The Jam rose to fame during the British post-punk era of the late 1970s, although they were more of a mod revival band than New Wave. They originally formed in 1972 when they were still at school, although they didn’t have their first chart success until 1977.
With 18 consecutive top 40 singles in the UK, beginning with their debut hit, In the city, in 1977, their success continued until their final offering, Beat Surrender, in December 1982. They had four number one hits – That’s Entertainment in 1981 and Just Who is the 5 O’Clock Hero in 1982 remained the best-selling import singles in the UK until 2007.
They released six studio albums – their final album before disbanding, The Gift, took the number one spot in the UK albums chart. After the band split, their record label re-released their first 15 singles, all of which entered the UK’s top 100 chart.
The Jam’s founder member, lead vocalist and bass guitarist Paul Weller, formed the band in 1972, when he was a 14-year-old pupil at Sheerwater Secondary School in Woking. There were personnel changes until the mid-1970s, as the band played gigs locally. Thanks to their sharp suits and 1960s influence, they stood out from the punk bands of the era.
Signed to Polydor Records in early 1977, the final line-up of Weller, drummer Rick Buckler and guitarist Bruce Foxton got together prior to The Jam releasing their debut single, In the City, which peaked at number 40 in the UK singles chart in April 1977. Their debut album of the same name, released in May 1977, reached number 20 in the UK albums chart.
A succession of hit singles followed, including News of the World and Down in the Tube Station at Midnight in 1978, Strange Town and Eton Rifles in 1979 and their first UK number one, Going Underground, in 1980.
Down in the Tube Station at Midnight was taken from the album All Mod Cons, released in October 1978. The single was notorious in that it was banned by the BBC for its “disturbing” lyrics, despite the fact it was an anti-racism song.
It described a youth who was attacked by a gang of skinheads as he travelled on the Tube alone at midnight. Unfortunately, some DJs totally missed the point of the song and the fact it was against racism. Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn famously said, “It’s disgusting the way punks sing about violence.”
The Jam weren’t punks and the song vilified violence, so the Radio 1 stalwart got it wrong on both counts. However, BBC chiefs agreed with his sentiments and banned the song. In spite of this, it rose to number 15 in the singles chart, with no BBC airplay or appearances on Top of the Pops.
In his teens, Weller loved London and would regularly catch a train from Woking to the capital, carrying a tape recorder to capture the sounds. It was reported that after writing and recording new material for The Jam over a six-month period, Weller suffered burnout and hit a writer’s block.
Feeling cynical after his experience, it was said that this spurred the bitter lyrics of Down in the Tube Station at Midnight. It was written from the point of view of a young man, on his way home to the suburbs, who was attacked by a gang of skinheads for no reason as he bought his ticket from a self-service machine. The sound at the start of the song is a real Underground train, recorded at St John’s Wood Station.
Weller said in an interview that the song had been a long poem originally, but producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven had helped him to shape it into a song. Weller hadn’t wanted to release the track initially, rejecting it because he felt the musical arrangement hadn’t been sufficiently developed during the recording.
However, Coppersmith-Heaven persuaded the artist to release it, telling him he thought the song was great and that he should do some further work on it. The producer said he was “insistent” on Weller reviving the song. With the help of the band, it turned into a “classic and brilliant track”, according to the producer.
During their career, The Jam released a total of 19 singles, six studio albums, three live albums, 14 compilation albums and three EPs. The band’s 1982, album, The Gift, reached number one in the UK and was loved by the critics and fans alike.
However, to everyone’s surprise (including Foxton and Buckler), on 30th October 1982, Weller announced the band was splitting up. They had just finished a UK tour, appeared on Top of the Pops to promote Beat Surrender and had played five sell-out nights at Wembley Arena. All the tickets had been sold within 20 minutes of becoming available.
Their final gig took place at Brighton Conference Centre on 11th December 1982. Weller explained he had taken the decision to disband because he didn’t want The Jam to continue indefinitely, merely because they were successful. He said he wanted to see what he was capable of while ending The Jam at their peak, rather than “getting embarrassing” by “trying to go on forever.”
Buckler and Foxton were said to be shocked, as they had wanted to keep the band together. Buckler later said that up to the end of 1982, he kept thinking that maybe Weller would change his mind. However, this didn’t happen, and they went their separate ways.
Weller went on to form the Style Council in 1983 with keyboard player Mick Talbot. They enjoyed commercial success, although not on the same scale as The Jam. They split in 1989 and Weller became a solo artist.
Foxton also embarked on a solo career, with moderate success. He went on to join Stiff Little Fingers in 1990 and stayed with the band until 2006.
Buckler formed a new band, Time UK, after The Jam split, but they folded after releasing three singles. Buckler went on to form another band, The Gift, in 2006 and Foxton played a few live gigs with them. Today, all three artists are working independently of each other.
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