All Mod Cons

40 years of The Jam's third album

Tuesday 30th October 2018

November 1978, in the United Kingdom. Margaret Thatcher was gaining popularity as the leader of the opposition and Sex Pistols' debut album, a frequently referenced landmark in UK punk and counterculture, was just over a year old. Britain's Winter Of Discontent was about to bite harder than many people had imagined. 

The Jam had released their sophomore 1977 LP, 'This Is The Modern World' just a couple of weeks after the infamous Sex Pistols record. While songs such as 'Time For Truth' were political, referring to the current Labour prime minister James Callaghan (Uncle Jimmy), The Jam were a very different kind of outfit to the anarchic Sex Pistols. Some critics and fans were confused about where The Jam were coming from with their modish patriotic themes, reminiscent of those found on Village Green Preservation Society or The Who in one of their flag wearing moments. If Sex Pistols were calling for the destruction of The Empire, The Jam seemed to be mourning its passing.

If The Jam's fans were confused, then fans of Blue Öyster Cult could be forgiven for being confused when the new-wavers were booked to support the '60s rockers on their 1978 US tour. Accounts have it that Paul Weller was left dismayed by the direction that the events of late '77 and early '78 were taking The Jam, causing a kind of make or break attitude among the trio.

Weller said later in an interview with Uncut: "After This Is The Modern World, I thought, 'Am I going to let this slide or fight against it?' My back was against the wall. It was a matter of self-pride."

The resulting set of songs became 'All Mod Cons', and its lead single was a double A-side -  ''A' Bomb In Wardour Street' backed with a cover of The Kinks' 'David Watts'.

The crowd-pleasing Kinks' cover, fronted by Bruce Foxton, was backed with ''A' Bomb In Wardour Street' and its damning commentary on the state of the country: "A Philistine nation, of degradation, And hate and war. There must be more".

The second single to come out ahead of the album release was the now iconic 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight', another scathing account of the state of society, specifically in the Nation's capital at a tense point in UK history. The story of the song tells of a man on his way home to his wife with a takeaway curry, who runs into a gang of far-right youths.

"I first felt a fist, and then a kick, I could now smell their breath, They smelt of pubs and wormwood scrubs, And too many right wing meetings."

Now regarded as one of The Jam's greatest moments, 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' was initially discarded by Weller who wasn't happy with the song at first, but was resurrected by the album's producer, Vic Coppersmith, who saw something in the song. In fact, many of the original recordings were rejected by the album's other producer Chris Parry. All part of the challenging rethink that the group were undergoing it seems.

In a review for NME, Charles Shaar Murray said "...not only several light years ahead of anything they've done before but also the album that's going to catapult the Jam right into the front rank of international rock and roll; one of the handful of truly essential rock albums of the last few years."

Weller steered The Jam away from their current course. Their illustrations of impossibly perfect Britishness as a form of social comment took a back seat. Instead, taking the issues full on, describing the offending characters and events in poetic detail. It was the direction that led to The Jam's next LP 'Setting Sons' pulling no punches with its big songs 'Eton Rifles', 'Going Underground' and 'Little Soldiers'.

In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, Weller said "Class issues were very important to me at that time... Woking has a bit of a stockbroker belt on its outskirts. So I had those images – people catching the train to Waterloo to go to the city. 'Mr Clean' was my view of that."

Away from the singles 'All Mod Cons' still had moments like 'English Rose', a loving song describing an English woman or England itself, but it also had the pogoing angry anti-authority of 'Billy Hunt'.

The Jam's commercial and artistic success continued to grow after the change of tack calculated at 'All Mod Cons', culminating in number one chart positions for their final album 'The Gift' and its single 'Town Called Malice'. The Jam had achieved four number one singles by their surprise split in 1982.

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