The Jam were huge in the UK during the punk era, scoring four top ten albums and four number one singles. Emerging from Woking, in 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, as well as b-sides like ‘Liza Radley’ and ‘The Butterfly Collector’.
The Jam broke up at the height of their success, although they never made much impact in the USA, perhaps hindered by Weller’s thick accent. The most unusual aspect of The Jam’s tenure was how young they were. Weller was still 18 when they released 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 tiring of the constraints of The Jam on 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 the list, but there’s an assortment of great tracks here – the brassy ‘A Town Called Malice’, the Northern Soul of ‘Precious’, and the tuneful deep-cut ‘Ghosts’.
#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 were 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 arguably best-known for the acoustic ‘That’s Entertainment’. It’s notable as Paul Weller’s favourite Jam album.
#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.