' wasn't the best album of 1977, neither was it The Jam's best album, however it was their debut record and without it the rest would not have followed. It was only another six months wait before their next album - 'This Is The Modern World' and only another two month wait before their first Top 20 single - 'All Around The World'. 20 more Top 40 singles would follow before Weller split the band up at the height of their popularity but 'In The City' was where it all began.