Record Machine: Absolute Beginners/Funeral Pyre by The Jam

This EP is more officially called The Jam, but it is record company Polydor putting two different singles and their B-sides together in one volume. Neither “Absolute Beginners” nor “Funeral Pyre” appear on any of The Jam’s studio albums, but both songs charted at #4 on the UK Singles Chart. The Jam, as an EP, made it to #176 on the Billboard 200.

The Jam EP

Already I’ve said how much of a massive fan I am, but even on a lesser release coming near the end of the band’s existence, they still make me say, Yes. Paul Weller and company, whether they sound more punk or new wave, consistently have something interesting going on.

Inspired by the Colin MacInnes mod subculture novel of the same name, “Absolute Beginners” features the line, “I need the strength to get what I want,” which plays right into both the novel and The Jam’s ongoing themes of speaking up for the underclasses and those who are on the outskirts of mainstream society.

The horns hint at Weller’s soon-to-come band Style Council, as well as The Jam’s last single “Beat Surrender.” It’s an interesting transitory period. This song is not to be confused with the David Bowie song of the same name, although Bowie’s song was written for the film adaptation of the same book. (Even though I also love David Bowie, I think I prefer The Jam’s version. Bowie’s goes on for. ev. errrr, and my love for super-’80s music only extends so far.)

“Funeral Pyre” deals more directly with those in power who work against those below them. In the age of Thatcher, where the power of trade unions and other workers’ benefits programs were greatly reduced, the government presented their policies as being “for the good of Great Britain.”

We feast on flesh and drink on blood
Live by fear and despise love in a crisis
(what with today’s high prices)
Bring some paper and bring some wood
Bring what’s left of all your love for the fire
We’ll watch the flames grow higher!
But if you get too burnt you can’t come back home

And as I was standing by the edge
I could see the faces of those lead pissing their selves laughing
(and the flames grew)
Their mad eyes bulged their flushed faces said
The weak get crushed as the strong grow stronger

The bass line in this is absolutely outstanding, as is the drum solo at the end.

The other three songs are also quite good, and “Disguises” is a cover of The Who song. “Liza Radley” sounds a little different from the rest, but it had a different producer.

If this EP marked the beginning of the end, at least they shot for going out on top.

The Jam EP back cover
The back cover features the artwork and lyrics for both singles, “Absolute Beginners” and “Funeral Pyre.”

SIDE ONE

Absolute Beginners
Tales From The Riverbank

SIDE TWO

Funeral Pyre
Disguises
Liza Radley

Published by

Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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