IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED
Back in late 1977, The Jam finished their second album, This Is the Modern World, and quickly left the UK for their first US tour. It was going to be a quick but important tour, covering six shows over nine days. It started with a west coast swing at the Whisky A Go Go in LA and San Francisco, then went east to Boston (The Rat) and NY (CBGB’s).
The tour was widely considered a disaster. Bandleader Paul Weller was homesick for London so his heart wasn’t into it. (Plus, the 19 year old was pissed that he wasn’t able to drink in the bars he was playing like he could in England where the drinking age was younger.) Equipment problems in SF caused them to cancel a show that was intended to be a major showcase for music industry bigwigs.
I was lucky enough to see the Boston show on October 13, 1977, as a guest of Polydor Records. (I was a DJ at WZBC at the time.) I remember meeting a guy who introduced himself to me as “Mark Parenteau of WCOZ.” I innocently asked him if he was “on air.” He replied “I do the fucking afternoon drive.” I didn’t mean to insult him but how would I know? I didn’t listen to commercial radio at the time. Mark went on to a long and illustrious career at COZ and WBCN but died at 66 years old in mid-2016.
But let’s get back to The Jam.
This Is the Modern World is a decent album but was considered a typical sophomore slump for the band upon release. The awful US tour and disappointing reception for This Is the Modern World was incentive for Weller to dig deeper and come up with better material. He answered the call and returned to form on their third release – All Mod Cons (1978). It is often considered the best album in the Jam’s strong catalog. Chris Woodstra of All Music wrote “Terms like ‘classic’ are often bandied about but in the case of All Mod Cons, it is certainly deserved.” MOJO wrote it “… still stands as The Jam’s finest hour.”
Its best song was “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.”
The song tells the story of a guy who gets into an altercation with a gang in the London subway. They beat the crap out of him, leave him semi-conscious and take his money and the keys to his house. As he lies there he begins to worry about the safety of his wife, waiting for him at home.
The last thing that I saw as I lay there on the floor
Was “Jesus saves” painted by an atheist nutter
And a British rail poster read “have an away day, a cheap holiday, do it today”
I glanced back on my life, and thought about my wife
‘Cause they took the keys, and she’ll think it’s me
I’m down in the tube station at midnight
Enjoy… until next week.
They definitely had their moments and this is one of them. Always thought it interesting that Weller’s lyrics sometimes take an adult’s point of view, especially since punk (and I guess post-punk, is this post-punk?) is so teenage-centric. I remember when they played CB’s but for some reason I didn’t go. And I remember The Rat fondly – a much better audience than CB’s, where everyone was so very cool and jaded. At The Rat they shook their asses.
The B-Side was their cover of The Who’s “So Sad About Us” as Moon died a month before the single’s release. A photo of Moon is on the back cover of the sleeve. Weller apparently didn’t like the song initially and trashed it. It was rescued by the producer Vic Coppersmith. Bruce Foxton never got the credit in my mind for those bass lines.
Did the Jam play CB’s? My memory is they played CBGB Theater, the premiere show, on Second Avenue, the home of Stomp! for pretty much ever since. The theater was ready, it was freezing cold, sound stunk, the lights were bad, Tom alludes to their disastrous tour, and this was part of it. I so wanted to go, but didn’t.
I’m with Pete on Foxton, this was a terrific band with great songs that I always thought felt was just a little short because of Weller’s vocals. What do I know? His solo career was as a soul crooner, for the most part.