The Weak Get Crushed as the Strong Grow Stronger’: Representation of British Politics
and Society through The Jam, 1977-1983.
Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS
School of History
UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA
‘This copy of the thesis has been supplied on the condition that anyone who consults it
is understood to recognise that its copyright rests with the author and that no quotation
from the thesis, nor any information derived there from, may be published with the
author’s prior consent.
Word Count – 16,000.
‘The Weak Get Crushed as the Strong Grow Stronger’: Representation of British
Politics and Society through The Jam, 1977-1983.
Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS
School of History
UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA
Dr Ben Jones
Table of Contents
COVER PAGE .............................................................................................................. i
‘The Weak Get Crushed as the Strong Grow Stronger’: Representation of British
Politics and Society through The Jam, 1977-1983. ......................................................ii
Acknowledgements ......................................................................................................... v
Introduction ................................................................................................................... viii
Literature Review ............................................................................................................ 2
Chapter 1 – Influences and Incorporation ....................................................................... 8
1.1 We lose our innocence; we lose our very soul – The Early Years........................... 8
1.2 I was the type who knocked at old men – Maximum R’n’B.................................... 10
1.3 Billy Hunt and David Watts - Ray Davies .............................................................. 12
1.4 Sounds from the Street – Punk ............................................................................. 17
Chapter 2 – Political ...................................................................................................... 20
2.1 You’re just a red balloon with a lot of hot gas – Uncle Jimmy ............................... 20
2.2 In the city, there’s a thousand men in uniform– A Law and Ordered Society? ...... 22
2.3 You chose your leaders and place your trust - Conservative Electoral Success ... 24
2.4 We feast on flesh and drink on blood – A society in crisis and terminal decline. ... 27
2.5 They promise us the earth - Unemployment ......................................................... 29
Chapter 3 – Social Reflection ........................................................................................ 32
3.1 The place I love – London ..................................................................................... 32
3.2 Life is a drink and you get drunk - Subcultures ..................................................... 35
3.3 Saturday’s Kids – Youth in Society ....................................................................... 37
3.4 They all ignore me ‘cause they don’t know I’m really a spaceman – Individuality . 39
Chapter 4 – Urban Decay .............................................................................................. 42
4.1 Bricks and Mortar – Tower Blocks and Slum Clearance ....................................... 42
4.2 A freezing cold flat with damp on the walls - Urban Desolation ............................. 45
4.3 Struggle after struggle, year after year – The mundaneness of city living ............. 47
Chapter 5 – Nationalism ................................................................................................ 50
5.1 The Flag of Democracy – Anarchy, Nationalism and Englishness ........................ 50
5.2 God’s on our side and so is Washington – War .................................................... 53
5.3 It’s Doctor Martin’s Apocalypse – Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. ............... 55
5.4 Yeah, the leather belt looks manly - The Rise of Nationalist Right-Wing Movements
5.5 What chance have you got against a tie and a crest? – The Class System. ......... 60
Conclusion .................................................................................................................... 63
Bibliography .................................................................................................................. 65
Glass, Harry. “UK's 60-year property boom: House prices 'have risen more than 100
times' since Coronation,” This is Money, May 14, 2012. Accessed September 17,
2144226/Average-house-price-risen-100-times-Queen-crowned.html. ..................... 76
Discography .................................................................................................................. 85
Interviews ...................................................................................................................... 87
I am sincerely and heartily grateful to my supervisor, Ben Jones, for the support and
guidance throughout my dissertation writing. He has always been available to discuss
my research observations and has encouraged a hands-on approach to this subject
I am further indebted to the following, for their encouragement to undertake a subject
that influenced and shaped who I am and continues to do so:
Christine Feldman-Barret (Griffith University, Australia),
Joel Halcomb (University of East Anglia),
John Street (University of East Anglia),
Mark Vincent (Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge),
Matthew Worley (Reading University),
Paul Long (Monash University, Australia).
I would also like to thank my wife, Kim for her patience and support of a historian who
has come to academia late in life but enjoying every minute. Finally, my thoughts go to
my daughter, Chloe; your encouragement together with our combined support for the
beloved Canaries has been unwavering.
To those of us that dug the new breed and encompassed the post-punk new wave era
of the late 1970s, this dissertation recognises our moment in time. More importantly, we
had a band, our band. The Jam became the mouthpiece for our generation. Eagerly
awaiting each new single and album release, every song repeated and reflected our
thoughts. To Paul, Bruce and Rick, thank you for being part of my life these past 45
This dissertation examines The Jam and their reflection of the socio-political
situation that beset Britain during the period 1977 – 1983 through their lyrics and
representation within the mass media. This period in British history is synonymous with
Margaret Thatcher. Opening with the explosion of punk rock and Queen Elizabeth II’s
Silver Jubilee celebrations, the period culminated with Thatcher’s overwhelming
landslide re-election in 1983. The United Kingdom had become a divided nation.
Thatcher’s policies promoted individualism, reduced state intervention and a free market
economy however, underneath this façade were record numbers of long term working-
class unemployed, a country split into ‘the haves and have nots’: rich got richer poor get
poorer. The period encompassed the crisscrossing relationship of emerging and
retrospective sub-cultural revivals, each with their own musical soundtrack, and the
dictatorial political ideology of Thatcherism that dominated the British political
Acclaimed cultural-historical reflection of the punk and post-punk era by Jon
Savage (England’s Dreaming), and Simon Reynolds (Rip it up and Start Again), limit
their commentary of The Jam’s contribution to this period of resistance to a few lines.
Current academic research from Matthew Worley (No Future) and Ben Winsworth (‘Mod
Cons’) acknowledge their position as an agent of resistance during this period. Due to
their commercial success, cultural historians place the group on the periphery of the
challenge to authority. Aligned to pop’s mainstream and the mod revival of the late
1970s, the label ‘revivalist’ was to colour critical opinion on the band’s lyrical content
and socio-political messages. This dissertation seeks to put the band at the forefront of
popular music’s criticism of political and social commentary during the period.
This dissertation considers how historians can access the most commercially
successful post-punk rock band as representative of the challenging political, economic
and social climate of Britain during the punk and post-punk period between 1977 and
1982 (The Jam Years). As The Jam, Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckner
achieved eighteen consecutive UK Top 40 singles, which includes four chart-toppers,
three of which entered the charts straight in at number one: a feat only paralleled by
Slade during the zenith of glam-rock’s popularity in 1973.1 Additionally, The Jam
released six successful studio albums. This prolific musical output and chart success
exceeded that of any of their punk contemporaries. A longstanding critic of the group,
Jon Savage concedes that, from a record company viewpoint, only those groups that
sold were important and consequently ‘The Jam were thrust into prominence on a level
with The Clash, perhaps higher than The Sex Pistols.’2 The combination of chart and
commercial success, alongside a devout and loyal nationwide fan base, support this
dissertation’s argument that considers The Jam as the leading proponent to emerge
from the punk explosion of the mid-1970s.
Many of their contemporaries only enjoyed limited initial success, before
subsequently fading into obscurity. In contrast, The Jam created a visual image,
endearing to the multi-faceted youth cultures that grew out of the initial punk movement.
The popular music press, and many subculture historians, saw the group as leading
agents in the 1970s mod-revival subcultural movement: Weller regularly expressed his
reluctance with his ‘assumed’ position as its unelected spokesperson.3 However, there
is little academic commentary or enthusiasm for their cultural representation and critical
evaluation of Britain during this period. One reasoning behind this omission is that the
‘relatively conventional nature of their sound’ aligns them to popular music's chart-style
1 Martin Roach, The Virgin Book of British Hit Singles, (London: Virgin Books, 2008), 212-3.
2 Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, (London: Faber and Faber, 2001), 333-4.
3 Christine Jacqueline Feldman-Barrett, “We are the Mods”: A Transnationals History of a Youth Subculture (Oxford:
Peter Lang Publishing, 2009).
syndrome rather than the medium of post-punk.4 This dissertation challenges and
addresses this absence through an exploration of The Jam’s lyrical account of the late
1970s and early 1980s Britain.
The Jam’s manifesto of ‘direction and reaction and creation’ divides their lifecycle
into three separate periods.5 Initially, it incorporates their emergence as part of the mid-
1970s punk explosion up to and including the breakthrough album All Mod Cons in
1978. Their second phase from 1979 to 1980 covers the quasi-concept albums Setting
Sons and Sound Affects. Both these contemporary works present a snapshot of a
disjointed and fearful Britain against the backdrop of a perceived crisis and impending
authoritarianism. This critically acclaimed period for The Jam coincided with the Winter
of Discontent and Thatcher’s subsequent election success of May 1979, regarded by
many commentators as a defining moment within twentieth-century British political and
socio-economic history.6 With a ‘decidedly oppressive’ stage presence together with a
collection of ‘taut narratives’ that appealed to a forgotten disaffected generation, Simon
Frith sees The Jam as Britain’s ‘most important populist group’ of the period.7 Acting as
gatekeepers for the post-punk generation, they challenged Thatcher and the New
Right’s implementation of monetarism upon a working-class environment during her first
prime ministerial term.
Seizing upon the impact of punk on a stagnant and tired music scene, the 1970s
British music press recruited new raw ‘hip young gunslingers’ to bolster their appeal and
4 Mark Fisher, ‘Going Overground: The Jam between Populism and Popular Modernism’ In Post Punk Then and
Now,eds. Gavin Butt, Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher (London: Repeater, 2016), 98.
5 Used by Weller on the groups’ second single release, ‘All Around the World,’ the phraseDirection, Reaction,
Creation, became a mandate for the Band's progression and development. The song rejects the punk ethos of
anarchy and destruction acting as a rallying call for other like-minded groups and fans. Its significance is such that
the box set anthology of the group's cumulative recorded output from 1997 bears the same title.
Ben Winsworth, “Mod Cons: Back to the future with The Jam (1977–79)” In Mad Dogs and Englishness:Popular
Music and English Identities eds. Lee Brooks, Mark Donnelly and Richard Mills (New York: Bloomsbury Academic &
Professional, 2017), 58.
6 Andrew Gamble, “Privatization, Thatcherism and the British State,” Journal of Law and Society 16, no. 1 (Spring
7 Simon Frith, “Post-punk Blues,” Marxism Today 27, no. 3 (March 1983), 19.
readership. Music weeklies achieved an extensive readership, which together with the
D-I-Y fanzines, provided the platform for the dissemination of punk and post-punk
critical review.8 Crucially for this research, a vast body of journalistic reviews and
articles that support this thesis in presenting The Jam as popular music’s face of
political criticism during the post-punk period exist. This dissertation employs these
articles alongside the songs written and performed by The Jam as its primary sources.
An engagement from key actors of the period further supports this thesis of The
Jam’s socio-politically representation of the punk and post-punk period. Often dismissed
by academic historians are those with first-hand knowledge of the emergence and
development of a cultural movement, Keith Gildart considers these actors offer an
insight often missing from academic engagement.9 Over twenty interviews provided an
insight into how fans at the time experienced The Jam first-hand. Drawing upon popular
musical journalism texts, the artistic output of The Jam and an analysis of the interviews
support the delivery of an alternative and previously unpresented view of this period of
This dissertation’s key objectives are twofold. Firstly, to make a case that reading
popular music lyric, particularly those of The Jam, complements academic research and
discussions of the punk and immediate post-punk period in Britain. An in-depth
empirical evaluation of the origins and presentation of these primary sources reveals a
snapshot of the cultural impact of the governments of Edward Heath, Harold Wilson,
James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher as experienced by Britain’s dissatisfied youth.
Moreover, The Jam’s ‘evocative depictions of British life with an underlying sense of
critique’ revealed a portrayal of harrowing socio-economic circumstances and political
8 The three major music newspapers of the period were Melody Maker, Sounds and New Musical Express. All of
these transformed as a result of punk rock. They reinvented themselves and absorbed the shifting sands of the
British music scene to deliver a detailed coverage of the punk and post-punk period, leaving a significant archival
Savage,England’s Dreaming, 252.
9 Keith Gildart and Steve Catterall, Keeping the Faith: A History of Northern Soul (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2020), 3.
trends10 Secondly, this work aims to raise the profile of a group regularly passed over by
academic researchers and social commentators in their analytical narratives of the post-
Understanding the source and inspiration behind the content of The Jam’s lyrical
commentary presents the subcultural historian with a viable alternative in our perception
of the period under scrutiny and those agents taking part. Consequently, this
dissertation will present how the historian can consider The Jam as a feasible means to
observe the attitudes and fears of a generation coming of age during the ‘Great Moving
Right Show’ of Thatcherism.12 Whilst this research is comprehensive, it is not the
definitive article but can been used as a platform from which other popular groups and
their impact on youth culture and cultural history can be examined.
10 Matthew Worley, No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture 1976-1984 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2017), 104-5.
11 Keith Gildart names one popular exponent of underplaying the impact of politics within popular music and youth
subculture through his series of broad brushstroke historical representations of Great Britain from 1956 to 1982 as
Dominic Sandbrook, see Gildart, Keeping the Faith, 3.
12 Stuart Hall, “The Great Moving Right Show,” Marxism Today 23, no.1 (January 1979), 14-20.
Traditionally, post-war historians had given the functionality of popular music and
its stimulus upon working-class youth cultures scant attention.13 However, the 1980s saw
a series of positive factors that celebrated popular music and promoted its significance to
academic research. With its structural observation of punk’s inter-relationship between
itself and music, Dave Laing’s influential commentary One Chord Wonders with its ‘multi-
layered approach,’ presented a blueprint for future research into the signification of not
only punk but the historical flux of other popular music genres.14 Reinforcing the
relationship between: political agents, historical events, and popular music, Robin
Denselow’s When the Music’s Over: The Story of Political Pop sees its journey as
‘strange and uneven.’15 Additionally, Simon Frith and Richard Middleton established the
Journal of Popular Music in 1981. Founding editions challenged the suitability of existing
musicology practices and presented innovative theories and methodologies for the study
of popular music.
Building upon these foundations, a wide expanse of academic and popular literature has
been published which engages with both punk’s explosion in 1976 and the subsequent
post-punk period. Popular commentaries challenge where to situate The Jam on the
punk and post-punk spectrum. Generally, music historians consider England’s Dreaming
by Jon Savage, a comprehensive volume mapping the emergence, notoriety and
subsequent implosion of The Sex Pistols, as the definitive commentary on the
exponential rise and fall of punk. Savage states that contemporary punk’s journalists saw
The Jam as ‘sixties revivalists’ and that their ‘smear of formal conservatism’ resulted in
the group’s detachment from punk’s elite.16 Journalist Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up and
Start Again picks up from Savage’s lead, deliberating on post-punk’s unsuccessful
13 Keith Gildart, Images of England through Popular Music: Class, Youth and Rock‘n’Roll, 1955-1976 (Houndsmill:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 198.
14 David Hesmondhalgh, “Post-Punk’s Attempt to Democratise the Music Industry: The success and Failure of Rough
Trade,”Popular Music 16, no. 3 (October 1997), 255.
15 Robin Denselow,When the Music’s Over: The Story of Political Pop (London: Faber, 1989), xvii.
16 Savage, England’s Dreaming, 247.
engagement with politics, particularly the socialist left, despite its ‘commitment to
change.’17 Reynolds criticizes the use of retromania and specifically singles out The Jam
for their adoption of 1960s ‘purity, style and taste;’ creating a polarized vision that
‘separates out the righteous and the square.’ to incorporate a particular image and
Frith’s groundbreaking research of the 1970s and 1980s on popular music’s social
and cultural impact is particularly relevant to this dissertation. The hostile do-it-yourself
reaction of post-punk to standard musical perception allowed the ‘aggressive’
incorporation of previous taboo subject matter into songs through socially challenging
language and unconventional compositions.19 Frith identified that popular music
answered questions of identity, shaped popular memory and is something possessed by
those that it affects.20 Written soon after their break-up, his essay Post-punk Blues offers
a clear representation of how The Jam became gatekeepers for Britain’s youth as a
subjective social group. Moreover, he reflects that their songs, as a series of motivational
anthems, offered a very public ‘defiant’ voice to the ravages of Thatcherism upon
Britain’s disillusioned and underprivileged youth.21
Most notably, the recent publication by Matthew Worley, the comprehensive and
detailed No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976-1984 pinpoints many
of this dissertation’s themes. Worley reaffirms the social realism of The Jam’s agency as
an influential component of punk’s ‘evocative depiction of British life’ during the period
1976-1984.22 He further enthuses that The Jam’s successful run of Top 40 singles
‘embodied the feelings and effects of Britain's changing socio-economic landscape’
during a period of political uncertainty.23 Ben Winsworth’s article ‘Mod Cons: Back to the
17 Simon Reynolds,Rip It Up and Start Again (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), 527.
18 Reynolds, Rip It Up, 292-3.
19 Dave Laing, One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985),
20 Simon Frith, Taking Popular Music Seriously: Selected Essays (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), 258-73.
21 Frith, “Post-punk Blues,” 19.
22 Worley, No Future,104.
23 Worley, No Future, 105.
Future with the Jam (1977-79)’ strenghtened the view that punk’s antagonism and
vibrancy enabled The Jam to reflect both the drudgery of working-class life and reaffirm
one’s social identity.24 However, there is currently a lack of academic analysis of this
dissertation’s underlying subject matter: namely, that commercially successful Top 40
chart artists such as The Jam, aligned to specific youth cultures, constitute an alternative
side to popular music's widely held capitalist mainstream context.
In the current academic environment for post-punk study, there are an increasing
number of critical assessments of contemporary actors emerging out of the punk scene.
Two of the most influential ‘resistive and critical’ songwriters, Elvis Costello and Joe
Strummer of The Clash are critiqued for bringing both ‘political and ethical agendas’ into
their lyrical content.25 Weller, presented as the ‘modfather’ of British popular indie rock
music, however, is notably absent from in-depth current academic research. Paul Long
hoped that the 2014 symposium ‘In Praise of Paul Weller’ would generate a dedicated
journal volume covering Weller’s role in modern British popular culture. Regrettably, the
proposed series of essays were not forthcoming.26 This dissertation goes some way to
consolidating and reinforcing Weller’s importance to this subject matter.
Those growing up during the 1960s and 1970s experienced a series of economic
events that affected their social and political outlook. James Thomas earmarks the
national decline to an ever-increasing expansion of social welfare benefits and costs in
providing and maintaining the ‘New Jerusalem’ post-war consensus.27 Commenting at
the time, Andrew Gamble defined the factors behind this deterioration: Britain is ‘living
beyond its means, consuming too much and working too little.’28 The underlying factors
24 Winsworth, “Mod Cons,” 60.
25 David Pilgrim and Richard Ormrod, Elvis Costello and Thatcherism: A Psycho-Social Exploration (Farnham &
Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013).
Barry J Faulk and Brady Harrison, eds., Punk Rock Warlord: The Life and Work of Joe Strummer (Farnham: Ashgate
Publishing Limited, 2014).
26 Paul Long, ‘MA Dissertation – Request for assistance – Paul Weller (and the Jam)’, email, 28 May 28, 2019.
27 James Thomas, “‘Bound in by History’: The Winter of Discontent in British Politics, 1979-2004.” Media Culture and
Society 29, no. 2 (2007), 267-8.
28 Andrew Gamble, Britain in Decline: Economic Policy, Political Strategy, and the British State, 4th ed. (New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1994), xv.
behind Britain’s declining social and economic position came to a head during the
turbulent 1970s.29 Britain was one of many western nations to suffer fallout from the 1973
oil crisis; however, many damaging and disastrous incidents were of Britain’s own
making. Unforgiving and exacting trade union leaders eager to remove their members
from the workplace to bolster their demands challenged weak political leadership
throughout the decade
The achievements of the Labour governments under Wilson and Callaghan
received a mixed academic reaction. Brendan Evans is sympathetic to them and their
handling of a set of ‘unmanageable problems.’30 The constructed view from the right,
particularly the media is somewhat different. A continuous series of events affected
Britain economically and socially: strikes, high taxation, a degeneration of morals,
muggings, and outbreaks of lawlessness, The Troubles, and a lowering of its standing on
the international stage breakdown. In summarising these damaging episodes Norman
Stone, succinctly concluded that ‘things just fell apart.’31 Bubbling under the surface of all
contemporary recollections of this era is the ‘structural crisis’ of 1978-79 that became
synonymous as The Winter of Discontent.32 The Conservatives acknowledging this
political point of no return gathered a variety of supporters ‘fearful of further unrest’ and
the General Election of May 1979 saw Margaret Thatcher elected Prime Minister.33
Thatcher’s regime has been the subject of vast scholastic and biographic studies.
Stuart Hall’s critical essay ‘The Great Moving Right Show’ drew attention to Thatcherism
as an ideological concept before the May 1979 election whilst some forty years later,
2019 saw Herself Alone published, the third and final book in Charles Moore’s authorized
autobiography series. In 1987, Dennis Kavanagh considered that much of the literature
29 Gamble, Britain in Decline, 23.
30 Brendan Evans, Thatcherism and British Politics, 1975-1999 (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 20.
31 N Tirarsoo, “You’ve Never Had It So Bad: Britain in the 1970s” In From Blitz to Blair: a new history of Britain since
1939, ed. N Tiratsoo (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997), 173.
32 Matthew Hilton, Chris Moores and Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, “New Times Revisited: Britain in the 1980s,”
Contemporary British History 31, no. 2 (2017), 149-50.
33 Bob Jessop, “Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism: Dead but not buried”, British Politics 10, no. 1 (2015), 19.
surrounding Thatcher was either of a hagiographical or polemical nature.34 Thatcher’s
death in 2013 underlined this view, mourned by political colleagues and supporters but
celebrated in communities previously devastated by her policies.35 Under Thatcher,
Britain suffered internal economic, social and political crises previously unseen, eclipsing
any downturn achieved by the 1974-79 Labour government. 36 Furthermore, when
compared to their western counterparts, Britain experienced an extended depression.37
The resultant increase in unemployment culminated with violent civil unrest throughout
many inner cities.
The primary platform for disaffected youth to voice their views and opinions was
popular music. Punk, Two-Tone and Oi all challenged Thatcher’s policies through their
music, video and live performances.38 Within Neil Nehring’s essay ‘From Punk to Rave in
the Thatcher Era’ he reviewed those anti-Thatcher songs issued during her spell as
Prime Minister from 1979-1990. Remarkably, no track from the period 1979-1982 met his
selection criterion.39 Despite Nehring’s examination, it is this dissertation’s view that
34 Dennis Kavanagh, Thatcherism and British Politics: The End of Consensus, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987),
35 Dave Wakeling of Two-Tone group The Beat stressed the cultural effect of Thatcher's policies on the moral
environment of Britain.
‘Although I rejoice in no one's death, Margaret Thatcher's passing is an important event for those who lived under
her regime. She made competitors out of neighbours, and people stopped talking at bus stops, even about the
weather, in the shadow of her affected, pretend posh accent. Margaret made herself big on the tears and suffering
of others, more Cromwell than Churchill, yet however much pain she caused us, I wish comfort and solace to her
Megan Conway “Billy Bragg and English Beat Singer Respond to Margaret Thatcher’s Death: Rockers were
outspoken critics of the former prime minster,” Rolling Stone, April 9, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2020,
Robert Martinez, “Punk rock, Thatcher and the Elsewhere of Northern Ireland: Rethinking the Politics of Popular
Music” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 48, no. 1 (Spring 2015), 194.
36 Andy Beckett, When The Lights Went Out: What really happened to Britain in the 1970s (London: Faber and Faber,
37 Gamble, Britain in Decline, 192-96.
38 Martinez, “Punk rock,” 194.
39 Nehring acknowledges that the period 1979-82 delivered ‘a great deal of wonderful music’ but is totally dismissive
of popular music’s response to the situation in Britian during 1979-1982, considering that ‘not one bit of it could be
said to be remotely politically challenging Thatcherism or otherwise. His exception is The Clash
Neil Nehring, “Everyone’s Given Up and Just Wants to Go Dancing: From Punk to Rave in the Thatcher Era,” Popular
Music and Society 30, no. 1 (2007), 8-9.
during the post-punk era The Jam’s musical output was at the forefront of critically
commentary of the Thatcher government.
Chapter 1 – Influences and Incorporation
I know I come from Woking and you say I’m a fraud,
But my heart’s in the city, where it belongs.40
‘Sounds from the Street’ 1977
The Jam branded themselves through a combination of historically subcultural and
punk attitude. This revivalist cultural integration was in accord with the multitude of British
working-class subcultural groups that appeared following the punk explosion of 1976
such as Two-Tone, Mod and Oi. A uniformed look combined with a fusion of original
composed tracks and Rhythm and Blues dancefloor favourites enabled The Jam to
present the post-punk epitome of 1960s British guitar-based groups. The Mod subculture
of the late 1970s accepted this ‘pure' interpretation: the group was hero-worshipped.
1.1 We lose our innocence; we lose our very soul – The Early Years.
Paul Weller was born on 25 May 1958 to young working-class parents in Stanley
Road, Woking, Surrey. His father John worked full-time as a labourer and part-time as a
taxi driver whilst his wife Ann cleaned part-time and looked after Paul and his younger
sister Nicky.41 The Weller’s were typical of the working-class families studied by Michael
Young and Peter Willmott.42 As the band’s manager, the patriarchal John Weller would
beg, steal and borrow equipment, arrange and chauffeur them to gigs, as well as
introducing the band onstage. At times, the music industry regarded this fatherly control
as amateur and challenging to the detriment of the band’s progress. Ann and Nicky
oversaw ancillary functions such as merchandising and organising the band’s fan club.
David Pilgrim and Richard Ormerod remark that Weller’s family absorbed his ‘early
40 The Jam, "Sounds from The Street," Track 2, Side 2 on In The City, Polydor 2383 447, 1977, 33 rpm Long Player.
41 John Reed, My Ever Changing Moods. (London: Omnibus Press. 2002), 24.
42 Michael Young and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East London, (London: Penguin Books, 1957 (2007),
Introduction to 2007 Edition viii.
hungry ambition’ and their involvement contributed to The Jam’s ‘style and content.’43
Weller’s social dependency upon the support of his closely-knit family has remained
prevalent throughout his extended musical career.
Childhood memories are a rare subject matter for Weller, although one notable
exception is ‘Tales from the Riverbank.’ His memories are a ‘dream mixed with
nostalgia.’44 The song portrays an idyllic carefree life, leaving the home early in the
morning with similar like-minded children, playing all-day and returning home in time for
No fears, no worries just a golden country,
Woke at sunrise, went home at sunset.
Now life is too critical, life is too cynical,
We lose our innocence, we lose our very souls.45
The song references George Orwell’s 1984, nominally Wilson Smith’s dream of a Golden
Country.46 Though unlike Smith, Weller can recall his childhood days, reminiscing of
times spent at the riverbank in Woking. The innocence of playing games in a safe,
tranquil and peaceful environment is lost in later life with the ‘critical and cynical’
demands placed upon the adult world, mirroring Smith’s experiences under the control of
Big Brother. Weller regularly adapted his literary influences into his songs as will be
Unassuming at Shearwater School, the teenage Weller found solace in music.
With his family supporting his desire to further his musicianship, Weller would spend
hours practising his art. Schoolmate Steve Brookes, a fellow musician, had a troubled
43 Pilgrim and Ormrod, Elvis Costello, 6-7.
44 The lyrics from Tales of the Riverbank hark back to his memories of growing up in Woking and the immediate
countryside area around Stanley Road. The song had grown out of two earlier demos, 'Not Far At All' and `We've
The Jam,“Tales from the Riverbank,” B side, Polydor POSP 350, 16 October 1981, 45rpm Single.
45 George Orwell,1984 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1949), 30.
46 The Jam,“Tales from the Riverbank,” B side, Polydor POSP 350, 16 October 1981, 45rpm Single.
adolescence at home and lodged with the Wellers. Whilst still at school, they formed The
Jam and, after going through a variety of musicians, finalized the group’s format with the
addition of Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckner (drums). As a regular act at working
men’s clubs in and around Woking during the mid-1970s, their formative years mirrored
the standard pathway for many British-based guitar-based groups. They honed their craft
by playing Rhythm and Blues or Tamla Motown-inspired soul covers alongside a
smattering of self-penned compositions. Disillusioned with the band’s direction Brookes
departed: the finalised line-up of Weller, Buckner and Foxton emerged out of the punk
revolution in 1977 introduced onstage from now on as ‘the best fucking band in the
1.2 I was the type who knocked at old men – Maximum R’n’B
British popular music emerged during the 1960s. Its popularity spread worldwide,
with one group, The Beatles, at the forefront of this movement. Furthermore, John
Lennon and Paul McCartney emerged as the main song-writing team for the group. No
longer reliant upon Tin Pan Alley compositions or the need to cover American tracks,
other groups quickly followed suit writing their own songs.48 American rock and roll
dominance of the British charts and dancehalls was broken with the popularity of British
beat bands who had discovered the soul of Detroit and Memphis together with the blues
of Chicago and New Orleans. The mid-1960s ‘British invasion’ of America transformed
1960s British groups’ style, presentation and musical interpretation. Carnaby Street,
London’s centre of ‘modernist’ fashion, influenced groups stage appearances and media
presence. With London the mecca of the ‘swinging sixties’ bands no longer needed to
47 In addition to his role as band manager, John Weller would act as Master of Ceremonies at The Jam concerts up
until their demise in 1982. Ian Stone recalled at his first ever Jam concert in at the Music Machine in Mornington
Crescent in London on 21 December 1978 ‘Paul Weller’s dad walked onto the stage and in a 40-Marlboro-a-day
voice said, “Please welcome the best fucking band in the world, The Jam.”’ He would always introduce the band
using this phrase.
Ian Stone To Be Someone, (London: Unbound, 2020), Foreword.
Ian Snowball, Paul Weller: Sounds from the Studio (Penryn Cornwall, Red Planet Publishing, 2017), 248.
48 Christopher Spinks, ““Hand Clappin' Foot Stompin' Funky-Butt …Live!”: Growing up with the sound of Rhythm
and Blues, and Soul and their impact upon Norwich 1963 -1968,” BA diss., (UEA Norwich, 2018) Chapter 1.
look to America for inspiration or sound American in their vocal delivery: ‘Cool Britannia’
was here long before the emergence of 1990s Brit-pop.49
Alongside these cultural and musical developments, the mod subculture emerged
whose lifestyle and attitude Weller embraced. To many commentators, he personified the
development and revival of mod during the 1970s. In the search for individuality, a
‘market-orientated originality’ propelled the mod subculture into new directions and
absorbed all that capitalist forces could offer - music, fashion, dancing, and Italian
scooters - with an intensity and passion.50 Musically and stylistically, two groups of young
Londoners stand out as representative of the commercial approach by the music industry
to the 1960s mod movement: The Small Faces and The Who.51 Select tracks from both
groups would feature as part of The Jam’s live and recorded musical catalogue.
One common denominator between these three groups was their ages
immediately prior to commercial success, The Jam’s average age sandwiches them
between The Who and The Small Faces. Brian Harrigan positively acknowledged their
‘simplicity, energy and burning enthusiasm,’ compared to their 1960s counterparts.52 In
reviewing their modernistic third album All Mod Cons, Charles Shaar-Murray aligned The
Jam’s transition to The Who and their musical progression from the 1965 mob-anthemic
album My Generation to 1966’s A Quick One.53 As part of his desire to succeed, Weller
visualized and interpreted the stage personas and mannerisms of both Steve Marriott
and Pete Townshend. All three groups exuded a stage presence and musical legacy
borne out of a caustic dissatisfaction with the world around them. In 2014, commenting
49 Lee Brooks, Mark Donnelly and Richard Mills, eds., Mad Dogs & Englishness: Popular Music and English Identities,
(New York: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2017), 11-12.
50 Walter Benjamin ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in illuminations, London, Fontana, 1973
quoted in Ian Chambers, Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience, (London: Methuen & Co.,1986), 1986, 7-8.
51 Teenagers when they first met, original members Steve Marriott, Kenny Jones, Ronnie Lane of The Small Faces,
were all from East London (Manor Park, Whitechapel & Plaistow) whilst the nucleus of The Who, Peter Townshend,
Roger Daltry and John Entwhistle had all been at the same school in Acton, West London.
Paolo Hewitt, The Small Faces: The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story, (London: Acid Jazz Books Ltd, 1995).
Dave Marsh, Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, (London: Plexus Publishing, 2003).
52 Brian Harrigan, Melody Maker, April 23, 1977 quoted in Reed, Ever Changing Moods, 63.
53 Charles Shaar Murray, “The Jam: All Mod Cons,” New Musical Express, 1978. The Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed
May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-jam-iall-mod-consi.html.
retrospectively, Jon Savage conceded he had previously overlooked their incorporation
of ‘hard-edged mod pop’ during the 1970s.54
In ‘Away from the Numbers’ from their first album, In the City, punk is seen as
replicating the same pathways trod by their mentors and by ‘breaking the chain’ Britain’s
youth can progress and reassert their originality.55 Ben Winsworth saw their reproduction
of a 1960s sound as a ‘reawakening,’ giving The Jam a chance to move forward through
tapping into the energy that was mod, and rejecting punk’s nihilism.56 Weller aimed ‘Art
School’s’derisory line ‘the media as watchdog is absolute shit’ at the groups music
journalist detractors.57 A directive was given to both the listener and critic to accept that
what they are hearing ‘is the new art school,’ and to stop the by-now constant
comparison with 1960s art college inspired groups.58 Their second single of 1977, ‘The
Modern World,’ further dismissed their literary critics, quantifying that as a band, they
‘don’t have to explain ourselves to you.’ The song culminates with the intimidating line, ‘I
don’t give two fucks about your review,’ which delivered a defiant insult to their
1.3 Billy Hunt and David Watts - Ray Davies
The Jam’s musical direction harks back to the 1960s; analysing their lyrics reveals
that their primary inspiration and direction came from the quirky representation of
Englishness eloquently recalled through the lyrics of Ray Davies, the main songwriter for
54 The Subcultures Network. Fight Back: Punk, Politics and Resistance. (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
55 “Numbers” is mod phraseology for a run-of-the-mill mod as part of the crowd or the masses. As each mod
considered himself to be something special and unique, to be considered just one of the herd was a damning insult.
Within the song ‘Away from the Numbers’ Weller utilises the phrase linking the old mod subculture with punk.
“1960s Mod Slang We Should Use Today,” Fraser McAlpine, BBC America, Accessed October 18, 2020.
The Jam, “Away from the Numbers,” Track 5, Side 1 on In the City, Polydor, 2383 447. 20 May 1977, 33rpm LP.
56 Winsworth, “Mod Cons,” 57.
57 The Jam, “Art School,” Track 1, Side 1 on In the City, Polydor, 2383 447. 20 May 1977, 33rpm LP. Vinyl.
58 The Jam, “Art School,” 1977.
59 The Jam, “The Modern Word,” Track 1 Side 1 on This is the Modern World, Polydor, 2383 475, 18 November 1977.
33rpm LP, Vinyl.
The Kinks.Davies’ angled commentary on the nuances of British life, alongside the
cultural changes of the ‘swinging sixties’provided an outlet for both Weller and Foxton to
transpose these experiences to the 1970s and 1980s.60 Davies’ potent portrayal of
Englishness through its ‘types and scenes’ provided the blueprint the delivery of a
working-class message to an audience that waited eagerly on every vinyl release.61
Davies’ influence upon The Jam cannot be overstated.
Davies’ musical output ‘transcended the simplistic subject matter’ that was the
standard fare for most Top 40 hits of the time.62 During The Kinks most successful chart
period, 1964 to 1971, his songs commented upon the changing face of Britain. Observed
from the perspective of London’s working classes, he particularly references those
downtrodden or hankering for a return to better days.63 Keith Gildart acknowledged
Davies’ select place amongst popular music’s songwriter, expanding upon Antonio
Gramsci’s observation on new classes and the creation of ‘organic intellectuals placing
Davies within this category.’64 Gildart’s assessment of music’s cultural interpretations of
the 1960 sees Davies standing out from his peers. His songs explored and represented a
growing ‘tension between class, locality, nation and social change.’65 Transposition of
this conceptual interpretation of the cultural ‘organic intellectual’ to the punk and post-
punk period, allows the consideration of Weller, Strummer and Costello as
contemporaries of Davies through their commentaries on England.
60 Gildart, Images of England, 3.
61 Gildart, Images of England, 130.
62 Gildart, Images of England, 128.
63 Between 1966 and 1967 The Kinks produced four consecutive 45rpm singles that encapsulated all classes of
British life. In order the songs were ‘Sunny Afternoon,’ ‘Dead End Street,’ ‘Autumn Almanac,’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset.’
Within these four tracks, Davies social commentary shifted from 'scornful third-person condemnations' back to first-
person songs that musically demanded space as lyrically they were 'uncomfortably close to home.' In confirming and
reinforcing Davies's 'beloved ambiguity,' Matthew Gelbart sees these songs walking the thin line that separates the
listener from fact and fiction.
Matthew Gelbart, "Persona and Voice in the Kinks' Songs of the Late 1960s." Journal of the Royal Musical
Association 128, no. 2 (2003), 224. Accessed June 8, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3557496.
64 Gildart, Images of England, 128.
65 Gildart, Images of England, 128-9.
Gildart characterises the politics of Davies’ songwriting into three characteristics:
‘Orwellian Socialist’, ‘Patriotic Conservative’ and ‘Working Class Populist’, all of which
can be applied to Weller’s musical output in varying degrees.66 Comparatively, academia
links Davies with a selection of English romantic literary writers; his use of a distinctive
language of ‘non-elevated prose’ prompted Michael Kraus to consider him
‘Wordsworthian.’67 Kraus also favourably compares Davies’ incorporation of a series of
contrasting tensions: ‘melancholy and happiness, pleasure and pain, love and death’ to
John Keats.68 Additionally, Michael Sanders sees the portrayal of local resistance by the
lower social classes to social and economic changes in Village Green Preservation
Society and Muswell Hillbillies comparable to William Blake. However, it is through
Davies’ incorporation of an ‘Orwellian Socialist’ approach in sharing a ‘collective identity
that was underpinned with class’ that his messages may be best interpreted.69
Weller and Davies have both cited Orwell’s impact upon their writing. In recalling
the routineness of life by highlighting the day-to-day lives of ordinary men and women,
they present a quintessential Englishness to their respective audiences. However, the
idyllic presentation of a halcyon lifestyle enjoying ‘a nice cup of tea’ with ‘roast beef on
Sundays’ is countered by those on the social periphery questioning ‘what are we living
for’ whilst complaining its ‘pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday?’70 The
traditional lives of working-class communities and the family unit as explored by Orwell
and furthered in Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy contrast to the stark realism of a
post-war British otherness offered through the emerging new wave theatre and authors,
particularly John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe. Shaped by this literary direction, Davies
connected his writing to a portrayal of blue-collar angst and anger through a lyrical
66 Gildart, Images of England, 146.
67 Michael J Kraus, “The Greatest Rock Star of the 19th Century: Ray Davies, Romanticism, and the Art of Being
English.”Popular Music & Society 29, no 2 (2006), 203.
68 Kraus, “The Greatest Rock Star,” 205.
69 Gildart, Images of England, 150.
70 George Orwell.The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genus, 1941. Accessed October 17, 2020.
The Kinks, “Autumn Almanac,“ A side, Pye Records, 7N 17400 13 October 1967, 45rpm Vinyl.
The Jam, “That’s Entertainment,” Track 6 Side 1, Sound Affects, POLD 5035, 28 November 1980, 33rpm Vinyl.
representational form of Englishness: male, white, and working-class, a vision that
matched The Jam themselves.71 Given such a framework, it is understandable that they
picked-up on Davies’ cultural observations and transposed them into 1970s Britain.
An examination of music press interviews with The Jam offers up their
indebtedness to the contextual style of Davies. When asked by Phil Sutcliffe on his
introduction to songwriting, Weller responded that ‘it seemed natural’ to write using
groups that he had grown up with.72 He reiterates this view in The Face, lauding Davies’
structural but unconventional rhyming style that utilised a ‘pure English language’ without
‘Americanisms,’ allowing representation of the working classes’ ‘basic, ordinary life’.73 In
interviews with their fans, the connections between Davies and Weller’s compositions are
apparent. Michael Badger likened the portrayal of ‘urban decay’ (‘Town Called Malice’)
and ‘the have and have-nots’ (‘Just Who is the 5 ‘o’clock Hero?’) to The Kinks’ reflections
of ‘the communities we grew up in.’74 Deliverance of an excluded Englishness meant that
fans’ interpreted songs as reflecting their own personal circumstances. For John Lee, this
ensured that ‘when you read the lyrics, they actually meant something.’75
Additionally, early reviews of In the City, juxtapose ‘teenage frustration’ with the
‘melodic grace and dynamic aplomb’ exhibited by The Kinks and The Who.76 Reviewing
All Mod Cons, Dave Schulps placed Weller alongside Davies through his lyrical
interpretation, which ‘capture[d] the essence of being an individual caught up in a certain
place and time.’77 As a ‘sharp-eyed observer,’ Weller built upon the ‘structures and
conscience’ portrayed throughout The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset,’ interspersing characters
71 Andrew Palmer, “‘In A Land That I Love’: Working-Class Identity and the End of Empire on Ray Davies’ Arthur and
the Decline and Fall of the British Empire.” Popular Music and Society 37, no. 2 (2014), 213.
72 Phil Sutcliffe, “Paul Weller: The Mojo Interview”, MOJO 2004, Rock’s Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
73 Chris Salewicz, "The Paul Weller Interview". The Face (1982). The Jam, Paul Weller. Rock's Backpages.
Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-paul-weller-interview.
74 Michael Badger, Email Interview with the Author. April 03, 2020.
75 John Lee. Email Interview with the Author. April 04, 2020.
76 Phil McNeill, “In The City,” New Musical Express, May 1977.
77 Dave Schulps. “The Jam: All Mod Cons” Trouser Press, February 1979. Accessed October 18, 2020,
and places to create an air of vulnerability. Furthermore, The Jam paid homage to Davies
by covering a version of ‘David Watts,’ a track from 1967’s Something Else, in which the
narrator, ‘a dull and simple lad,’ coveted all that the ‘captain of the team’ is.78
Subsequently, they delivered their own tribute with ‘Billy Hunt;’ inspired by Weller’s time
working on a building site with his father, the song is a parody of Keith Waterhouse’s
fantasist character Billy Liar.
Not all reviews of All Mod Cons were favourable. A sceptical Dave Marsh of
Rolling Stone challenged its ‘bogus nostalgia,’ likening ‘Mr. Clean’ to a rabid version of
Davies’ ‘Well Respected Man.’ 79 Questioning Weller’s indecisiveness in adopting Davies’
realism, Marsh considered the album ‘lyrically pretentious.’80 Scathing criticism of the
band’s tour to promote All Mod Cons came from Paul Morley, Weller’s compositions were
derided as ‘ditties that lack[ed] substance’ whilst they appeared, ‘cold and old
fashioned.’81 Nonetheless, it seems that The Jam regularly interpreted Davies’ technique
of character identification to illustrate a centric English working-class solidarity, a
common national identity experiencing a profound social, economic and political change
of the post-punk period.
78 The Jam, David Watts, Side 1, Track 4 on All Mod Cons, Polydor, POLD 5008, 3 November 1978, 33rpm Vinyl.
79 Marsh’s review of All Mod Cons for Rolling Stone is acknowledged as one of the most critical that the band
received from one of the heavyweights of the music press. Marsh places Weller at a crossroads between Ray Davies
and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Marsh considered the record ‘catastrophic, weak at the surface and almost rotten
underneath.’ In addition Marsh comparison of Mr Clean to A Well Respected Man, several songs are derided as
being poor copies or rewrites nominally, ‘In The Crowd’ to The Who’s ‘The Kids Are Alright,’ English Rose to Sir
Walter Scott, Fly to Bryan Ferry and ‘A Bomb in Wardour Street’ to The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. Overall the
sound is considered ‘muddy’ and the band are considered to have ‘lost their punch.’
Dave Marsh. The Jam All Mod Cons (Polydor) Rolling Stone, 1979, Rocks Backpages, Accessed May 7, 2019.
80 Marsh, “The Jam All Mod Cons.”
81 Paul Morley. “The Jam, Gang of Four: Music Machine, London”, New Musical Express (6 January 1979), Rock’s
Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
1.4 Sounds from the Street – Punk
On 9 July 1976, Weller was in the Lyceum audience at the now legendary all-night
gig featuring The Sex Pistols, recognized as the birth of punk.82 His experience of the
evening changed his thinking and vision for The Jam’s future direction, beyond their
current arrangement of working men’s clubs and social functions. The teenage Weller
experienced a new scene. Punk appeared exciting and vibrant; he knew at that moment
that he wanted to be part of it.83 During 1976 and 1977, punk ‘codified and commodified’
to establish its identity.84 John Tobler saw punk as originating from ‘decaying council
estates’ full of disillusioned kids forgotten by the system.85 Punk’s rhetoric situated its
music and style as working-class; Weller realized that for The Jam there was an
untapped audience for their ‘youthful exuberance.’86
The Jam concentrated their live performances to London and Home Counties,
often appearing on package tours with other punk bands including The Clash. Moving
within this new circle of musicians first exposed Weller to the inclusion of political content
within punk music.87 The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Jam, were among a multitude
of other new bands who were signed by major record labels in a rush to secure the ‘new’
music produced by Britain’s disaffected young adults. However, most contracts were
short-term with punk’s saleability not expected to be long-lived. Punk bands recorded
their material quickly in conjunction with their fast-moving and aggressive ethos, with
relatively low costs compared to the label’s mainstays, rock acts such as The Who and
82 Paolo Hewitt, Liner Notes for The Jam, Extras,Polydor, POLD 513 177-2, 6 April 1992, Compact Disc.
83 The Jam. “The Modern World”, 1977.
84 Matthew Worley, “One Nation Under the Bomb: The Cold War and British Punk to 1984”, Journal for the Study of
Radicalism 5, no. 2 (2011), 68.
85 John Tobler, Punk Rock (London Proteus Publishing Co, 1977), 6.
86 Kent, N. “The Stranglers/The Jam/Cherry Vanilla: The Roundhouse, London”. New Musical Express (1977). Cherry
Vanilla, The Jam, The Stranglers. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-
87 Reed, My Ever Changing Moods, 356.
A variety of sources influenced and shaped The Jam’s demeanour, style and most
importantly their songwriting. Prominent amongst these are the 1960s, mods, The Who,
Small Faces, Ray Davies, the punk explosion and a mixture of new wave British
literature. Binding these influences together was the patriarchal hegemony of John
Weller. Two areas that he did not have control of were the music press and his son’s
attitude towards them. Denselow commented that at times ‘he [Paul Weller] has seemed
like an inarticulate, arrogant upstart.’88 Caroline Coon’s review from their promotional
appearance at Soho market in 1976 resulted in The Jam carrying a label of ‘revivalists’
during the punk period. Paul Weller expressed his dissatisfaction on stage to this
reference by Coon and a similar review from Sniffing Glue.89 Moreover, in his first ‘big’
music press interview he declared his intention to vote Conservative at the next election
with the ulterior motive to get ‘the trendies to hate us [The Jam].’90 However, as far as
punk’s elite were concerned this was his ‘Grundy moment,’ and led some, including
Strummer, to question the groups commitment to a leftist ethic, ultimately leading to their
ostracization from ‘punks’ elite’.91
Despite lighting the fuse that stimulated The Jam’s change of musical direction, by
mid-1977 Weller was disillusioned with the anarchistic lyrical messages of The Sex
Pistols anthemic songs such as ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘God Save The Queen.’92
Makitta Brottman contended ‘everything authorative was being subverted and mocked’
88 Denselow, When the Music’s over, 205.
89 In the early days of punk, Weller would openly express his reaction to criticism from the media. In response to
Coon’s review, he famously wore a placard round his neck with a hand-written comment ‘How can I be a revivalist
when I'm only fucking 18?’ On another occasion at the Marquee, he burnt a copy of the punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue in
protest at their comments.
Dennis Munday, Shout to the Top: The Jam and Paul Weller (London: Omnibus Press, 2006), 6.
90 In only a few months after Weller’s interview with the NME he admitted that it was his fault for making the
statement and that ‘he wouldn’t vote for any of the c**ts.’ Weller having realised that it was a mistake,
acknowledged that as a band they were ‘prone to mistakes,’ further quantifying that ‘only the Clash aren’t prone to
mistakes. Chas de Whalley sees Weller as a collection of ‘contradictions, confusions and paradoxes,’ asserting that
his simple life does not satisfy the stereotypical view of the pop star image.
Chas de Whalley, “Jam Springs Eternal,” Sounds (1977). The Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
91 Savage, England’s Dreaming, 247.
92 Ian Birch, "The Jam: Invasion of the Riff Snatchers". Melody Maker (1979). The Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed
May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-jam-invasion-of-the-riff-snatchers.
through a series of ‘ritualistic violations’ such as ‘parody, swearing, and crude humour.’93
John Parham recognises this first wave of punk, augmented by Malcolm Maclaren with
John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) as its mouthpiece, as having created ‘a deconstructive,
almost carnivalesque outlook.’94 Rejecting an anarchic attitude, The Jam, instead
preferred the adoption of a ‘reconstructive’ position and engaged politically through a
‘more communicative and consensual’ lyrical approach.95 In 1979, Weller recalled that
Strummer had implored fellow punk songwriters to write about important issues.96 Worley
observed that delivery of a social realist message as ‘the sound from the street,’ enabled
punk to expand their audience through an ‘implicit and explicit political agenda’
incorporating key matters of the day affecting the younger generation.97
93 The most oft-quoted and infamous example of this is the ‘now-legendary’ Sex Pistols interview with Bill Grundy on
Tonight TV in which he encouraged the group to swear whilst the programme was broadcast into the family homes
around tea-time. The media reaction was one of disgust and exploded the punk movement from its exclusive
position based in the capital to a nationwide audience.
Makitta Brottman, High Theory/Low Culture quoted in John Parham, “Flowers of Evil: Ecosystem Health and the
Punk Poetry of John Cooper Clarke,” In Fight Back, Punk Politics and Resistance, eds. The Punk Scholars Network,
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), 123.
94 Parham, “Flowers of Evil,” 123.
95 Parham, “Flowers of Evil,” 123.
96 Lester, Paul. "Paul Weller: Last Man Standing". Uncut (1998). The Jam, Paul Weller, The Style Council. Rock's
Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019. http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/paul-weller-last-man-standing.
97 Worley, “One Nation ,“ 70.
Chapter 2 – Political
And as I was standing by the edge,
I could see the faces of those who led
Pissing themselves laughing (and the flames grew)98
‘Funeral Pyre’ 1981.
Twenty-first century research has merged the boundaries between music and
politics, exemplifying our connection with our ‘values and experiences.’99 The Jam have
questioned the performance of political leaders, their policies and ‘documented our own
defiance of authority.’100 Both Labour and Conservative governments received criticism.
Early tracks delivered an outright attack on the Labour Party, directly chastising James
Callaghan. As Thatcherism took hold of Britain from 1979 onwards, Weller presented
images of class and identity at odds with that offered by Conservative propagandists.
2.1 You’re just a red balloon with a lot of hot gas – Uncle Jimmy
Three months before the trailblazing performance at the Lyceum by The Sex
Pistols, the Labour Party selected Callaghan as their party leader, and Britain’s Prime
Minister. Over the next three years, culminating with the Winter of Discontent in 1978-79,
Britain experienced a series of ‘unmanageable problems’ challenged the resolve and
togetherness of the Labour government.101 With a groundswell movement shifting
towards a more militant left approach, Labour’s leadership adopted a much more centrist
middle ground. Andy Beckett reflects that most of Callaghan’s three years in charge were
a ‘skilful exercise’ in containing its prominent dissenters together with implementing party
98 The Jam, “Funeral Pyre,” A Side Polydor POSP 257, 29 May 1981, 45rpm Vinyl.
99 John Street, Music and Politics, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 1.
100 Simon Cross, “The enduring culture and limits of political song.” Cogent Arts & Humanities 4, no. 1 (2017). 2.
101 Evans, Thatcherism and British Politics, 20.
policy.102 Following on from the electoral defeat in 1979, irreconcilable differences would
create an unelectable Labour party to the voters. It took two decades until the
introduction of ‘New Labour’ to reclaim the ‘lost voters’ and restore Labour to Downing
Callaghan’s prime ministerial office coincided with the explosion of punk. Coming
at a time of political flux, the most politically critical post-war youth culture challenged the
status quo.103 Culturally, worldwide popular protest songs such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in
the Wind,’ became commonplace during the 1960s, challenging war, the nuclear bomb
and civil rights generally. Within Britain, few commented disapprovingly on political
leaders in office or current politically sensitive matters. Punk challenged this approach
and delivered an ‘aggressive injection’ into political themes, previously considered
unacceptable as subject matter for the record-buying public.104 The ink had barely dried
on their contract with Polydor in February 1977 when The Jam deployed all their working-
class teenage angst; targeting their ‘pre-20 delusions’ at the failings of a Labour
government whilst recording their debut album In The City.105
An album ‘full of powerful street images,’ its eponymous title track ‘In the City’
pleads to those in authority to listen to the voice of Britain’s youth.106 Weller bemoans
that ‘whenever I approach you, you make me look like a fool’ and that authority will turn
young ideas into fears.107 Building upon this denunciation of authority, ‘Time for Truth’
directly attacked Callaghan’s performance as prime minister, imploring ‘Uncle Jimmy’ to
‘decline with honour while you can.’108 Written and recorded in March 1977, ‘Time for
Truth’ coincided with the Lib-Lab Pact agreement, negotiated with the Liberal Party led
102 Andy Beckett, Promised You A Miracle: Why 1980-82 made Modern Britain, (London: Penguin Books, 2015), 115.
103 Worley, No Future, 140.
104 David Laing, “Interpreting Punk Rock”, Marxism Today 22, no. 4 (April 1978), 123-4.
105 Barry Cain, In the City, Record Mirror,14 May 1977. 15 Accessed October 21, 2020.
106 Simon Frith “The Jam is Packed Off to America,” Creem, 1980 Rock’s Back Pages, Accessed May 7, 2019.
107 The Jam, “In the City,” Track 1, Side 1 on In The City, Polydor, 2383 447. 20 May 1977, 33rpm Vinyl.
108 The Jam, “Time for Truth,” In the City LP, Side 2, Track 4, Polydor, 2383 447. 20 May 1977, 33rpm Vinyl
by David Steel to support the government in any no-confidence vote. Callaghan, one
year into office, struggled to keep his minority government afloat following a by-election
loss and wanted to avoid a general election. Tony Benn, a dissenter at the cabinet vote
to ratify this coalition, judged Callaghan’s concession as part of his intention in moving
the party and its political direction to the central right.109 Weller, arguably, was aware of
these happenings during recording sessions and incorporated his lyrical resignation
demand to Callaghan because of this political collaboration.
2.2 In the city, there’s a thousand men in uniform– A Law and Ordered Society?
Both songs also tackle another subject that underpinned the political spectrum
under both Labour and Conservative governments: Britain’s transition into a law and
order society. Commenting in the fanzine 48 Thrills, Weller expressed his fears that the
population ‘don’t realize how close we are to a police state.’110 ‘Time for Truth’ also
commented upon what it saw as the government’s policy of ‘trying for a police state.’111
Meanwhile ‘In the City’ recognized an increasing police presence: ‘In the city there’s a
thousand men in uniform.’112 Politicians and the electorate viewed the increase in crime
and breakdown in law and order as society avalanching towards a crisis state. In Policing
the Crisis, Stuart Hall observed this movement towards a tougher stance as the
‘mechanism for the construction of an authoritarian consensus’, to deal with the
situation.113 Given such a backdrop, Hall picks up the subject matter of law and order and
positions it as a crusading movement of public support to the Right.
With an increased crime rate, the Conservative Party utilized an anxious and
frightened community’s ‘need for authority’ to their own ends, including in the build-up to
the 1979 General Election.114 Thatcher’s speech in Birmingham in April 1979
109 Tony Benn, Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977-1980, (London: Arrow Books Limited, 1990), 85-91.
110 Reed, My Ever Changing Moods, 65.
111 The Jam “Time for Truth,” 1977.
112 The Jam, “In The City,” 1977.
113 Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts. Policing the Crisis: ‘Mugging’, the State
and Law and Order. (London: Hutchinson,1978), viii.
114 Hall, “The Great Moving Right Show”, 19.
immediately prior to the general election attacked the law debate at Labour’s 1978 party
conference and confirmed a Conservative commitment to a law and order programme.
Thatcher viewed the law as ‘the fortress of our freedoms’ and proposed the building of an
enforceable ‘barrier of steel,’ thereby preventing the ‘ruthless’ preying upon the ‘weak.’115
Fulfilling their electioneering promises, the Conservative government introduced The
Criminal Justice Act 1982, delivering a tougher approach into law and order policy,
resulting in offenders facing tougher penalties for their offences.116
The Jam used the prominent death of Liddle Towers in 1976 to comment upon
police integrity and accountability. Towers died in hospital following a spell in police
custody. The coroner’s inquest October 1976 returned a result of justifiable homicide.
Critical of the police, in May 1977, the Attorney General responded that Liddle’s death
was not attributable to excess violence on behalf of the police and there was no case to
instigate criminal proceedings.117 In the aftermath of the publicity surrounding Towers’
death, Weller wrote ‘And I’ve heard now they have the right to kill a man’- a comment
within ‘In the City’ directed to the police accused of Towers’ death.118 Moreover, the
scathing ‘Time for Truth’ took the subject a step further and demanded justice:
While killers roam the street in numbers dressed in blue
And you’re trying to hide it from us, But you know what I mean
Bring forward those six pigs, We wanna see them swing so high.119
115 Margaret Thatcher, “Barrier of Steel” (Speech, Conservative Rally in Birmingham, 19 April 1979), Margaret
Thatcher Foundation. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104026.
116 Michael Cavadino and James Dignan, The Penal System: An Introduction, Fourth Edition, (London: Sage, 2007), 6.
117 Hansard HC Deb vol 931 c116w, May 3, 1977 .Written Answers (Commons) Accessed October 21, 2020.
118 The Jam, “In the City”, 1977.
119 The Jam “Time for Truth,” 1977.
Undoubtedly, ‘Time for Truth’ contains some of Weller’s most derogatory and direct
criticism expressed on any subject. Towers’ death would inspire other post-punk
condemnations of his death and its cover-up by the authorities.120
The second album, This is the Modern World continued with Weller’s criticism of
the increase and (mis)use of establishment powers. To heighten awareness of the media
and government’s censorial treatment of The Sex Pistols debut album Never Mind the
Bollocks, Weller transposed his current literary reading into his songwriting. ‘Standards’
is another song in which incorporated George Orwell’s 1984 within its composition; it is
written using the government’s voice as its narrator. It warned that its rules must be
obeyed by those ‘who stand in our way’ and if challenged that ‘we’ll outlaw your voices’
and ‘destroy your generation.’121 Weller qualifies this intimidation by referencing The
Ministry of Truth’s slogan ‘ignorance is strength;’ together with a reminder to the listener
–‘you know what happened to Winston, as a governmental threat for non-compliance’122
2.3 You chose your leaders and place your trust - Conservative Electoral Success
There was only ever going to be one winner out of the Winter of Discontent 1978-
79. This industrial conflict saw the country suffer a series of hardships and shortages and
a threat of Callaghan calling for a national state of emergency. Combined with yet another
prolonged exposure to the long-standing and much-maligned British disease, the
population’s perception of the Labour party plummeted.123 With the primer lit, the
120 Several tracks followed The Jam’s Time for Truth, recognising Liddle Towers’ death and the apparent closing of
ranks within the initial police inquiry and subsequent inquest. These include the following:
The Angelic Upstarts, “Liddle Towers,” A Side, Small Wonder Records, rt.sw.001, 1978, 45rpm Vinyl.
Dave Goodman “Justifiable Homicide,” A Side, The Label TLR 008, 1978; 45rpm Vinyl.
The Tom Robinson Band, “Blue Murder,” Side 1, Track 5 on TRB Two, EMI EMC 3296, 0C 062-06 977, 1979; LP Vinyl.
and Crux, “Liddle Towers,” Secret Records SEC 5, Track 5, Side 1 on 1982 Oi Oi Oi That’s Your Lot , 1982, LP Vinyl.
121 The Jam “Standards,” Track 3, Side 1 on This is the Modern World, Polydor, 2383 475, 18 November 1977. 33rpm
122 Orwell, 1984,6.
123 Stewart refers to the ‘British disease’ as a combination of dismal industrial productivity; prolonged and damaging
strikes; the practice of restrictive working conditions and roles; and poor relations between government,
management and trade unions.
Graham Stewart, Bang!: A History of Britain in the 1980s (London: Atlantic Books, 2013), 19.
electorate was ready to allow Margaret Thatcher to implement popular New Right
propagandist-driven phraseology into practice.124 In May 1979, the Conservatives, with
43.9% of the votes cast, secured 339 seats for an overall majority of 43. Having achieved
an ‘active popular consent’ for the imposition of law and order (as emphasized in the pre-
election ‘Barriers of Steel’ speech), Thatcher was mandated to impose an authoritarian
populism that deployed the monetarist social market values against both class and union
The first phase of a Thatcher government experienced a deep economic recession
and increased social deprivation that exposed the gap between haves and have-nots. It is
against this background that The Jam issued ‘Going Underground.’ Released as their first
single of the 1980s, it became their first to reach number one in the UK charts.126 Written
six months after Conservative election success, musically it is a clash of drums and
guitars. A driving rhythm that complements the song’s lyrical content sits alongside a
scathing commentary written in the first person, detailing the narrator’s vexation with
Thatcherism as it forged ahead with the implementation of its electoral promises. Cross-
referencing this style of ‘vivid account’ to Thatcher’s idiom that ‘there is no alternative to
capitalism,’ Mark Fisher describes The Jam’s lyrical criticism as ‘capitalist realism’.127
Weller voiced his disapproval of the electorate’s voting apathy within ‘Going
Underground.’ In bemoaning that ‘the public gets what the public wants,’ Weller blamed
the cataclysmic performance of the Thatcher administration onto the population.
Exclaiming ‘but I want nothing this society’s got,’ he reinforces his rejection of the
changes that are happening in Britain under Thatcherism. Later in the song, Weller
rearranged these lines, stating that ‘the public wants what the public gets’ but questioned
his understanding of their desires: ‘but I don’t get what this society wants.’
124 Thomas, “The Winter of Discontent” 274.
125 Hall, “The Great Moving Right Show,” 17.
126 The Jam, “Going Underground” A Side, Polydor POSP 113, 14 March 1980, 45rpm Vinyl.
127 Fisher, “Going Underground,” 99.
Going Underground thrust the group to the forefront of popular music’s’ political
challenge to the Thatcherite regime. Even now, some 40 years later, the song’s context
still resonates with those interviewed for this dissertation.128 These findings crossed over
both male and female responses and all saw Weller as a generational spokesperson
representing themselves. Living on a council estate, Diana Janus recalled that ‘they gave
the youth an avenue to speak out’ against prejudices.129 Identifying those parts of his life
forced upon him, Alan Blackhouse goes even further and considers Weller as a
gatekeeper, having instigated a ‘change to his life much for the better.’130 Moreover,
others actively embodied these messages creating a political community buying into the
anthemic ‘state of the nation’ portrayed within ‘Going Underground.’131 For Nigel Coombs
he felt part of ‘something - The Jam Army - and connected to the group on so many
levels.’132 More than any other popular group, The Jam over the next three years,
embodied the people’s rebellious resistance to Thatcher.133
Simon Frith considered that ‘pop rarely relates to politics in terms of class and
class organization,’ and determined that the ‘issue of dispute’ was in ‘the relationship
between the personal and the political.’134 One key question posed to the interviewees,
enquired if the bands socio-political messages within their lyrics and media interviews
had guided and shaped their personal outlook. Around two-thirds of them had been
positively affected. Commenting that their lyrics ‘tapped into the suburban world I
inhabited,’ Mark Watkins believed that there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction’ that
awoke his ‘principles’ which subsequently ‘defined his politics.’135 Feeling that he had
limited control on his life, Matt Barker interpreted Weller’s messages to ‘rise up and
express yourself’, which in turn ‘played a part in my heart being more socialist, hoping for
128 Ben Jones, “The Uses of Nostalgia”, Cultural and Social History 7, no. 3 (2010), 368-69.
129 Diana Janus, Email interview with author, April 15, 2020.
130 Alan Blackhouse, Email interview with author, April 03, 2020.
131 Street, Music and Politics, 61.
132 Nigel Coombs, Email interview with author, April 05, 2020.
133 Irene Morra, Britishness, Popular Music, and National Identity: The Making of Modern Britain. (Abingdon:
Routledge, 2014). 11.
134 Frith, “Post-punk Blues”, 21.
135 Mark Watkins, Email Interview with the Author. April 14, 2020.
a fairer world.’136 In ‘growing’ with the band, Neil O’Connor identified ‘it was always
personal not party politics’ that he related to.137 The resulting comments about The Jam’s
subject matter and subsequent impact from the sample interviewed confirms John
Street’s premise regarding political songs requiring both representation and engagement
to be effective.138 The interviewees acknowledged that the music and messages from
The Jam raised an awareness within themselves and stimulated their political
2.4 We feast on flesh and drink on blood – A society in crisis and terminal decline.
In office, the Thatcher government adopted a monetarist policy. This direction was
driven by Thatcher’s idealistic ‘infatuation’ with the economic philosophies of both
Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.139 The Hayekian rubric targeted those agents that
were crucial to the maintenance of a monetarist program under Thatcher’s control,
namely the ‘non-commercial middle class or the non-entrepreneurial petty
bourgeoisie.’140 An increasing number of specialist interest groups promoted the
dissemination of free-market economic ideas. Britain’s first think-tank, The Institute of
Economic Affairs, had sought to influence intellectuals since 1955. Subsequently in 1974,
Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph established the Centre for Policy Studies with the specific
remit ‘to think the unthinkable.’141 Ultimately, it acted as the intellectual force behind the
government’s alternative approach to Keynesian social democracy, an economic policy
that saw 1970’s Britain portrayed as the sick man of Europe.142
136 Matt Barker, Email interview with the Author, April 03, 2020.
137 O’Connor. Interview, May 17, 2020.
138 John Street, Seth Hague and Heather Savigny, “. “Playing to the Crowd: The Role of Music and Musicians in
Political Participation.” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations 10, no. 2 (2008), 6.
139 Robert Skidelsky, Thatcherism, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 3.
140 Ian Taylor, “Law and Order, Moral Order: The Changing Rhetorics of the Thatcher Government”
The Social Register, (1987), 323.
141 Margaret Thatcher, The Path to Power, (London: Harper Collins, 1996), 253.
142 Gino Raymond, “The 1970s and the Thatcherite revolution”, Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique xxi, no. 2,
A post-war consensus had prevailed throughout a series of changing Labour and
Conservative governments. A merger of ideas between Richard Butler and Hugh
Gaitskell generated a general political desire to maintain the ‘common good’ through a
one-nation mentality.143 The New Right challenged this status quo. Under the guidance
of Thatcher and Keith Joseph, Hall remarks that the neo-liberalists considered the
Keynesian welfare state’s principle of ‘common good’ as ‘utopian sentimentality.144 The
methodology to implement the Conservative ideal of monetarism was the Medium-Term
Financial Strategy. Colin Leys explained their main targets were a regulated money
supply, reduced state spending, controlled interest rates, and lower inflation. Meanwhile,
rising employment levels would be of secondary concern to the above aims.145 Through
the implementation of these policies, from 1979-83 Britain experienced the worst
extremes of unemployment, a financial predicament that saw rising inflation and an
industrial decline beyond anything experienced post-war.
In 1981, The Jam delivered their most damning verdict on the Thatcher
administration with the disturbing track ‘Funeral Pyre.’ To complement the song, Weller
had written a short essay, ‘Other Side of Futurism,’ considering how Orwell, H G Wells
and Aldous Huxley had seen the future of Britain respectively.146 Commenting that ‘the
backlash against the softness’ of post-war Britain had begun, but alarmingly that its
perpetrators had chosen ‘right at the crossroads’ rather than left, he lamented that
consequently the battle was now ‘hopelessly lost.’147 ‘Funeral Pyre’s,’ similar descriptive
prose, aimed at controlling and totalitarian regimes, places Thatcher’s government
alongside these ‘destroyers of mankind’:
Their mad eyes bulged, their flushed faces said
The weak get crushed as the strong grow stronger.
143 Raymond, “The 1970s and the Thatcherite revolution”, 4.
144 Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution.” Cultural Studies 25, no. 6 (2011): 705-28.
145 Colin Leys, The State and the Economy in Politics in Britain: From Labourism to Thatcherism, (London: Verso,
146 Paul Weller, “The Other Side of Futurism,” The Face, No. 14, June 1981. 56.
147 Weller, “The Other Side of Futurism,” 56.
We feast on flesh and drink on blood,
Live by fear and despise love in a crisis148
To support the song, the group shot the music video at the sandpits in their
hometown of Woking. At the line of the song, ‘‘books will burn,’ a commentary on the
insidious attraction of right-wing authoritarianism, the video intersects with original
footage of Nazi bonfires in their persecution of Jewish authors.149 Explicitly, the song
continues to attack the hate and greed perceived by Weller amongst those in power who
‘burn responsibility in the fire.’150 In a climactic ending, he remonstrates with the audience
pleading that he ‘just can't grow up to meet the demands.’ In a damning assault on the
Thatcher administration Weller reflected upon their approach in presenting their policies,
however draconian or threatening to society, as being for the good of Britain.
2.5 They promise us the earth - Unemployment
One catastrophic impact of the 1970s, which saw long-standing communities
decimated, was a snowballing rate of unemployment. The Wilson, Heath, and Callaghan
regimes’ economic and fiscal policies saw gradual escalation in the numbers of
unemployed, however, Thatcher’s implementation of Hayek’s and Freeman’s monetarist
theories, saw a rapid increase in short- and long-term job losses with particular impact
upon those under 25.151 Numbers out of work under the Conservative government during
the 1980s rose three times higher than that experienced in the previous decade.152 Given
such a context, it is not surprising that the number of people living below the poverty line
relying on governmental support increased, thereby nullifying the monetarist dogma of
reducing society’s reliance upon state welfare provision.153
148 The Jam “Funeral Pyre,” 1981.
149 Lynden Barber, “Light My Pyre”. Melody Maker, May 23, 1981. Accessed October 8, 2020.
150 The Jam, “Funeral Pyre,” 1981.
151 Stephen J Lee,Aspects of British Political History 1914-1995, (London: Routledge, 1996), 230.
152 John Hills, “Thatcherism, new Labour and the welfare state.” Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, CASE paper
13, (1998) 3, Accessed October 21, 2020. http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/case.
153 Hills, “Thatcherism, new Labour,“ 5.
Rising youth unemployment had been an issue since 1968. Alarmingly, this was
the first time that the number of young people looking for work exceeded the number of
vacancies.154 In spite of changes to school leaving age, increased intakes in both sixth
form and university, and the building of new universities, the situation progressively
worsened. Additionally the shrinkage in traditional industrial and factory roles, particularly
within the large inner cities, limited the options available to young working-class males,
historically the lifeblood of Britain’s blue-collar workforce. A whole generation of Britain’s
working-class youth were growing up ‘working-class without work.’155 As a new
‘phenomenon in post-war Britain,’ Simon Frith remarks that the context of youth
unemployment for this second post-war generation is one that generated sensational
youth subcultures which ‘have to be related to ordinary family and labour market
experience.’156 Punk’s resistance, its origins fuelled by unemployment and
authoritarianism, aligned to this change in Britain’s economic circumstances.
This state of deprivation experienced by the young, their parents and
grandparents, provided Weller with a rich source of material upon which to vent his anger
on the government. Recorded in late 1979, ‘Hey Mister’ disregards the integrity of the
Thatcher regime declaring that their words ‘don’t mean nothing anymore.’157 Moreover,
he directly criticizes not only the ‘smug’ politicians with ‘their heads in the clouds’ blind
only to ‘the shillings and pounds’ saved by their monetarist policies, but also the likes of
Harold Macmillan for not adhering to their ‘Never had it so good’ promise.158 Weller’s
observations reflected governments’ prolonged political alienation of the masses that
continued under Thatcher with the subjugation of the working class through monetarist
154 Taylor, “Law and Order”, 314.
155 P Cohen, “Towards Utopia”, Marxism Today 29, no. 11, (November 1985), 33.
156 Simon Frith, “Youth in the Eighties: a dispossessed generation”, Marxism Today 25, no. 11 (November 1981), 13.
157 The Jam, “Hey Mister (demo 1979)”, Track 22 on Extras, Polydor, POLD 513 177-2, 6 April 1992, Compact Disc.
158 The Jam, “Hey Mister (demo 1979)”, 1992.
In 1982, Weller expanded upon this theme with ‘The Great Depression’, which
commented on Thatcher’s election promises. Weller declared that ‘we must have all
gone mad’ supporting the right: the electorate bemoaned ‘they promised us the earth’ but
somehow we are going through ‘the great depression.’159 Disillusioned with the British
political system, Weller recalled arguments that he had with his father over the need for
leaders versus people councils. ‘Trans-Global Express’ challenged the entire process of
government and considered the consequences of a declaration of popular unity.
Commenting in the fanzine Jamming, he stated that the most poignant part of the song
Imagine if tomorrow the workers went on strike,
They know that if it happens their lazy days are over,
The day the working people join together.160
For teenage fan Matt Allison, Weller’s political representation of the right and their
detrimental effect upon the public had a lasting effect. Picking up on the messages of
youthful optimism coupled with Percy Shelley’s quotations on the sleeve notes of the
group’s final studio album The Gift, he remarked, ‘I became very left-wing as a result,
which has stayed with me, it instilled an optimism that things could change.’161 For the
growing number of ‘The Jam Army’ who had become politically aware of a changing
Britain through their songs, late 1982 brought shock and disappointment. Weller believed
that The Jam had reached their full potential and to the fans dismay, the group
acrimoniously disbanded immediately after their final tour in December 1982.
159 The Jam, “The Great Depression” B side Polydor 2059 504, 11 June 1982, 45rpm Vinyl.
160 The Jam, “Trans-Global Express,” Track 5, Side 1 on The Gift, Polydor 2383 636, 1982, 33 rpm Long Player.
161 Matt Allison. Email Interview with the Author. April 15, 2020.
Chapter 3 – Social Reflection
’Cos time is short and life is cruel
But it’s up to us to change
This town called Malice. 162
Town Called Malice, 1982
Punk was central to London: a place that intrigued and fascinated Paul Weller.
London became the preferred location for the punk’s pivotal views of a disintegrating
nation in social decline. As the voice of a generation, The Jam not only represented their
fans but also more importantly, progressively engaged with them.163 Following the
release of All Mod Cons, the music and mass media drew attention to the band as the
focal point for the Mod Revivalist subculture, which exploded onto the streets of Britain
following the film adaptation of The Who’s concept album Quadrophenia. Weller
reluctantly became the spokesperson for a subculture emerging out of the anarchistic
punk era. Lyrically, the band drifted away from Pete Townshend, choosing to incorporate
the vignette style of storytelling commonly associated with Ray Davies. Commenting
upon the social conditions around themselves: unemployment, street violence, and the
plight of the individual, the band delivered their messages with aggressive belligerence
attracting a new legion of fans.
3.1 The place I love – London
From his teenage years, Weller saw London as his spiritual home. The historical
locations of Soho’s Carnaby Street and The Marquee were an hours’ train journey from
Woking. Infatuated with the capital and its sights and sounds, stories abound of him
travelling to London just to tape the noise and hubbub of the busy streets.164 Time
162 The Jam, "Town Called Malice," Track 5, Side 2 on The Gift, Polydor 2383 636, 1982, 33 rpm Long Player.
163 Street, Music and Politics, 61.
164 Reed, My Ever Changing Moods, 42.
revered ‘Swinging London’ as ‘the epitome of modern culture.’165 On In the City, this
affinity to London is confirmed on ‘Sounds from the Street,’ declaring that ‘my heart’s in
the city, where it belongs.’166 Weller uses another London location on ‘I’ve Changed my
Address,’ directing his ex-girlfriend to look for him in Hyde Park.167 London’s backdrop
functioned as a primary source of inspiration during the group’s lifetime.
In a similar vein to The Clash, London and its idiosyncrasies feature in several of
The Jam’s songs and reflect socially on its changing face during the 1970s and 1980s.168
Critically, whilst punk and London were closely associated through their inter-relationship
between groups, venues and images, Ruth Adams considered that punk’s lyrically
referencing of London be observed as a ‘synecdoche for England.’169 Thus in a
generalized context, we are able to transpose the songs from the capital to a social
reflection of the country as a whole.
Appearing on 1977’s This is the Modern World, Weller’s ‘London Girl’ tackles the
subject of homelessness and squatting.170 Unlike Ralph McTell’s ‘Streets of London’,
which challenged the plight of the old during the 1960s, ‘London Girl’ complements The
Kink’s ‘Big Black Smoke,’ in which a runaway mod girl spent ‘every penny she had on
165 Sheila Whiteley, “British Popular Music, Popular Culture and Exclusivity” Chap in The Cambridge Companion to
Modern British Culture edited by Michael Higgins, Clarissa Smith and John Storey, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2010, 265.
166 The Jam “Sounds from the Street,” 1977.
167 The Jam, “I’ve Changed my Address” Track 2 Side 1 on In the City, Polydor, 2383 447. 20 May 1977, 33rpm LP.
168 Songs by The Clash that featured London as a major component part of their lyrics, include:
White Riot, London’s Burning, (The Clash LP, 1977),
White Man in Hammersmith Palais, (A Side, Single 45rpm, 1978),
The Guns of Brixton, and London’s Calling (London Calling Double LP, 1979),
First Night Back in London (B Side, Single 45rpm, 1982).
169 Ruth Adams, “The Englishness of English Punk: Sex Pistols, Subcultures and Nostalgia”, Popular Music and Society
31, no. 4 (2008), 469.
170 Set up as a do-it-yourself answer to homelessness, to support the action of occupying decrepit and empty
housing the London Squatters Campaign was formed in November 1968. By 1975 it was estimated that London had
a squatting community of around 30,000. The punk movement embraced the London squats; The Clash’s Strummer
considered that the Elgin Road squats had created its own close-knit community.
Nick Wates and Christian Wolmar, eds. Squatting the Real Story, (London: Bay Leaf, 1980).
Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon and Paul Simonon. The Clash: (London: Atlantic 2014).
purple hearts and cigarettes.’171 ‘London Girl’ takes Davies’ mod girl saga and
transposes it to the late 1970s, exposing the increasing numbers of runaways moving
into London’s communal squats. The narrator, who comprehends her reason for moving,
‘it’s better than living at home,’ does not condemn this action but focuses instead upon
the complexities of living on the street.172
London also provided the location for Weller’s darker material. Increasing street
violence is reflected in both ‘‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street’ and ‘Down in the Tube Station
at Midnight.’ Moreover, the mounting threat of danger experienced at London’s punk
gigs, ‘I’m stranded on the Vortex floor; my head’s been kicked in and bloods staring to
pour,’ is considered within the storyline of ‘‘A’ Bomb.’173 Weller recalled that from the
stage, looking down on the fans, ‘the sea would part and the blood and beer would fly.’174
Aware of the situations that Weller describes, Neil O’Connor recalls that you felt ‘the
danger in world around you’ but ultimately ‘how you went through or collided with it’
determined your outcome.175 The Jam, like many other bands during the period
experienced a Catch-22 situation at many of their concerts. They promoted a change
through their socialist message; however, they attracted an element of right-wing within
their audience.176 The constant underlying threat of mindless mayhem at their concerts
appalled Weller and contributed in his decision to disband the group in 1982.177
Finally, ‘Strange Town’ speaks of alienation for young visitors to London. It recalls
the betrayal of strangers through their ‘accent and manners,’ and subsequent isolation by
London’s self-centred population.178 The song emphasises and repeats their
171 The Kink’s “Big Black Smoke” B side, Pye Records, 7N 17222, 18 November 1966, 45rpm Vinyl.
172 The Jam “London Girl”, Side 2, Track 2 on This Is the Modern World. Polydor, 2383 475, 18 November 1977,
173 The Jam, “‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street”, Track 5 Side 2 on All Mod Cons, Polydor, POLD 5008, 3 November 1978,
174 Andy Thomas, “‘The Jam: About the Young Idea’ at Somerset House,” Time Out, June 25, 2015. Accessed October
21, 2020. https://www.timeout.com/london/music/why-I-love-the-jam.
175 Neil O’Connor, Email Interview with the Author. May 17, 2020.
176 Neil Nehring, From Punk To Rave, 8.
177 Graham Willmott, The Jam: Sounds from the Street. (Richmond: Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2003), 206-7.
178 The Jam, “Strange Town,” A Side, Polydor POSP 34, 9 March 1979, 45 rpm Vinyl.
disinterested response - ‘don’t know, don’t care and have got to go mate.’- to the visitors’
questions.179 Written either side of the desolate Winter of Discontent 1978-9, all three of
these confrontational songs, ‘A Bomb,’ ‘Tube Station,’ and ‘Strange Town’ featured
London extensively as their subject matter. By this time, punk had self-imploded: in its
aftermath, these songs resonated with the emerging mod subculture that used London
as its springboard and focussed upon incorporation of The Jam as part of its make-up.
3.2 Life is a drink and you get drunk - Subcultures
Most of the post-war working-class youth subcultures favorited for research by the
Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in the 1970s trace back
to and originate in London. In the aftermath of World War II, Teddy Boys emerged from
Bermondsey, South London and spread throughout London, a youth resistance
exploding out of a society bounded by class and conformity. Adopting an Edwardian
dress style with made to measure Saville Row suits, rock and roll music and a
penchance for violence, Stanley Cohen stated that Teddy Boys created as Britain’s first
post-war subcultural moral panic.180 Progressively, the 1960s saw further developments
in the emergence of new youth cultures and their association with violence.
Modernists infamously associated with seaside bank holiday battles spread from
the West End’s Shepherds Bush to Whitechapel in the East End. Black youth
movements of rude boys and Rastas from second-generation Windrush emigres to the
backbeat of ska, rocksteady and reggae began south of River Thames in Brixton,
Balham and Notting Hill during the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, hard mods from
Bethnal Green and Poplar dressed in a uniform of boots, jeans and braces created the
skinhead cult: fervently working-class, exhorting an air of violence. Many involved at the
grass roots level of each of these factions came from council estates, tower blocks or
run-down terrace housing: each subculture established an identity in affinity with their
locality. Nevertheless, the explosion of punk turned this neighbourhood tribalism upside
179 The Jam “Strange Town,” 1979.
180 Stanley Cohen. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. (London: Routledge Classics, 2011), 28.
down. Punk brought together elements of each of these subcultures, creating a
movement outside of the territorial mentality of previous subcultures.
The melting pot of that was punk inspired an explosion in bands that delivered
music by young adults, male and female, specifically aimed at a dissatisfied generation.
Central to its development as a subculture was punk’s choice of music - young, angry,
and destructive. This established a precedent for many of the subcultures that followed in
the rest of the twentieth century, of prime importance was their association to the music
of their affiliation.181 Indeed this connection as experienced within the northern soul
scene, took sub-culturalism away from its exclusivity with youth culture and transformed
it into a lifelong process for many of its exponents
Yet punk in its purest format was a short-lived phenomenon. For many of the
bands associated with punk, the two turbulent years of the Sex Pistols anarchic posturing
from their trailblazing Lyceum gig through to the tragic deaths of Sid Vicious and Nancy
Spungen in 1978, served as their equivalent of the 1960s-style musical apprenticeship.
Many had progressed from a message of anger and disillusionment to critical reflection
of the state of the nation. This musical evolution transposed outwards onto the growing
number of followers of punk and new wave. Many of the subcultural influences that had
created the punk experience metamorphosed, adapting old subcultures into new variants
of punk’s tribalist faction. One was the brief mod revival movement of gangs
retrospectively dressed in fur-hooded parkas complete with sewn-on Union Jacks,
slogans, and button badges that championed The Jam as their saviours.
With three albums between May 1977 and the end of 1978, The Jam moulded a
modern identity.182 An already splintering division of punk enthusiasts absorbed their
181 The prime example that I can relate this to, is the Acid House dance subculture that developed in the late 1980s
which was ‘centred upon the consumption of the drug ecstasy and dancing to House music.’
Andrew Hill, “Acid House and Thatcherism: noise, the mod and the English countryside,” British Journal of Sociology
53, no. 1, (March 2002) 89-105.
182 Barry Cain, This is the Modern World, Record Mirror, 19 November 1977, 12.
youthful messages of ‘direction, reaction and creation.’ In considering ‘pop as the religion
of youth,’ NME’s Keith Cameron recalls that there was ‘no more striking example of
musical fundamentalism’ than that being produced by the band.183 Resulting in a legacy
of a series of ‘vinyl photographs,’ the constant exposure of Britain’s youth to a series of
anthemic songs brought the group to the forefront of both media and audience attention.
In 1979, contemplating a change of lyrical direction, Weller, whilst understanding ‘the
kids and vice versa,’ commented that he felt that it was time to move away from songs
full of ‘youth clichés’ and ‘take a more general view.’184
3.3 Saturday’s Kids – Youth in Society
The Jam’s fan base increased with each subsequent musical release. Following
its chart success, All Mod Cons was the catalyst for their nationwide expansion. Running
parallel with their commercial and critical success, the band reluctantly came to the
forefront of the mod revival movement of the late seventies.185 These two intertwined but
separately formulated paths extended their appeal to a larger number of disaffected
teenagers, experiencing the social changes resulting from the death throes of
Callaghan’s Labour administration and Thatcher’s fledgling authoritarian regime.
My interviews with the ‘Saturday kids’ who ‘worked in Tesco and Woolworths,’
reveal a series of shrewd observations and empathetic commentaries on the band’s
image and song content.186 All of those interviewed were either teenagers or young
adults during 1977-83 when they first heard The Jam. Having seen the band over a
hundred times, Chip Hamer considered himself amongst the inner sanctum of fans.
Hamer noticed the political ‘shift’ in lyrics and direction from a ‘conventional conservatism
183 Keith Cameron, “The Jam: Direction Reaction Creation”.New Musical Express(1997). The Jam. Rock's Backpages.
Accessed October 19, 2020. http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-jam-idirection-reaction-creationi.
184 Harry Doherty, "The Jam: A Mod At 20".Melody Maker (1979). The Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
185 Reed, My Ever Changing Moods, 86-7.
186 The Jam, “Saturday’s Kids”, Track 3 Side 2 on Setting Sons, Polydor, POLD 5028, 17 November 1979, 33rpm Vinyl.
to the broader left’ at the time of the Setting Sons album in 1979.187 Other interviewees
noticed this change in focus. It was around this period that the band’s songs were
starting to reflect upon Colin Huntley’s own social experiences, representing his and
‘thousands of others opinions on society at that time.’188 Living on a council estate, Diana
Janus reinforced this view, positively interpreting the ‘anti-elitism’ of the group’s message
as they gave kids like her ‘an avenue to speak out.’189
In contrast, the music press at this time provided differing views on this change of
direction. Evaluating their tales of ‘decay, destruction, viciousness, and violence,’ the
journalist Paul Morley observed that the band’s expanding reputation and absorption into
the teenage post-punk generation obscured the ‘shallowness’ of their content.190 With its
focus upon ‘social scenarios’ as opposed to their previous outings that targeted
‘familiarity and identification,’ Tony Stewart saw Setting Sons as a ‘major development in
The Jam’s musical direction.191 Setting Sons became the platform for Weller to present
his left-of centre views, challenging the complexities of the British political system that he
had come to despise.
Many of those interviewed aligned themselves to the mod subculture of the late
1970s; one song - ‘When You’re Young’ - held special significance for them. Released
only in 45 rpm single format in August 1979, Tony Hyland sees it as ‘a hymn to
extentialism.’192 At the start of his working career, Nigel Coombs, related to its
message.193 The song initially promotes that ‘life is new and there’s things to be done’
and that no matter what setbacks the listener come across, they have ‘got time on their
side.’ However, the song considers forlornly, through ‘tears of rage’ that for the young
187 Chip Hamer, Email interview with the Author, April 15, 2020.
188 Colin Huntley, Email interview with the Author, April 04, 2020.
189 Janus, Interview, April 15, 2020.
190 Paul Morley “The Jam, Gang of Four,” 1979.
191 Tony Stewart, “The Jam: Setting Sons (Polydor)”. New Musical Express (1979). The Jam. Rock's Backpages.
Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-jam-isetting-sonsi-polydor.
192 Tony Hyland, An Essay concerning the Fire and Passion of Paul Weller: His 50 Greatest Songs. (North Charleston:
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016), 3 (When You’re Young).
193 Coombs, Interview, April 05, 2020.
they will find it difficult to understand that, under the Thatcher government, ‘the world is
your oyster but your future’s a clam.’194 Weller associates the song to Alan Sillitoe’s anti-
hero Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning – ‘he knows that’s how it [life] is,
but there’s nothing he can do about it so I might as well carry on.’195 For some these
lyrics were inspirational: Rod Moyser used its descriptive disillusionment as a signpost to
avoid falling into the same trap.196 Contextually, the idioms of Weller’s cynicism and
disillusionment empowered the teenage listener to interpret and challenge their own
individual struggle in relation to their respective social environments.
3.4 They all ignore me ‘cause they don’t know I’m really a spaceman –
Finally, it is important to consider how The Jam developed and progressed their
view of how society’s view of the individual. They employed throughout 1977 an
approach that delivered a ‘youthful arrogance’ through the presentation of a 1960s ‘mod
aesthetic' and encouraged Britain’s youth to express themselves as individuals outside of
the punk’s manipulated image.197 This approach changed with All Mod Cons.
Complementary to this change was Thatcher’s implementation of a monetarist approach
that targeted the individual and their expected role in the way forward.
One key element of the New Right’s incorporation of monetarism was the
expectation placed upon the ordinary citizen of individual responsibility and choice. The
government promising to end decline and provide a society of equal opportunity
supported the shift from state intervention to self-help.198 Thatcher had advocated her
strict upbringing and the values instilled upon her by her father to promote herself as a
194 The Jam, “When You’re Young” . 45 rpm Single Release, Polydor POSP 69, 17 August 1979, 45 rpm Vinyl.
195 Paul Morley. “The Jam: The Revolution Will Start When Paul Weller Has Supped His Pint". New Musical Express
(1979). The Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019. http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-
196 Rod Moyser, Email interview with the Author, April 18, 2020.
197 Winsworth, “Mod Cons,” 56-7.
198 Gamble, Britain in Decline, 143.
role model for the New Right’s policies of strict moral and personal integrity.199 For the
Conservatives, the provision of a level playing field should provide the opportunity for
people to earn more money and own their homes. The government introduced a series of
controlling measures that penalized disruptive trade unions, immigrants and social
scroungers that sucked the lifeblood out of the system, to achieve these promises.
However, the effect was an increase in unemployment, social deprivation and economic
decline. The early enthusiasm shown by the punk and new wave culture for personal
displays of self-individualism transposed upon itself, into a series of resigned reflections
of acceptance, despair, isolation, and loneliness.
‘In the Crowd,’ is an interesting reflection of individuality from a pre-Thatcher
context. Written with Callaghan’s Labour government entrenched in power, it tackles
what Frith calls the ‘vacant heart of crowd culture’ through a lack of individualism.200 ‘The
crowd,’ trance-like, are at the manipulative mercy of an egotistic media and government,
and the song’s narrator considers these forebodings.201 Furthermore, he despairs at this
impasse, in which no-one is seeking change as they are comfortable in their ‘simple
houses’ and simple jobs.’202 Again, we can see Weller interpreting Orwell’s 1984 themes
to depict the lack of a clearly defined societal individuality. Critically, Thatcher’s foreword
to the Conservative party’s 1979 manifesto heightened an awareness of her concern of
the increase of State control over individual freedom by the Labour government.203
With Thatcherism in full swing, ‘Dream Time’ from the 1980 album Sound Affects
tackled the subject from a different aspect. Writing in Davies’ s preferred style of the first
person, Weller delivered messages of ‘emptiness’ that embraced the listener and
confronted the predicaments, stresses, and concerns of life that individuals faced every
199 Pilgrim and Ormrod. Elvis Costello, 42.
200 Simon Frith, "The Jam Is Packed Off To America". Creem (1980). The Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed May 7,
201 The Jam “In the Crowd,” Side 1 Track 6 on All Mod Cons, Polydor, POLD 5008, 3 November 1978, 33rpm Vinyl.
202The Jam, “In the Crowd,” 1978.
203 The Conservative Party, 1979 Election Manifesto, April 11, 1979. Foreword M Thatcher. Accessed on October 8,
day.204 Moreover, ‘Dream Time’ reinforces the belief that Weller was expanding his
reading, as it clearly draws inspiration from Alan Sillitoe’s Loneliness of the Long
Distance Runner.205 Delivering his message ‘simply, precisely and effectively,’ the song’s
protagonist, ‘scared’ and ‘sweating’ recalls their desire to leave their town. However, like
Sillitoe’s anti-hero Colin Smith, he remarked that ‘no matter how fast I ran, my feet were
glued.’206 As with many of the literary lead characters exposed through the kitchen sink
social realism of mid-twentieth century film and literature, the song portrays an individual
detachedness of not fitting into modern society, exposing an existential dread with its
negative feelings towards life’s experiences and responsibilities.
‘Private Hell’ further tackles the subjects of loneliness and isolation. Delivered in a
‘play for today’ styled vignette, the song recalls the ‘obscure personalness’ of a lonely
housewife’s mid-life crisis and her lost family.207 Through a haze of caffeine and Valium,
her ghost stares back at her through the plate-glass shop windows whilst she reflects
upon her loveless marriage and her children that do not acknowledge or respond to her
communications. As justification for their actions, Weller observes that all the characters
in the song are ‘going through their own private hell.’ Having been ‘stuck in a rut too
many times in life,’ the song’s content resonates emotionally with Diana Janus as a
reflection of her own personal experiences.208 Additionally, John Lee commented that
‘people you had known for years didn’t have time for you as they were all wrapped up in
their own private hell.’209 Weller raised awareness of social problematic issues through
an emotive and atmospheric approach. He delivered this message to a receptive
audience through a series of snapshot observations, influenced by his familiarity with
post-war British new wave literature. 210
204 The Jam, “Dream Time,” Track 1 Side 2 on Sound Affects, Polydor, POLD 5035, 28 November 1980, 33rpm Vinyl.
205 Morley, “ The Jam, the Revolution.”
206 Shaun Hand, Pop Art Poems: The Music of The Jam, (Norfolk: Sheep Publishing, 2016), 184-6.
207 Phil Silverton, “(Wearing Your) Suburban Neuroses on your Sleeve: Setting Sons,” Sounds, November 17, 1979.
208 Janus, Interview, April 15, 2020.
209 Lee, Interview, April 4, 2020.
210 Morley, “ The Jam, the Revolution.”
Chapter 4 – Urban Decay
The dream life luxury living was a pleasant No. 10 whim,
But somewhere down the line of production,
They left out human beings.211
‘The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong’ 1982
The 1970s saw specific government programmes targeted towards local
authorities and council home ownership through increased support for existing tenants to
purchase their properties. Unsympathetic and disparaging commentaries supported
Weller’s own experience as part of one of Woking’s working-class families that had
occupied dilapidated, run down and soulless housing. The drab uniformity across
England’s urban landscape was a regular object of derision and criticism, much of it
derogatory and demanding change, especially the development of the high-rise tower
block in the 1960s and the mundaneness of life that it brought to its tenants. In turn,
these messages created a cultural space for a populist-left response to urbanization. The
songs offered a picture of ‘social reality that was often political by default’ with candid
expressions of the solidarities of locality, particularly those desolate urban geographies of
4.1 Bricks and Mortar – Tower Blocks and Slum Clearance
Deliberations concerning the post-war experiment in urban housing are in the
most part less than favourable. An ever-increasing number of multi-storey tower blocks
blighted city skylines such as London and Birmingham, alongside these ‘high-rise
failures,’ a series of new towns were constructed.213 These included a ‘socially cleansing’
211 The Jam, “The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong,” Track 3, Side 2 The Gift, Polydor 2383 636, 1982, 33 rpm Long
212 Worley, No Future, 86.
213 Concrete Construction Staff, Failure of a high-rise system, Ronan Point. Publication #C690087 The Aberdeen
Group 01 March 1969. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Harlow and the ‘bland, rigid, sterile and totally boring’ Milton Keynes.214215 Enforced
urban migration resulted in large numbers of the population relocated to unremarkable
accommodation and traditional family communities disappeared. Long-standing status
distinctions established in working-class neighbourhoods documented by Richard
Hoggart vanished in a less than a generation.216
Ray Davies mirrored Hoggart’s reflections of the British working-class and their
idiosyncrasies.217 Analysing the album Muswell Hillbillies, Keith Gildart considers that
Davies’ lyrics are homogenous to the findings of Young and Willmott’s study of the urban
relocation and rehousing of London’s East End working-class.218 They warned of ‘deeply
flawed’ policies to disperse traditional communities to newly built spiritless housing on the
periphery of big city locations.219 In the album’s eponymous track, Davies narrating in the
first person reaffirms his personal allegiance to Muswell Hill whilst being relocated, he
bemoans being put into ‘identical little boxes’ with ‘no character, just uniformity.’ Although
Davies understands the planners need for slum clearance, he later defiantly declares his
‘cockney pride’ remain with him.220
Similar to Davies’ views, Weller regular refers to his origins and is critical of
Woking’s building and redevelopment strategy. Large areas earmarked for demolition
and reconstruction during the 1970s resulted in numbers of homes and neighbourhood
areas forsaken for parking lots or left derelict.221 Weller’s scathing imagery of the
‘Wasteland’ counteracts Davies’ sentimental loyalty to Muswell Hill. As one of the
214 Rupert Jones, “Is Harlow being used to ‘socially cleanse’ London, The Guardian, March 16, 2019. Accessed
October 18, 2020.
215 Francis Tibbalds, “Milton Keynes: Who forgot the Urban Design,”Places1, no. 4 (1984), 27.
216 Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, 9.
217 Keith Gildart, “From ‘Dead End Streets’ to ‘Shangri-Las’: Negotiating Social Class and Post-War Politics with Ray
Davies and The Kinks,” Contemporary British History 26, no. 3, (2012), 275.
218 Gildart, “From ‘Dead End Streets’” 291.
219 Young and Willmott, Family and Kinship, viii.
220 The Kinks, “Muswell Hillbilly”, Track 6 Side 2 on Muswell Hillbillies, RCA Records, SF 8243, 24 November 1971,
221 Reed, My Ever Changing Moods, 1-5.
conceptual songs on Setting Sons, it revolves around a meeting of the three former
friends after the civil war. In recalling his family’s residency at Stanley Road, the
‘wastelands’ lay behind ‘the old houses’ and further identifies the location as being
‘overshadowed by the monolith monstrosities – councils call homes.’222 Like many urban
communal disused and run-down spaces, the ‘wastelands’ are scattered with ‘rubber
tyres, bric-a-brac, dirty linen, Coca-Cola tins and punctured footballs.’ The song pays
homage to his friend Dave Waller’s poem ‘Slumlands,’ which recalls ‘rabbit warren
terraces … waiting for clearance orders.’223
Weller had criticised Woking’s building and planning strategy previously. From In
the City the song ‘Bricks and Mortar’ questions their motives in ‘pulling down houses’ as
he observes that demolished areas lie ‘dormant for months on end.’224 Crucially, he
challenges the plight of the ‘hundreds that are homeless’ whilst ‘parking spaces are
constructed.’ ‘Bricks and Mortar’ lays blame at ‘a man whose home has cost forty grand,’
and questioned the moral right of councillors to approve those redevelopments he sees
as destroying the past.225 Weller regularly dedicated the song on their live shows ‘for all
the fat councillors.’226
Likewise, architects do not escape Weller’s wrath for their part played in the public
urban rehousing and restructuring process. On the final studio album, The Gift, he further
conveys utter contempt through ‘The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong’ for the progressive
222 The Jam, “Wastelands”, Track 5 Side 1 on Polydor, POLD 5028, 17 November 1979, 33rpm Vinyl.
223 Dave Waller, Slumlands in Dave Waller, Notes from Hostile Street, (London: Riot Stories Limited, 1979).
224 The Jam, “Bricks and Mortar”, Track 6 Side 2 on In the City. Polydor, 2383 447. 20 May 1977, 33rpm Vinyl.
225 Average cost of houses in 1977 was £16,493, so the figure quoted in Bricks and Mortar was around 2.5x the
Harry Glass, “UK's 60-year property boom: House prices 'have risen more than 100 times' since Coronation,” This is
Money, May 14, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2020.
226 On its live performance (following ‘In the City’) on YouTube filmed at the Electric Circus venue in August 1977 the
young Weller introduces it with the words ‘This one’s for fat councillors’, www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKaLHbXjcZs.
Rupa Huq, "The Sound of the Suburbs: Noise from Out of Nowhere?." Making Sense of Suburbia through Popular
Culture. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Footnote 7 82. Accessed October 21, 2020.
development of a series of Brutalist 1960s and 1970s architectural programmes.
Alongside criticism of the ‘pie [streets] in the sky’ ideas of designers Alison and Peter
Smithson, Weller also attacks modernist architect ErnőGoldfinger responsible for the
‘piss stenched hallways and broken down lifts’ of Trellick Tower.227 Crucially, Weller
comments that post-war urban regeneration programmes, instigated as a ‘No. 10 whim,’
forgot to consider those it would affect.228 This direct challenge to the government sits
alongside sociologist Manuel Castells’ view on urban planning, in which authorities
managing their state of affairs through subversion of the planners, who in turn, see
themselves operating neutrally and technically without much fuss to the dominant
4.2 A freezing cold flat with damp on the walls - Urban Desolation
Running parallel with the post-punk period was the increase of ownership of
council housing by its tenants. Bernard Donoughue and Gavyn Davies tried to persuade
the 1970s Labour government to adopt socialist schemes for buyers and councils but
were unsuccessful, handing the incentive to the Conservatives, a decision that Davies
would refer to as ‘an own goal.’230 During the post-war period, some Conservative led
councils, e.g. Birmingham and Brighton took the lead on council house sales. Between
the two 1974 elections, as a member of Heath’s shadow cabinet responsible for the
Environment, Thatcher spent a large amount of her time researching and investigating
the housing market and its importance to electoral policies. Alongside the housing group
of Conservative MPs, she realized that the petty bourgeoisie had a greater disposable
income and those in ‘respectable’ estates with good quality housing were much more
likely to purchase their property than those reliant upon social welfare support.231 This
extensive groundwork and insight into both the private and public housing markets would
serve Thatcher well in May 1979.
227 The Jam, “The Planners Dream Goes Wrong”, Track 3 Side 3 on The Gift, Polydor, POLD 5055, 12 March 1982,
228 The Jam, “The Planners Dream Goes Wrong” 1982.
229 Manuel Castells,The Urban Question: A Marxist Approach, (London: Edward Arnold, 1977).
230 Beckett, When the lights went out, 421-3.
231 Thatcher, The Path to Power, 242-250.
As a voter incentive to a section of traditional Labour voters, the 1979
Conservative Election Manifesto, Section 5 detailed their plans for the introduction of
council house sales to tenants. Conservative propaganda clearly laid the blame for
tenants’ previous inability to purchase their property with their local authority or the past
Labour government.232 Once elected, they honoured their manifesto commitments. A
heavily incentivised right-to-buy programme progressed during the 1980s, thereby
creating a ‘watershed in housing policy,’ which decimated traditional social housing
hierarchies and realised an expansion of non-profit housing associations. The
subsequent change in social structural ownership resulted in the establishment of a
primarily upwardly mobile artisan group of homeowners, establishing a demographic of
voters with a stake in future Conservative environmental and fiscal policy.233
Weller adapted the changing urban and suburban images into vivid snapshots of
1970s English life in ‘That’s Entertainment.’ Tony Hyland saw the song as Weller’s
‘Waterloo Sunset’ moment.234 The bleakness of the period is summarised; everyday
occurrences of graffiti covered walls and vandalized phone booths blend into a reflection
of urban decay. The song’s sardonic title is repeated throughout, whilst the ‘vehemence
and insight’ of the lyrics create a collage of thought provoking and confrontational visions
of a decrepit community.235 These images present the listener with a caustic view of a
forgotten society, left to fend for itself by a government determined to follow its blinkered
path in thrusting aside the post-war consensus. Stemming from universal observations of
working-class life, interviewee Jane Dixon considers its message as ‘a masterpiece’; its
232 Conservative Party Manifesto, 1979.
233 From the end of World War I, there had been 60 years of council house building. Local councils had an adequate
but not a surplus supply of homes to meet the requirements of families in need. By 1979 33% of occupied houses
with Britain were council owned accommodation. Legislation passed under The Housing Act 1980 curtailed the
growth in council house building and introduced the ‘Right to Buy’ for council tenants. Chapter 5 of the Conservative
manifesto adapted the adage of ‘Homes for Heroes’ into ‘Homes of our Own.’ Dependent upon the length of
tenancy, eligible tenants were offered a discount of at least 33% of market value which rose to 50%; later legislation
raised this to 60% for houses and 70% for flats.
Housing Act 1980. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1980/51/enacted.html.
234 Hyland, Fire and Passion, 37 (That’s Entertainment).
235 That’s Entertainment is based upon a poem by Paul Drew simply entitled Entertainment sent to Weller’s
publishing company Riot Stories as a submission for a collection entitled Mixed Up Shook Up.
The Jam, “That’s Entertaiment,” 1980.
powerful ‘embedded’ narrative carries the same ‘timeless’ message some 40 years
Further condemnatory themes on British working-class life abound within Weller’s
‘Saturday’s Kids.’ Living in council housing estates, with Saturday the highlight of their
weekend, Weller’s generation exists alongside their parents, who live ‘wallpaper lives,’
smoking ‘Capstan non-filters.’ resulting in their ‘dying of cancer.’237 In seeing the era as
the ‘beginning of the end of social levelling,’ these words are a poignant constant
reminder for Mark McGinness of his working-class upbringing: he recalls the song
whenever he thinks of his parents, both of whom died of smoking-related diseases.238
Observed as ‘real creatures that time has forgot,’ Weller reflects upon the hopelessness
of their lives, ignored and passed over by the system, a system that Weller hates and
4.3 Struggle after struggle, year after year – The mundaneness of city living
Effects of the recession under the Thatcher government were not limited to the
financial and industry sectors. The concentration of poorer families in run-down areas
associated with urban crime and anti-social behaviour turned them into perceived ‘no-go
neighbourhoods.’240 Most notably, the early 1980s saw a succession of unprecedented
inner-city disturbances on a national scale.241 The causes were manifold: poverty,
racism, unemployment, police discrimination; it was not just a challenge to the regime but
to an entrenched view of discrimination towards the lower working-class especially its
youth.242 Authoritative bodies chose to avoid going to the root of the problem, thereby
236 Jane Dixon, Email interview with Author, April 03, 2020.
237 The Jam, “Saturday’s Kids,” 1979.
238 Mark McGinness, Email interview with author, April 15, 2020.
239 The Jam, “Saturday’s Kids,” 1979.
240 Jones, “Nostalgia”, 364.
241 Many of the riots took place within the multi-racial boroughs of big cities, these included Handsworth
(Birmingham), Chapeltown (Leeds), Toxteth (Liverpool), Brixton & Wood Green (London), and Moss Side
Lee’ Aspects of British Political History, 230.
242 Dave Thompson,Wheels Out of Gear: 2-Tone, the Specials and a World in Flame, Revised Edition, (London: Helter
Skelter, 2017), x.
creating a period of ‘increasing disorder and dislocation.’243 The Scarman inquiry into the
Brixton Riots of April 1981 highlighted ‘complex political, social and economic factors’
contributing to the events watched ‘with horror and incredulity by the British public on
television.244 Conservatives commentators tended to blame the disturbances on
criminality. Thatcher’s view was that the riots were ’totally inexcusable and
unjustifiable.’245 Whilst decrying the violence of the riots, Labour directed the government
to the increasing levels of youth unemployment, inadequate social services, housing and
Cultural and music historians constantly associate one song to these events: The
Specials ‘Ghost Town.’247 The track resonated with the record buying public; it was
number one for three weeks in the UK singles charts during the peak of the civil unrest in
July 1981 and featured on national radio and TV pop music shows. In ‘a country laid
waste by Thatcherism,’ the song presented a ‘melodramatic backdrop’ to the riots.248
Written by Jerry Dammers whilst travelling on a promotional tour for their second album,
the song was a result of his observations of closed clubs, and ‘the government leaving
the youth on the shelf.’249 The song captured an urban mood reflecting a bleak panorama
of Britain’s major cities within a climate of political impotence.250
However, The Jam had also provided a constant social commentary on themes of
urban decay, unemployment, and inner-city violence from their first album in 1977 and
continued to do so until their last in 1982. With ‘Town Called Malice,’ they created a song
243 Taylor, “Law and Order”, 305.
244 John Benyon, “The Riots, Lord Scarman and the political agenda,” In Scarman and After: Essays Reflecting on Lord
Scarman’s Report, the riots and their aftermath ed. John Benyon, (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1984), 3.
245 Benyon, “The Riots,” 5.
246 Benyon, “The Riots,” 5.
247 From the bibliography listing, these are a selection of authors for whom ‘Ghost Town’ is considered as being
representative of the social and economic change caused by the removal or reduction of industrial capacity and the
ravages of Thatcherite policies upon Britain’s youth and black population, which came to a head during the ‘Long
Hot Summer’ of 1981.
Nehring, From Punk To Rave, 8-9; Stewart, Bang!, 85-87; Todd, The People, 6; Frith, Post-punk Blues, 19.
248 Michael Bracewell, England Is Mine: Pop Life in Albion from Wilde to Goldie, (London: Flamingo, 1998), 208-9.
249 The Specials, “Ghost Town,” A Side 2 Tone Records, CHS TT17, June 20, 1981, 45rpm Vinyl.
250 Worley, No Future, 94.
that has since its release been related to, not just one snapshot of the regime as per se
‘Ghost Town,’ but to the whole degradation of Britain by the Thatcher administration. In
taking the everyday experience of a demoralized working-class combined with
widespread urban devastation, it delivered a message of social realism that became the
soundtrack for a generation.251 The literary inspiration for ‘Town Called Malice’ was Aidan
Cant’s poem Quality Street. Cant’s ‘lonely suburban images’ impressed Weller and
inspired this presentation of ‘his anger’ at the Thatcherite demolition of working-class
‘Town Called Malice’ is an instantly recognizable song used commercially to
represent the gritty urban 1980s. Released in March 1982, it received a mixed critical
reception. NME’s Adam Sweeting saw Weller’s version of the class struggle as ‘over-
simplified and at times almost Dickensian.’253 However, its underlying fear of
unemployment convinced Penny Valentine that its message reflects political bullying with
public dissent being suppressed.254 With its portrayal of ‘rows and rows of disused milk
floats, dying in the dairy yard,’ John Harris contemplates that it represents a sick country
suffering from a ‘national sclerosis.’ 255 In ‘balancing pop's joie de vivre with a sad vision
of social dislocation,’ it recalled the wretchedness and bleakness of the prolonged
recession experienced under Thatcher’s control. 256 With traditional working-class areas
decimated by unemployment and decay, Weller transmitted the anger that he felt at the
loss of everyday normal daily work routines within ‘Town Called Malice.’
251 Worley, No Future, 104-5.
252 “The Jam Live…The Gift: Track by Track Guide by Paul Weller,” Amazing No 6 (Time Scan Publications), 1982.
253 Adam Sweeting quoted in Paolo Hewitt, The Jam: A Beat Concerto, (London: Boxtreee Limited, 1999) 109.
254 Penny Valentine, “Letter From Britain: Jammed Up, Jelly Tight”.Creem (1982). Fun Boy Three, The Jam, The
Special AKA. Rock's Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
255 John Harris, “The Jam? They were a Way of Life.” The Guardian, February 3, 2006, Accessed October, 18, 2020.
256 Worley, No Future, 104-5.
Chapter 5 – Nationalism
What ever happened to the great empire?
You bastards have turned it into manure
Time for the young to stick together now. 257
‘Time for Truth’ 1977
Disillusioned with Punk, The Jam rejected its call for anarchy wholeheartedly and
produced a series of songs that reflected the changing face of Britain. The Jam
themselves represent a classic form of Englishness - white, working-class and male.
There is an unexplored tension in this identity's ambivalence to colonialism and race in
the face of divisions created in multi-racial Britain by Thatcherite politics. Again, Ray
Davies’ influence is prominent through Weller’s broad-brush and cynical approach within
the album Setting Sons that conceptually questions nationalism, war, and class as its
subject matter. In time, Weller’s cause leaned towards support for the Campaign for
Nuclear Disarmament. Like many of his peers, Weller was sickened by the expansion of
extreme right-wing movements during the 1970s and raised this issue lyrically, a
challenge to those commentators that saw the band as leaning towards the right.258
5.1 The Flag of Democracy – Anarchy, Nationalism and Englishness
The Union Jack flag is a powerful reminder of British nationalism, particularly its
relationship with the British Empire. The euphoria surrounding the swinging sixties
created a modish Englishness with the cultural adoption of the National flag. To promote
their article ‘The making of The Who,’ in the Observer of 20 March 1966, it controversially
featured a photo portrait of the group with Pete Townshend sporting a Union Jack jacket
on its front cover. Further reiterating the band’s Britishness, the picture is set against a
257 The Jam, "Time For Truth," 1977.
258 Jon Savage, “The Jam: London Hammersmith Odeon”. Sounds (1977). The Jam. Rock's Backpages.
Accessed December 13, 2018.
Union Jack backdrop.259 Townshend, aware of Guy Debord’s thesis on détournement
through his art school experiences, saw mod’s embracement of symbols and ephemera
of previous generations not as a novelty gesture but one of political significance.260
Johnny Hopkins argues that mod and society’s appropriation of ‘key symbols of Britain’s
imperial past’ during the 1960s promoted the view that the British Empire was alive and
well through the cultural industries.261
Unlike the 1960s mods, punk challenged rather than embracing images of English
identity. Against the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in which
flag-waving crowds of smiling children would happily wave their plastic replicas
celebrating this anniversary, their older punk siblings sought to deploy an entropic image
of a broken Britain. The Union flag, a long-standing symbol of ‘stability and belonging’
was subverted by punk in its use to promote a vision of a fractured Britain through their
music and promotional media.262 The Sex Pistols debut single, ‘Anarchy in the UK,’
delivered to its listeners an inflammatory and aggressive message of anti-
establishmentarianism. Venomously delivered over thumping drums and a crashing
guitar riff, Rotten and co enthused ‘it’s coming sometime,’ envisaging the future
destruction of 1970s British society.263 Mainstream culture over the next few months
associated anarchy with punk, however, both public opinion and the music industry were
contemptuous of its ‘vapidity and bogusness’ or dismissive of ‘nihilistic and politically
259 John Entwistle, the bass player for The Who is pictured with a Union Jack design jacket draped over his shoulders
on the album cover of My Generation released on 3 December 1965. Both Entwistle and Townshend were well
known for wearing flag jackets, not exclusively the Union Jack. On a tour of Northern Ireland, they wore jackets
made from the Eire tricolour but were threatened by paramilitary factions and subsequently did not wear them
during the concert.
Johnny Hopkins, “Flag of Convenience? The Union Jack as a contested symbol of Englishness in popular music or a
convenient marketing device?” In Mad Dogs and Englishness: Popular Music and English Identities, eds. Lee Brooks,
Mark Donnelly and Richard Mills. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, 2017), 126.
260 Hopkins, “Flag of Convenience,” 130.
261 Hopkins, “Flag of Convenience,” 130.
262 Whiteley, “British Popular Music” 269.
263 Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK Track Side 2, Track 2 on Never Mind the Bollocks,Here’s The Sex Pistols, Virgin,
V2086, 28 October 1977, 33 rpm Vinyl.
264 Rich Cross, ““There Is No Authority But Yourself”: The Individual and the Collective in British Anarcho-Punk.”
Music and Politics IV, no. 2 (Summer 2010), 2. https://doi.org//10.3998/mp.9460447.0004.203.
In contrast to punk, The Jam incorporated the Union flag as a sign of homage to
their 1960s influences. The suits, the Union Jack on stage, the occasional rumblings of
conservatism and monarchy, all combined unjustly to give them a nationalistic
appearance. Quantifying their use of the flag, Weller explained that ‘The only reason [it]
was involved was 'cos it looks great on stage. You've got all the black and white, very
negative, an' then you've got this flash of colour.’265 In his late teens, Weller may have
been naïve to comparisons of their utilization of the flag alongside its promotion as a
nationalistic symbol by the National Front. Like Orwell, he is a patriot, not with a fascist
leaning, but as one who loved England, its quirks and mannerisms and naturally wanted
to see the best for it.266
Consequently, the group could not endorse punks ‘destroy’ message but looked to
present an alternative approach within the groups second single from the summer of
1977, ‘All Around The World:’
What’s the point in saying destroy,
I want a new life for everywhere.
You can’t dismiss what is gone before,
But there’s foundation for us to explore.267
Despite being devotees of early punk expressionism challenging the staleness of British
pop and society, by 1977, The Jam had rejected punk’s politicized message of anarchy
and chaos. The promised musical and cultural revolution had stagnated, and Weller
considered that the punk movement was full of ‘bullshitters.’268 Brendan Delaney
reinforced this view having realized that despite their impact and angriness, The Sex
Pistols & co ‘weren’t really saying anything other than provocative bollocks.’269 In place of
265 Doherty, “The Jam: A Mod At 20,” 1979.
266 Hewitt, A Beat Concerto. 41.
267 The Jam, “All Around The World,” A Side, Polydor 2058 903, 15 July 1977, 45rpm Vinyl.
268 Winsworth, “Mod Cons,” 54.
269 Brendan Delaney, Email interview with the author, April 15, 2020.
chaos and disorder, The Jam delivered a modified message promoting reconstruction
and directional change aimed at Britain’s youth.
5.2 God’s on our side and so is Washington – War
The thematic element of the album Setting Sons challenges the futility of war. The
album’s theme centred on the experiences of three close friends who take different
pathways when civil war erupts. 270 To accentuate the notion of war, its cover features
Benjamin Clemens’ bronze sculpture, The St John’s Ambulance Bearers photographed
by Andrew Douglas.271 The small sculpture reflects Clemens’ experiences as a member
of the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. The album’s stand-out track is the
harrowing anti-war epic ‘Little Boy Soldiers.’ Considered a masterpiece by critics and
fans alike, it reaffirms Weller’s contempt for armed conflict. The song condemns the
pointlessness of war, expounding how politicians set the wheels in motion and that the
working class supply its cannon fodder. Additionally, the band donated the song in 1982
to the fund-raising compilation album Life in the European Theater. They joined their
post-punk contemporaries in condemning war and the impact of the nuclear threat for
future generations. Within the LP sleeve notes, E P Thompson commentated that he was
‘reviled’ at the idea of a ‘little limited theatre war’ being played on British soil by the
The song allows further exploration into Ray Davies’ influence upon Weller’s work.
From the LP Arthur, Davies’ ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’ and ‘Some Mother’s Son’ are songs that
270 Kent, Nick. “Weller's Immaculate Conception: Jam 'Concept Album' Shock Horror,” New Musical Express,
September 18, 1979.
271 The statue is held by the Imperial War Museum (IWM) but has been removed from public view. During my
interview with Nigel Boothroyd, I was advised that he had been so taken with the image from the album’s cover that
he had contacted the IWM and arranged a private viewing of it.
“St John’s Ambulance Bearers,” Imperial War Museum, Accessed October 18, 2020.
Nigel Boothroyd, Interview with the Author, April 06, 2020.
272 E.P. Thompson, Liner Notes for Various Artists, Life in the European Theatre, WEA, K58412, January 1982, 33rpm
work consecutively to tell the thoughts of a soldier at war and then the mother’s grief at
the loss of her son. ‘Yes Sir, No Sir’ is a question and answer song in which an inquisitive
soldier asks, ‘where do I go, what do I do and how do I behave?’273 In response, an
autocratic voice counters, telling him to ‘stop your dreaming’ and ‘pack up their ambition
in their old kit bag:’ a play on the popular World War I song, Pack Up Your Troubles.274
The state maintains its authority, reaffirming that ‘deserters will be shot on sight.’275 At
the climax of the song, Davies delivers the lyrics ‘if he dies, they’ll send a medal to his
wife’ in an upper-class sneering accent, laughing at its conclusion. 276
Davies’ approach on Arthur is mirrored within Weller’s ‘historically conscious’
‘Little Boy Soldiers’.277 The key protagonist of the song tells the listener that the system
only wants them when they are in trouble but no longer sees any point in arguing with the
regime and has no choice but to support the cause. Finally, the narrator comments that
when you ‘drop-down dead’ you’ll be sent back ‘home in a pine overcoat.’ Dave Schulps’
review of Setting Sons reaffirms Davies’ influence, recognising that Weller created a
series of ‘story-songs’ concentrating on defined characters reminiscent of Davies style of
Again, this song particularly resonated with those interviewed. ‘Little Boy Soldiers’
represents a preoccupation with the English stiff-upper-lip approach to events such as
war. As a young single male adult, Nigel Coombs anticipated a call-up from the
government if the Falklands conflict went in the wrong direction. He saw the lines ‘why
the attention now you want my assistance – what have you done for me’ as critical of the
273 The Kinks, “Yes Sir No Sir,” Track 2 Side 1 on on Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), Pye Records,
NSPL 18317, 10 October 1969, 33rpm, 1969, 33rpm Vinyl.
274 The Kinks,”Yes Sir, No Sir”, 1969.
275 The Kinks,”Yes Sir, No Sir”, 1969.
276 The Kinks,”Yes Sir, No Sir”, 1969.
277 Silverton, “Suburban neuroses.”
278 Dave Schulps “The Jam Rising Sons” Trouser Press (1980) The Jam. Rocks Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
government’s policies.279 Whilst the song’s message of the pointlessness of war reflected
Colin Huntley’s thoughts, particularly when he related them to Britain’s involvement in the
Falklands conflict in 1982.280
Particularly pertinent to Kelvin Sirrell, who was a serving member of the armed
forces, is the final line of the song: ‘find enclosed one son, one medal and a note to say
we won.’ Its message of being ‘just a name and number’ made him appreciate that
despite his belief that the general public cared about what he was doing, in reality, ‘it’s
only your direct family [that] actually cares.;281 As such, ‘Little Boy Soldiers’ offered a
portrayal of Englishness that Martin Cloonan classified as ‘ambivalent.’ The Jam’s lyrics
offered a ‘fascinated revulsion’ with their representation of the period’s social realism.282
5.3 It’s Doctor Martin’s Apocalypse – Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
With the Cold War dominating the post-war period, the threat of war hung like the
sword of Damocles over the heads of Britain’s youth. Released in November 1979,
Setting Sons’ harrowing war-torn vision of society became a reality in December 1979
with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Written in the immediate aftermath of this
aggression, ‘Going Underground’ challenges government funding of war, declaring that
the imposition of taxes upon the public will be used ‘to buy nuclear textbooks for atomic
crimes.’ Later, the song compares the provision of health services against the demands
of war, lamenting that ‘kidney machines [are] replaced by rockets and guns.283 The song
279 Coombs, Interview, April 05, 2020.
280 Huntley, Interview, April 04, 2020.
281 Kelvin Sirrell, Email interview with the Author, April 04, 2020.
282 In the 1990s Cloonan recognised that the expression and evaluation of Englishness within popular music by its
reporters and exponents offered the opportunity to classify five separate themes. These were defined as:
(i) Ambivalent Englishness - This a fascinated revulsion found in the works of The Kinks, Elvis Costello, The Smiths,
The Jam and The Beautiful South;
(ii) Overt Nationalism - Far right;
(iii) Hip Little Englishness - Blur and its major proponents Morrissey;
(iv) Big Englishness – Billy Bragg, a modern manifestation of the folk troubadour tradition; and
v) "Nonarticulated" – Englishness through lifestyle such as jungle, techno, and rave.
Martin Cloonan, “State of the nation: “Englishness,” pop, and politics in the mid-1990s.”Popular Music & Society 21,
no. 2 (1997): 47-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007769708591667.
283 The Jam, “Going Underground,” 1980.
plays upon H G Wells’ novel War of the Worlds in which the narrator describes that the
only way that they can deal with the situation is by ‘going underground.’284 The vision of
nuclear Armageddon became a recurrent theme expressed within popular music of 1980
with tracks from Peter Gabriel – ‘Games Without Frontiers,’ Orchestral Manoeuvres in
the Dark – ‘Enola Gay’ and Hazel O’Connor – ‘Eighth Day’ all reaching the UK top 10.
The two major military undertakings that dominated Britain’s nuclear question
during the 1980s were the replacement of the Royal Navy’s Polaris system by Trident
and the location of American cruise missiles on US and UK airbases. A resurgent
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) quickly became the popular protest
movement against Thatcher’s defence policies. Popularity had waned from its heyday in
the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the organization could hardly muster 3000 members
prior before Thatcher’s election: by 1983, the membership had increased to over
100,000. 285 One catalyst for this increase had been BBC Panorama’s broadcast on 10
March 1980 of the public information film Protect and Survive.286 Additionally, the Labour
Party conference of 1982 passed the notion of ‘unilateral nuclear disarmament.'287
Regarding the nuclear question, Weller’s options were simple: ‘I don't think there's a
political choice - in fact, you can only decide one of two things: you either want nuclear
arms or you don't.’288 His involvement would pass down to the fans.
CND protest marches of the 1950s and 1960s were simply history book entries for
those interviewed. The ‘ban the bomb’ symbol had become a fashion logo for badges,
sew-on patches and t-shirts. In late 1981, at both Finsbury and Hammersmith, the band
played several benefit dates promoting CND where recruiting stands, anti-nuclear
284 Weller familiar with H G Wells’ novel War of the Worlds, transposes the narrator of Going Underground into the
confused artilleryman, who persuades him of an elaborate but delusionary plan to rebuild civilisation by living
H G Wells, The War of the Worlds and The War in the Air, (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2017).
285 Stewart, Bang!, 199-200.
286 Beckett, Promised You A Miracle, 81.
287 Stewart, Bang! 199-200.
288 Salewicz, Chris. "The Paul Weller Interview". Face, The (1982). The Jam, Paul Weller. Rock's Backpages. Accessed
May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-paul-weller-interview.
literature and paraphernalia were readily available to the loyal ‘Jam army.’ Concerned
about the nuclear threat combined with the knowledge that ‘his band’ would also get the
same ‘Protect and Survive leaflets pushed through their doors’ cemented Mark Watkins’
alignment to them.289 Others, in following Weller’s lead, became involved with the CND
movement, went on protest marches and fostered an interest into socialist politics.290
5.4 Yeah, the leather belt looks manly - The Rise of Nationalist Right-Wing
Support for extreme nationalist right-wing movements grew during the 1970s. The
catalyst for increased popularity was the crudely populist approach taken by Enoch
Powell in 1968 with his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Indeed Richard Vinen sees Powell’s
address as an influential component for the development of Thatcherism, building upon
the anxieties of Britain’s population ‘feeling swamped’ with the influx of immigrants.291
Electorally, the General Elections of the 1970s saw an alarming surge of support for the
National Front: their manifesto demanded ‘withdrawal from the EEC, closer associations
with white Commonwealth countries and mass repatriation of coloured immigrants.’292
Having fielded 54 candidates and obtaining 76,865 votes in February 1974, alarmingly by
the time of the May 1979 election, they increased their candidacy six-fold to 303
candidates and a 250% surge in voter support to 191,719 votes.293 As a result of a
national swing to the Right, Stuart Hall identified as ‘an organic phenomenon’ the ‘walk-
on part’ played by the National Front that enabled the establishment of a Thatcherite
driven ‘authoritarian populism.’294 By the 1979 election, the increased visibility of right-
289 Watkins, Interview, April 14, 2020.
290 Barker, Interview, April 03, 2020; Coombs, Interview, April 05, 2020.
291 Vinen, Thatcher’s Britain, 48.
292 David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British general election of February 1974, (London: The Macmillan Press
Limited, 1974), 54.
293 Butler and Kavanagh, The British general election of February 1974, 276;
David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British general election of May 1979, (London: The Macmillan Press Limited,
294 Hall. “The Great Moving Right Show,” 15.
wing movements resulted in the mobilization of popular public resistance. On 23 April
1979, St Georges Day, at Southall London, in opposition to a National Front march a
series of confrontations took place between the Anti-Nazi League and supporters from
mainly Indian local communities and the police resulting in over 300 arrests and the
tragic death of Blair Peach.295
The post-punk period was notable for the reaction of musicians against this
increased presence of right-wing support. Well documented is the formation of Rock
against Racism following Eric Clapton’s racist comments at a 1976 concert in
Birmingham.296 On 'A Bomb in Wardour Street,’ released in August 1978, its message
signified The Jam’s opposition to the growing right-wing menace. Sickened by the
increasing levels of violence and right-wing presence at their concerts it considers
‘streets paved with blood’ whilst those attending, experience all the lingering ‘fear and
hate’ of a ‘no-go zone.’297 The words seemed prophetic for their headlining appearance
at the Reading Festival on the ‘Friday night is Punk night’ during the August Bank
Holiday weekend in 1978. The event attracted several London-based right-wing
skinheads in the audience and the evening was fraught with violence and stage
Quintessentially, The Jam’s best-known reference to the terror and threat of the
growing right-wing movements is the ‘tempered and taut’ single ‘Down in a Tube Station
at Midnight.’298 The constant threat of potential mugging and personal violence is told
against a backdrop of travelling late at night on the London Underground system. As with
295 Butler and Kavanagh, The British general election of May 1979, 296.
296 As the main musical faction of anti-racist resistance, Rock Against Racism was active 1976 – 1981, covering most
of the punk and post-punk period. A combination of punk, new wave and reggae groups supplied a platform to
deliver a message of defiance against the surge of right-wing activity that was happening simultaneously during
these years. Whilst The Jam offered supported the cause and played a few dates on their behalf, they were not a
leading player within the movement. For a full and detailed account of the formation of Rock Against Racism and its
interaction with youth culture, social struggle and political association with the Socialist Workers Party refer to:
Ian Goodyer, Crisis Music: the cultural politics of Rock Against Racism. (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
297 The Jam, “‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street”, 1978.
298 Danny Baker, Single of the Week: The Jam: Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (Polydor), New Musical Express,
7 October 1978.
‘When You’re Young,’ this was another song that resonated with those interviewed,
representing a stark depiction of the right-wing threat during what were ‘violent times.’299
The song was particularly relevant for interviewee Ian Harvey as he was himself ‘beaten-
up at Oxford Tube Station’ whilst attending the launch of the band’s greatest hits album
Snap at HMV.300
Tapping into Davies’ melancholic working-class storylines, Weller created a vivid
portrait of London, the victim and his attackers. The song delivers a damning reflection of
1970s London mirroring the violence within Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel A
Clockwork Orange.301 The narrator observes ‘glazed dirty steps’ that reflect and repeat
his thoughts whilst reading the posters and discarded papers.302 When attacked by ‘gruff
blazing voices’ demanding money, he recognizes their smell, ‘pubs, wormwood scrubs
and too many right-wing meetings.’303 Finally, ‘smelling brown leather’ whilst drifting into
unconsciousness, he thinks of his wife’s fate as his attackers have taken his house
keys.304 ‘Tube Station’ is Weller’s homage to the BBC TV Play for Today Series: a
popular Wednesday night anthology tackling socially relevant subjects, homelessness,
deprivation, and fascism that he watched whilst growing up.305 Critically acclaimed, Frith
considered it a ‘sour slab of London violence,’ with a ‘tight and vengeful’ storyline, as
299 Mark McGinness saw Tube Station as “extremely accurate in portraying the atmosphere of late nights in tube
stations and dark streets of London at the time.” As a teenager at the time, he remembered that “there were a few
times I got into scrapes,” and recognising that “ society was quite violent (in the streets anyway)” the message and
“sentiments expressed” within the song resonated with him as it did with many others interviewed.
McGinness, Interview, April 15, 2020.
300 Ian Harvey, Email interview with the Author, April 18, 2020.
301 Anthony Burgess’ book Clockwork Orange had been made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. The film’s
principal character Alex aged 15, is the leader of a gang of droogs, a tribalist and violent subculture that speaks in
Nadsat (a slang that Burgess invented for the book) and carries out motiveless vicious attacks including gang rape
and the murder of ordinary citizens. In 1973, Kubrick requested that Warner Brothers withdraw the film from public
circulation due to copycat gangs and attacks that broke out in the UK after its release: the film was not available
again until after Kubrick died in 1999. The film gained a cult status amongst 1970s teenagers and one that Weller
would have been aware of.
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, (Portsmouth: William Heineman, 1962);
Stanley Kubrick, dir., A Clockwork Orange. (1971; London: Hawk Films), Film.
302 The Jam “ Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” Track 6, Side 2 on Polydor, POLD 5008, 3 November 1978,
303 The Jam, “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” 1978.
304 The Jam, “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” 1978.
305 Hand, Pop Art Poems, 99.
opposed to the ‘naïve, cheerful and romantic’ output from the Sex Pistols and the
Clash.306 For raising an awareness of a violent society, Charles Shaar Murray hoped that
if the lyrics manage to achieve ‘one less meaningless street fight’ then Weller ought to be
commended. 307 The central theme of ‘a society gone bad’ within ‘Down in The Tube
Station’ became Weller’s blueprint in enable him to reassert his message of
‘displacement, alienation, injustice and risk.’308
5.5 What chance have you got against a tie and a crest? – The Class System.
Punk’s rhetoric always claimed to be deeply immersed in the characteristics of its
working-class roots despite the long-standing undercurrent that places middle-class
influence as part of its formative development. Pete Townshend declared that ‘it came
from the street’ whilst Tony Parsons remarked that it was not ‘made by posers from a
fantasy world.’309 Jane Bennett and Simon Frith suggest that music actively engages our
moral and political sympathies.310 The interviews confirm this view. For working-class
teenagers like Mark McGinness, The Jam was ‘our’ band and that their lyrics ‘captured a
place and a time.’311 Moreover, Derek Walker saw the songs as ‘mental movies,’
delivering a vision of the ‘realness’ of working-class experience at that time.312 The class
system was alive and well in Britain during the 1970s, determining education and work
expectations. The working-class composition transformed because of a series of
destabilizing policies from the Thatcher government centred on employment, industry
and disintegrating the post-war consensus.313
306 Frith, “Packed off to America”, 1980.
307 Murray, “All Mod Cons”, 1978.
308 Subcultures Network, Fight Back,122.
309 Laing, One Chord Wonders, 103.
310 Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, (Princeton NJ: Princeton
University Press, 2001) 131,
Simon Frith, Performing Rights: On the Value of Popular Music, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
311 McGinness, Interview, April 15, 2020.
312 Derek Walker, Email interview with author, May 05, 2020.
313 Jones, “Nostalgia”, 356.
In 1979, with the release of the class critical song ‘Eton Rifles,’ The Jam’s
commercial profile rose into popular music’s ascendancy. ‘Eton Rifles’ was their first
song to achieve top 3 status in the UK singles chart. Featuring on mainstream daytime
national radio playlists, their messages of social inequality reached out to a much wider
audience than any of their previous recordings. A reflection of the class system, it
contested and authenticated questions of English identity. The song’s inspiration came
from a ‘right-to-work’ march that verbally abused by pupils as it passed Eton School.
Opening ‘sup up your beer and collect your fags, there’s a row going on down
near Slough’ ‘Eton Rifles’ appeared as a call-to-arms to challenge the upper class. 314
The song openly criticizes the ‘catalyst’ left-wing politicians who, having ‘lit the fuse’ for
change, lose their public backing through sleeping with ‘a charming young thing.’315
Weller bemoans that their supporters fighting the cause are left like ‘guilty schoolboys’
whilst those elected ‘went home for their tea.’ 316 Defiantly representing all of those
striving for a fairer and better society, he declares that ‘we’ suffered and ‘were no match
for their untamed wit,’ but defiantly predicts that ‘we’ll’ return to have another go ‘next
week.’ 317 For Weller the song is a damning attack on both ends of political and class
Fast forward 30 years and the song’s message of an oppressed class is restored
and stimulates more political debate. David Cameron, then Conservative leader, selected
the song as one of his choices for the long-running BBC Desert Island Discs radio
programme on 28 May 2006.319 Cameron remarked that I was in the corps … it meant a
lot, some of those Jam albums we listened to.’320 Consequently, Anne McElvoy labelled a
number of high achieving politicians who were coming to prominence during the 1980s,
314 The Jam, “Eton Rifles,” Side 2, Track 4 on Setting Sons, Polydor, POLD 5028, 17 November 1979, 33rpm Vinyl.
315 The Jam, “Eton Rifles,” 1979.
316 The Jam, “Eton Rifles,” 1979.
317 The Jam, “Eton Rifles,” 1979.
318 Winsworth “All Mod Cons” 60.
319 Desert Island Discs ,Rt Hon David Cameron, May 8, 2006. Accessed October 22, 2020.
320 Desert Island Discs, Cameron.
including Nick Clegg (Liberal) and David Miliband (Labour) as ‘The Jam Generation.’ 321
Cameron, quantifying his choice, remarked that ‘I don’t see why the Left should be the
only ones allowed to listen to protest songs.’322 Weller was amazed, contesting of
Cameron ‘what point of it didn’t he get?’323 Weller further rebuked Cameron’s support
telling the New Statesman: that ‘it wasn’t intended as a fucking jolly drinking song for the
cadet corp.’324 Speaking in 2008 on the long term impact of Thatcherism, Weller
reaffirmed his feelings from the 1980s, a view that this dissertation has sought to portray
I think they were absolute fucking scum - especially Thatcher, who I think should be
shot as a traitor to the people. I still think that, and nothing will ever change my
opinion. We're still feeling the effects of what they did to the country now, and
probably always will: the whole breakdown of communities, trade unions, the
working class - the dismantling of lots of things. 325
321 Ann McElvoy, “Britain Just Got Weller: Meet the Jam Generation” Spectator, February 13, 2008,
322 Fisher, “Going Underground,” 98.
323 John Harris, Hands off our Music! The Guardian, March 18, 2008.
324 Mojo Staff, Paul Weller: “Eton Rifles? What Did David Cameron Not Get?” Mojo, April 23, 2015.
325 Harris, “Hands off .“
The post-war period is considered an evolutionary period with a succession of
changing and successive new youth cultures. Moreover, the subcultures of Teddy boy,
mod, rocker, skinhead, soul boy associate themselves with a distinctive music style.
Punk was no exception. A unique youth phenomenon hit the streets of Britain in 1976.
Whilst being short-lived, its rapid decline acted as a stimulus for many of the dormant
subcultures to re-emerge. A new faction of disillusioned and dejected teenagers
remodelled and restyled many of the original subcultures to reinvent a new youth-culture.
This process of regeneration influenced upon many bands associated with the period,
none more so than The Jam.
Many within the music media misinterpreted this change as revivalist. This label
hounded The Jam and affected Weller and his relationship with the music media.
Combined with Weller’s misinterpreted and offhand political comments in early
interviews, many commentators struggled to accept the band as a viable subject of youth
resistance, Matthew Worley and Ben Winsworth being notable exceptions. This study
into The Jam’s music and attitude reaffirms both Worley and Winsworth’s views,
supported by an ethnographical approach provided by those fans who experienced the
Weller acted as a gatekeeper to a broad section of Britain’s youth in representing
their fears and concern: the voice of combined dissension. An unelected but evident
choice of generation spokesperson for those interviewed, through a series of evocative
and damning songs Weller expressed their anxieties about the Britain they were living
within. This analysis further emphasizes the origins and relevance of The Jam’s musical
and lyrical influences, further complemented by the views of those interviewed. Weller’s
indebtedness to Ray Davies’s prolific catalogue is recognisable. Both Davies and Weller
reveal a complex representation of traditional and modern Englishness that celebrated
working-class life whilst simultaneously offering up a darker side to the middle classes.
Through analysing Weller’s lyrics, we can determine their resistance to
Callaghan’s government and Thatcher’s first term of office. They challenge the political,
social and economic impositions placed upon teenagers and young adults that lived
through the period. Government, an accommodating old guard, who supported and
maintained a prolonged period of the post-war consensus transitioned to a clique of
intellectuals determined to impose a free market economy upon the country, regardless
of its damaging impact upon employment, industry and inflation. Reflecting upon the
argument and supporting evidence presented by this dissertation, it is reasonable to
consider that The Jam’s position within academic research of punk rock and its
derivatives, as a voice of resistance has been undervalued and under-represented.
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Jam. Rock's Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019.
Baker, Danny. “Single of the Week: The Jam: Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (Polydor).”
New Musical Express, 7 October 1978.
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Benn, Tony. Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977-1980. London: Arrow Books Limited, 1990.
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Backpages. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/the-jam-
Brooks, William. “On Being Tasteless.” Popular Music 2 (1982): 9-18.
Burchill, Julie, ‘The Jam kick out the jams – Maggie Thatcher style?!!’ New Musical Express,
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