The Jam: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

The Jam were huge in the UK during the punk era, scoring four top ten albums and four number-one singles. Emerging from Woking, on the outskirts of London, the three-piece band were fast and aggressive enough to initially be considered as punk. Subsequent albums showed a heavy influence from mid-1960s bands like The Who and The Kinks, as leader Paul Weller developed as an excellent songwriter.

Weller was supported by bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler, who coped admirably keeping up with Weller’s diverging musical interests. Later Jam material includes the pastoral prettiness of ‘That’s Entertainment’, the terse post-punk of ‘Funeral Pyre’, and the Northern Soul of The Gift. Like a lot of British bands, The Jam’s six albums don’t tell the complete story – non-album singles like ‘Going Underground’, ‘The Dreams of Children’, and ‘When You’re Young’ are some of their best, while b-sides like ‘Liza Radley’ and ‘The Butterfly Collector’ are also impressive.

The Jam broke up at the height of their success, selling out a five-night stand at Wembley Arena in twenty minutes. They never made much impact in the USA, however, perhaps hindered by Weller’s thick English accent. The most unusual aspect of The Jam’s tenure was how young they were. Weller was merely 18 when they released their debut album In The City, and when they released their final album, The Gift, in 1982, Weller was still only 23.

The Jam Albums Ranked

#6 This is the Modern World

After the success of In The City, The Jam were rushed back into the studio to record a second album. Weller didn’t have enough quality material, and Bruce Foxton contributed several songs. It’s an unsatisfying record, lacking the charm of the debut, although songs like ‘London Girl’ and ‘Life From a Window’ show some growth in Weller’s songwriting.

#5 In The City

Although Paul Weller hadn’t yet found his writing voice on The Jam’s debut, he’s able to approximate the sound of punk bands like The Clash efficiently on songs like the title track. ‘Art School’ recalls The Who in the mid-1960s, while ‘Away From The Numbers’ points to the mod revival direction Weller would take. The band’s covers of ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Batman Theme’ add to a charming, yet developmental, album.

#4 The Gift

Paul Weller was tired of the constraints of The Jam by their final studio album. He explores soul and R&B, anticipating his work as leader of The Style Council. The Gift is more uneven than the next three records on this list, but there’s an assortment of great tracks anyway. The brassy ‘A Town Called Malice’, the Northern Soul of ‘Precious’, and the tuneful deep-cut ‘Ghosts’ are all standouts.

#3 All Mod Cons

Weller was suffering from writer’s block, and The Jam’s first attempt at a third record (largely written by Foxton) was scrapped. Weller returned to Woking to listen to old Kinks albums and write. The resulting songs represented an astounding leap in quality. Songs like ‘Down at the Tube Station at Midnight’ and ‘Mr. Clean’ updated the mid-1960s sound of The Who and The Kinks for the punk era and established Weller as an outstanding songwriter.

#2 Sound Affects

The Jam evoked mid-1960s Beatles for Sound Affects – lead single ‘Start!’ is built around the bassline to ‘Taxman’ from Revolver. Sound Affects boasts energetic and tuneful songs like ‘Monday’ and ‘Pretty Green’, although it’s best-known for the acoustic ‘That’s Entertainment’. It’s also the favourite Jam album of Paul Weller.

#1 Setting Sons

The Jam followed the artistic breakthrough of All Mod Cons with their hardest rocking album. Setting Sons was originally planned as a concept album about childhood friends growing apart after serving in the army. The theme doesn’t carry right through the album, as the closing cover of ‘Heat Wave’ indicates, but it’s loaded with great songs anyway. The frenetic ‘Girl on the Phone’, the gorgeous ‘Wasteland’, and rockers like ‘Private Hell’ and ‘The Eton Rifles’ are all Jam classics.

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  1. Not much of an argument here, though “Modern World” is enjoying a renaissance with me. Can I just say something about “Setting Sons” also my fave? The original US edition is the only one that got the running order correctly, IMO. “Heat Wave” should be the last song on Side One, not the album closer. Just think of it. “Burning Sky” makes an excellent table setter as the side one opener (as the US edition had it). “Girl on the Phone” makes much more sense as the side two opener and the “Wasteland” is the natural finale of the LP concept, not a Martha and the Vandellas cover. I always thought the switching of sides in the CD era was some mistake in the manufacturing but seems to be the way most people think of the running order. Anyway, a pet peeve of mine.

    • I don’t know why this very good band did not go big in the US, as for example The Police. Some might say they were too British or too punk. But that isn’t totally true. Not sure about their best album. I love the irresistibles Going Underground and A Town Call Malice. Peter Weller is a top ten new waver / punk artist from the late 70s up there with Sting, Elvis Costello, David Byrne and a few more.

      • I don’t know for sure why The Jam never “broke” in the US and got to a level of success like The Police or even The Clash. But I remember reading something awhile back (so I may be flubbing a few facts) that The Jam/Paul Weller weren’t that into “putting the work” to break America, so it didn’t happen.
        The UK is (obviously) a smaller country, and with a weekly music press who worked to hype the next big thing. So it was easier for a band to get known around the country much faster. The US is a huge country with the music magazines (at the time Rolling Stone and Creem would be the biggest) coming out less frequently and were much less influential. There was no easy way to get big in the US in the late ’70s/early 80’s if you were a punk(ish) band, not only did you have to get in good with the critics (which The Jam mostly did here in the US), but you had to do legwork.
        Bands like The Police and The Clash went out on the road continuously in the States, hitting up radio, generating word of mouth. From what I read Paul Weller assumed that the success they had in the US would somehow carry over to success in the US without much effort. (You have to remember that they were like 18 when they broke, so they probably had a good share of cocky youthful arrogance.) When they didn’t get the reaction from the small tours they did in second-tier markets, they gave up trying to crack the US.

        • I’m sure they were selling enough in the UK (and other Anglo places like New Zealand) to be doing fine. I do think they’d never have been as big in the US as they were in the UK – feels like they have made the top 30 but probably not the top ten.

          • They barely dented the charts in the US. “Town Called Malice” got to 31 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart, which isn’t even the main Billboard pop chart. Looks like Sound Affects got as high as 72 on the album chart.
            I’m sure Joe Strummer felt a little shadenfraude at the lack of The Jam’s US success.

      • I don’t know if anyone wrote as many great songs as Weller did between 1978 and 1982, although Costello is certainly some tough competition. I think too British is certainly an issue – it took me a while to understand what’s he singing and I still don’t always get it.

    • I read that there’s a Canadian edition that includes The Butterfly Collector – which is my favourite Jam song. I’d opt for that version, and disregard sequencing! Modern World has its moments but too much of it feels like a less charming repeat of the debut.

        • The band is called “From The Jam” and initially had Rick Buckler in it as well. The vocalist/guitarist Russell Hastings sounds uncannily like Weller. With Foxton and Buckler there it was a bit more than a tribute band and the live album they put out was pretty good. In some ways it is better than the live material available from the original Jam because the sound quality is superior.

          • Yes,all true and I wouldn’t be surprised if From the Jam’s live album is better than The Jam’s original material. They were brilliant when I saw them. I think they have to call themselves a tribute band due to legal reasons.

          • As someone lucky enough to have seen the original Jam ten times between 1977 and 1982 I somehow couldn’t bring myself to go and see From The Jam, but I do enjoy the occasional blast of their live album.
            I like your blog presentation by the way, against the black background.

  2. I appreciate these guys a lot, though I was too young to really be into them at the time. Did you read my friend Andrew’s guest post on my blog, writing about his top five tunes by The Jam? He’s the real deal Paul Weller fanatic. He’s promised follow up guest posts about The Style Council and PW solo but I think it’ll be a while before we see those.

  3. You had to search them out in America. A friend of mine had some of their music and the Clash early albums. I like some songs I’ve heard by them. That’s Entertainment, A Town Called Malice,Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, and some more. Their debut album I didn’t like as much when I heard it in the 80s. I probably need to listen to it again.

  4. I recently picked up a single CD that includes both “Modern World” and “All Mod Cons” that still had room for a couple of choice bonus tracks like “Butterfly Collector” and “All Around the World” which, like you said, were on some of the original US editions. A good find.

      • Take the somewhat grating solo Weller demos off Extras and there is some great stuff left. I like the vibrant, full band covers of Get Yourself Together and And Your Bird Can Sing and the early version of A Solid Bond In Your Heart is excellent too.

  5. Sound Affects is the one that I always liked . mainly because of That’s Entertainment which is why I bought the album. But I’ve always wondered why they spelled it sound Affects instead of Effects. Were they just affecting the sounds, as in, they were just affectations?? Not real sounds?? Phony sounds?? LMAO

  6. I’ve realised that these punk bands (such as The Jam, The Clash, Sex Pistols) usually have their first album or two to be punk and then afterwards evolve into something else (The Jam and The Clash had other influences that they added to their music and becoming more poppy while although the Sex Pistols ended after the debut, Rotten himself was in a post-punk band). I guess punk isn’t something to keep making over and over.

    • I think it’s pretty funny that extremely sophisticated writers like Elvis Costello and Andy Partridge arrived in punk (which is purportedly three chords). Weller’s pretty sophisticated too, compared to a lot of other commercially successful rock music.

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