My original blog was Hoses of the Holy (ca. 2003), which ended up being abandoned in the dark days of 2007. I started this one in 2011. Scroll down for the archives!

That’s Entertainment

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For reasons I don’t need to go into, I happened to play “Wasteland” by The Jam to a class the other day. I’ve never really been able to make my mind up about this particular song: on the one hand, indelible earworm; on the other, lyrics awkwardly sploodged in order to fit the melody. The system works because it does not work.

A few days went by, and I’m driving to the supermarket and I ask Siri to play “The Jam on Apple Music”. She leapt into action, and about two minutes later started to play the country band Midland and their album On the Rocks. An easy mistake to make. I tried again. And again. And a third time, with variations of “Paul Weller” and “The Jam”. Eventually, at a traffic light, I dabbed at the infotainment screen and managed to find what I’m sure is every Accidental Partridge’s favourite Jam album: The Very Best of the Jam.

So I finally got to listen to some of my favourite singles in the few minutes before I reached the car park. I’ve got a mixed history with The Jam. Looking back, it’s absolutely clear to me that they belonged to my generation (late Boomers, early Gen-Xers) in a way that, say, The Beatles never really did. Which is not me saying that The Jam were better or greater than The Beatles. But The Fabs belong to everyone, whereas The Jam were timed perfectly to coincide with the second half of my teens.

Their first album was released in May 1977, when I was 14, and All Mod Cons arrived 18 months later, when I was about to turn 16. Setting Sons came out when I was in my first year of Sixth Form, and Sound Affects coincided with my 18th Birthday, coming out about a month before I left home (and school) and started 18 months of unemployment. Finally, The Gift, their only UK number one, came out towards the end of that 18 months, when I was (unbeknownst to me) on the cusp of getting a proper job.

Of course, the story of The Jam wasn’t so much about the albums as the singles. They were a proper singles band. I’ve already written about “Strange Town”, which might be the perfect single. But there were others. I still remember the frisson of excitement in the Sixth Form common room when we played “Going Underground” for the first time.
To give you a sense of how in synch I was (or ought to have been), their song “Just Who is the 5 O’ Clock Hero?” came out on 3 July 1982, about five days after I started that “nine to five” job in the Luton Tax Office.

From this window I've seen the whole world pass
From dawn to dusk I've heard the last laugh laughed
I've seen enough tears to wash away this street
I've heard wedding bells chime and a funeral march
When as one life finishes another one starts

Alright then love so I'll be off now
It's back to the lunchbox and worker-management rows
There's gotta be more to this old life then this
Scrimping and saving and crossing off lists

So I was thinking several things in the car this morning. First of all, there was that sense that I did feel an affinity with The Jam, they did belong to my generation. But for some reason (my tendency towards perverse contrarianism, probably), I drifted off. I remember feeling a sense of detachment, of not being involved, when I caught them on Top of the Pops doing “Town Called Malice”, and by the time of “Beat Surrender” (November 1982), I’d spiralled out of their orbit altogether. I remember feeling somewhat snarky about the presence of a horn section and backing singers. What is this? Kid Creole and the Coconuts?

And the other thing I was thinking was that the great thing about The Jam was that feeling that they were on our side. Right from the beginning, but especially with lines like “Too many right-wing meetings”, you knew that Weller was correctly aligned. And it struck me that the students to whom I played “Wasteland” the other day don’t have anything like The Jam, Weller, or the chance of seeing them perform something angry and righteous on Top of the Pops. There really needs to be another Punk Moment, I think. I was no punker rocker, but there are so many institutions in need of a good kicking at the moment. We need to burn down the talent shows and shuck off the bling, bin the John Lewis advert soundtracks and play some power chords.

Probably Weller’s finest set of lyrics is “That’s Entertainment” – an uncontroversial opinion, I’m sure. But, as an English teacher, I look at that and think, yep, so many teachable moments in that song. Juxtaposition, onomatopoeia, irony, pathetic fallacy, pathos, bathos, oxymoron, personification, and (my personal favourite) a transferred epithet.

La la la la la la
La la la la la la
La la la la la la
La la la la la la


2 responses to “That’s Entertainment”

  1. rashbre Avatar

    Saw The Jam at South Bank Poly back in March 1977(!) before their first album. The Jam in skinny bank clerk clothes. Charcoal suits, white shirts, thin black ties. 70s new mod. We were standing in the front row of around 100 people. Then we were standing in the tube station at midnight.


    1. RFM Avatar

      Ah yes. My only time seeing them was from the back of a lorry at a CND rally in 1981 (?)


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