SONGWRITERS SUPREME: PAUL WELLER
Paul Weller first caught the public eye as a teenager with The Jam during the emerging punk years (late 70s) in England. Taking his cue from the Beatles, Small Faces, Kinks and The Who, Weller’s punchy and relevant songs launched the Woking trio (with bassist Bruce Foxton & drummer Rick Buckler) into the hearts and minds of British youth, achieving much success and acclaim on the way before calling a day in 1982 at Weller’s insistence.
Weller felt constrained by The Jam’s image and collective persona and formed (with keyboard player Mick Talbot) The Style Council to broaden his artistic horizons. So he literally plunged in at the deep end, developing an image that was miles away from the Jam – chic, sophisticated, Gallic, jazzy & brassy, the Style Council carried on where The Jam left off and Weller personally intensified his own socio-political ambitions during that time. However, things would eventually turn sour between Weller and label Polydor culminating in the label’s rejection of the last TSC album and its ultimate demise in the late 1980s. Weller seemed to disappear completely from the UK music scene. Spending his hiatus in reflection and regeneration, he re-emerged as a solo artist – unable initially to secure a UK record deal (he signed up with Pony Canyon Japan for his eponymous solo debut) – his star would rise again with the coming of Britpop in the 90s as bands like Blur, Oasis & Ocean Colour Scene acknowledged their debt to Weller. By his third album, Stanley Road, Weller had once again reached the summit of the UK Albums Chart.
“Down in a Tube Station at Midnight,” Jam single (Polydor, 1978)
“Down in a Tube Station at Midnight” proved that Weller was more than just punk opportunist or mod revisionist, he was an artist. Its structure is stop-start and its monotonous rhythmic underpinnings express perfectly the movement of a train. Lyrically, it provides a concise snapshot of the England of the late 1970s – claustrophobic, class conscious, economically depressed and socially dangerous. Its story is simple and stark, a tube passenger is ‘mugged’ by gangsters (‘they smelled of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right-wing meetings’) on his way home to the wife. And in the closing verses even as the protaganist’s life ebbs away, his last thoughts are of advertising images and graffiti on the tube walls. Powerful and affecting. Note: the album version (on All Mod Cons) completes the picture with the sounds of a train opening & closing its doors and moving off even as the instrumental passages fade in and out again – truly poignant.
“The Paris Match,” B-side Style Council single, A Paris (Polydor, 1983)
A torch song in every sense of the word and tucked away as a b-side (!) no less, “The Paris Match” remains Style Council’s finest moment where Weller was able to blend romanticism and sophistication with Gallic flair and savvy – no mean feat for a Woking lad! The accordion solo is pure heaven.
“Tales from the Riverbank,” B-side Jam single Absolute Beginners (Polydor, 1981)
Moody and introspective, “Tales from the Riverbank” provided the flip side to the Jam’s more recognisable anthems. With its insistent bass line, spidery guitar patterns and concepts of urban decay & menace, “Tales from the Riverbank” is a wondrous highlight buried obscurely as a B-side, which bore testimony to Weller’s prodigious talent.
“That’s Entertainment,” from The Jam Sound Affects (Polydor, 1980)
A Weller diary-in-a-song: with George Harrison headily evoked, “That’s Entertainment” spoke of the mundanity of day-to-day living – ” A smash of glass and the rumble of boots/An electric train and a ripped up ‘phone booth/Paint splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat/Lights going out and a kick in the balls ” – sheer bloody poetry!
“Sunflower,” from Paul Weller Wild Wood (GO! Discs, 1993)
On his sophomore effort, Weller decided to flow with the Traffic – decidedly more Steve Winwood than Steve Marriott! Transparent as usual with his influences, Sunflower is an intense rocker that is as soulful as it is pastoral. A great introduction to this breakthrough solo album.
“A Town Called Malice,” from The Jam The Gift (Polydor, 1982)
Perhaps the Jam’s best known tune, “Malice” featured Weller’s incisive assessment of English life – ” Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the diary yards/And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts ” sung to a tune reminiscent of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” (Yup! The one that Phil Collins took to the top of the charts)
“Uh Huh Oh Yeh,” from Paul Weller Paul Weller (Pony Canyon, 1992)
More than debut single “Into Tomorrow,” this R&B inflected mover announced that Weller was back! Based around a familiar three-chord progression, embellished with swirling organs, tight horns and a simple choral riff, one cannot help but be carried away by its cheerful optimism.
“In the Crowd,” from The Jam All Mod Cons (Polydor, 1978)
“And life just simply moves along/To simple houses, simple jobs and no ones wanting for the change ” bear Ray (The Kinks) Davies trademark slice-of-life writing applied to The Who pyrotechnics resulting in an incandescent commentary of English society that well and truly rocks!
“Speak Like A Child,” Style Council single (Polydor, 1983)
The re-invention of Paul Weller began with this Motown-inflected pleaser. However, Jam observers would not have been surprised as the stylistic shift is evident on The Gift, the final Jam album. What perhaps shocked was the total absence of the GUITAR! If only we knew what was in store for Weller fanatics!
“Peacock Suit,” Paul Weller Heavy Soul (Independiente, 1996)
“Peacock Suit” appears to poke fun at Weller’s own well-known satorial obsessions – ” I’m a narcissus in a puddle/In shop windows I gloat/Like a ball of fleece lining/In my camel skin coat”. Set to a driving beat, the song is a sheer delight and demonstrates Weller’s deft skill with the post-modern take on British R&B traditions.
“To Be Someone,” from The Jam All Mod Cons (Polydor, 1978)
With the critical beating that This Is The Modern World received, Weller and The Jam returned with a vengeance with All Mod Cons their best album. “To be Someone” opens the album and seems to uncannily forecast Oasis (!) both in its music and lyrical target – “And there’s no more drinking after the club shuts down/I’m out on my arse with the rest of the clowns.”
“My Ever Changing Moods,” Style Council single (Polydor, 1984)
Here is Paul Weller in full Curtis (Mayfield i.e.) mode, driving treble rhythms, tasty horns and a rhythm that just won’t quit.
“The Changingman,” from Paul Weller Stanley Road (GO! Discs, 1995)
Weller’s tribute to Jeff Lynne no doubt, as he freely pilfers from ELO’s “10538 Overture” shamelessly (down to the cellos) to sing lyrics about being a “changing man” with tongue firmly in cheek and a riposte to all his critics. Creative plagiarism at its best.
“You’re the Best Thing,” Style Council single (Polydor, 1984)
Weller’s finest romantic hour, as he concocts the perfect heart-tugger for lovers everywhere – the urban counterpart to the pastoral “English Rose”.
“In the City,” Jam single (Polydor, 1977)
Where it all began: an 18-year-old Steve Marriott wannabe lumped in with the punk set but possessing a breadth that would surpass most of his peers delivers his first stab at pop greatness. Clocking in at 2’20” In the City functioned as a statement of intent and a reaffirmation of British pop ala The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces and so on.