The punk rock explosion of 1975-1980 made for some strange bed fellows. The Stranglers and Eddie and the Hot Rods were holdovers from the pub rock era. Many claim that the Sex Pistols and Clash were puppets controlled by ego maniacal managers. The Buzzcocks and Undertones were pop tune perfectionists. For the want of an easy title, the media called them all punk. The Jam were thrown under this umbrella.
The Jam were formed in 1975 in Woking, Surrey, England by 17 year old singer, writer, guitarist Paul Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Ric Buckler. The trio came together with a love of soul and mod music. Their second album, This is the Modern World, was released on the Polydor label in November 1977. This is the sound of a brash and snotty life for three Brits all twenty two years old or younger.
“What kind of fool do you think I am, to think I know nothing of the modern world?” Weller cock surely says to start out the song “This is the World.” At age 19, Weller and mates are set on where they are and are headed. The actual music is not what you would think of when you hear the term punk. The guitar, bass, and drums are short and choppy and adrenaline fueled. What sets the Jam apart from their punk brethren is that they do not rely on 100 miles per hour power chords with a full throated shouter.
The Jam confronts the young generation’s problems in “Standards” by singing lyrics from the perspective of someone in the older age group. “We make the standards and we make the rules and if you don’t abide by them you must be a fool, we have the power to control the whole land, you never must question our motives or plan.” Johnny Rotten proclaimed “no future,” Joe Strummer exclaimed” I wanna riot, a riot of my own.” Paul Weller was skilled enough and above the fray to write a song from a different point of view to express his desperate plea.
Weller finally reveals that he has a heart on a personal level in “I Need You (For Someone)”. This is the album’s softee moment. “I need you to keep me straight, when the world don’t seem so great, and it’s hard enough you know, I need you to be around when my conscience brings me down and the world seems so obscure, I need you.” One question that always hits me is, who is he singing to on this one? It could be a girlfriend song or it could be one to his best mate. Either way stardom was what Weller and company wanted and they wanted to stay grounded enough to get there.
This is the Modern World is frequently referred to as one of the Jam’s least satisfying records, its sophomore slump. I heartily disagree. It’s a vital step in a young band’s progression towards becoming one of the 1970’s and 1980’s greatest bands.
Postscript: As Program Director at WELH radio at Eastern Illinois University from 1977-1982, I hosted a show called “This Is The Modern World” dedicated to the punk/new wave scene.
— Jim McCabe
All songs by Paul Weller unless otherwise noted.
- “The Modern World”
- “London Traffic” (Bruce Foxton)
- “Life from a Window”
- “The Combine”
- “Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane” (Bruce Foxton)
- “In the Street Today” (Paul Weller, Dave Waller)
- “London Girl”
- “I Need You (For Someone)”
- “Here Comes the Weekend”
- “Tonight at Noon”
- “In the Midnight Hour” (Steve Cropper, Wilson Pickett)
- Rick Buckler Drums
- Bruce Foxton Bass,Vocals
- Paul Weller Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals