…bloody hell, now that’s what I’m talking about. more… “Anna Calvi”
This five-disc box set brings together a pretty comprehensive, nay exhaustive overview of the band’s first year on record and visually. It includes the band’s first two studio albums In The City and This Is The Modern World, demos, live tracks and Peel sessions, as well as the five disc which brings the visual work together. A pretty busy year – and all the more astonishing considering that five years between albums is not unheard of for some acts.
‘In The City’ still stands as one of the great debut singles. Like all great debuts should do, it sounds like a manifesto and a call to arms. Paul Weller was just eighteen and exhorting listeners to come to London and hear what was going on.
“In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you
But when I approach you, you make me look a fool
I wanna say, I wanna tell you
About the young ideas but you turn them into fears.”
It still sounds astonishingly fresh. The descending chord structure that opens the song was blatantly cribbed by the Sex Pistols for their ‘Holidays In The Sun’ (frankly, it would need a musicologist to show the latter wasn’t a crib.)
As for the parent album, it fair crackles along. Weller drew on the likes of The Kinks and The Who (it could be said that his voice has echoes of Roger Daltrey and his guitar-playing is certainly shaped by Pete Townshend). If the throwaway cover of the Batman theme seems like filler, then songs like ‘Art School’ and ‘Away From The Numbers’ means that the title track was no fluke.
Inbetween the release of their debut album and their second This Is The Modern World The Jam released a second single ‘All Around The World’ coupled with ‘Carnaby Street.’ The b-side is probably better – but it’s a sign of how The Jam would do things. The band would make a number of strong non-album singles in the years to come – ‘When You’re Young’ ‘Going Underground’ and perhaps their finest single of all ‘Strange Town.’
This Is The Modern World followed a mere seven months after the debut. Perhaps anticipating the difficulties that affect the reception of a second album, Weller snarls:
“Don’t have to explain myself to you
I don’t give two fucks about your review”
Did he need to worry? If he had seen how beloved the band would be forty years on, maybe he wouldn’t have been so defensive. There’s evidence of Weller’s growing maturity as a songwriter – ‘Here Comes The Weekend’ and ‘Tonight At Noon’ while Bruce Foxton contributes one of the most underrated songs in The Jam’s catalogue ‘Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane.’
Even in terms of covers the band had stepped up a gear and given the first indication of how soul would shape the band; the album finishes with an energetic, if a little rough and ready version of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In The Midnight Hour.’
The Jam have often been re-packaged over the years since they split in late 1982 – and it’s impressive how much extra material has been brought together here. The John Peel session version of ‘In The City’ is sufficiently different to the album version and an energetic live version of ‘Carnaby Street’ are amongst the highlights.
In terms of what the band would achieve over the next few years, it may be said that their first year was the band just getting into their stride. The band’s third album All Mod Cons, released in 1978, was the start of them becoming a truly great band. But the box set gives a compelling insight into just what helped them lay the groundwork for the coming years.
It seems slightly odd that for a band who snarled “No Future” that forty years after their one and only studio album they should be still be constantly examined and written about.
Or maybe it was deeply prophetic: that pop is so obsessed with its past that it repackages it constantly and there is a lot less of a future because it can’t shake off its past.
The reality is that Never Mind The Bollocks remains one hell of a thrilling ride. This issue is itself a re-issue of what has become regarded as the definitive issue which was first issued as a limited edition in 2012.
It opens – rather provocatively, being the Pistols – with what sounds like jackboots marching, and straight into ‘Holidays In The Sun.’ While it and the three other singles ‘Anarchy In The UK’ ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ may well be the strongest things here, it is worth noting that they are classics, and essential entries in the rock canon.
Some songs may seem rather slight on their own – ‘Seventeen’ with its chorus of “I’m a lazy sod” could be a lesser band, but all tracks together combine the yobbishness and art school, the very filth and fury (as a newspaper heading about the band had it) to make up a package that was repellant to some and irresistible to others.
‘Bodies’ – supposedly the only song Sid Vicious actually played on on the album – still terrifies, all the more so, given that it was reportedly written about a real Sex Pistols fan. ‘EMI’ which closes the album was the riposte to the label which had dumped the band after they’d sworn on live TV (oooh! Controversial for 1976) gives the album a fabulous close.
The b-sides (as they do at their best) stand-up for themselves. Their version of The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ matches the Pistols musical snarl, yet opens with hints of the dub reggae that John Lydon loved and would explore with his next (and arguably more interesting and adventurous) Public Image Ltd. ‘Satellite’ and ‘Did You No Wrong’ are strong songs in themselves.
I probably am not the only one who still cringes at ‘Belsen Was A Gas.’ The Wikipedia entry acknowledges that it’s a highly controversial song. It’s a demo version that appears here – while it may have been written more to shock the older generation than to offend, Lydon is amongst those who have acknowledged that it crosses into bad taste. I could live without it reappearing.
For a band who supposedly couldn’t play, the demos and live material may show some sign that they were in need of polishing, but that they were probably more competent than they may have wanted some to believe. It’s perhaps telling that on the Norwegian gig on the third disc after ‘New York’ Lydon can be heard telling the crowd “Alright? Just stop the fucking spitting, I don’t like being spat at.” It may have been perceived as part of the ritual – yet (totally understandably) something he didn’t wish to be part of.
Whether there will be more re-issues of the album remains to be seen. But Never Mind stands as a fantastic blast of anger and fun that has not withered over four decades.