Record Machine: In The City by The Jam

I woke up with the Paul Weller song “From The Floorboards Up” stuck in my head, and it felt like as good a sign as any to talk about his old band in this week’s column.

The Jam - In The City

Previously, I’ve talked about two other releases from The Jam — Funeral Pyre/Absolute Beginners and All Mod Cons — but In The City is the first one I purchased. Finding the band’s albums in area record stores felt lucky, perhaps in part because they never had the same success in the US as they did in the UK. And where they did have larger success in America has not been any of the places I’ve lived, but luckily a retro games/toys and record shop in Spokane, Washington had In The City, and I snatched that right up.

Released in 1977, In The City is The Jam’s first album, and it’s much more punk than some of their later releases. Paul Weller was only 19 at the time of its debut, and the band were fortunate enough to get an opening spot on tour with The Clash. The opening song, “Art School,” reminds me quite a bit of The Clash:

Young words are mumbled, they don’t always last
It’s up to us to be sure they understand
Who makes the rules that make people select
Who is to judge that your ways are correct
The media as watchdog is absolute shit
The TV telling you what to think
Anything that you wanna do, anyplace that you wanna go
Don’t need permission for everything that you want
Any taste that you feel is right
Wear any clothes just as long as they’re bright
Say what you want,
‘cos this is a new art school

Fuck. Yes.

Like any good band, listening to The Jam makes me want to properly learn a(nother) instrument. They inspire the creation of art that does not give a shit whether you like it or not; it’s here to make a point. Even the absence of a point is still a point.

Paul Weller writes most of the songs for the album, although they do cover the ’60s Batman theme and the Larry Williams tune “Slow Down,” which has also been covered by, among others, The Beatles early in their career.

The Jam - In The City (inner sleeve)

Bits of this album remind me of Elvis Costello, who released My Aim is True that same year. I like Elvis Costello (who has also covered “Slow Down”), but I love The Jam, and though I’d have to do more comparative listening to say for sure, I think it’s because The Jam were hoping to inspire change. Costello came off a bit more resigned and misanthropic, and while there is a place for that, I’m going to choose idealism over pessimism almost every time.

These are just impressions I have between the two, of course. Weller isn’t immune to pessimism, and I could be wrong about Costello, but we’ll talk about him more in depth another time.

In The City is the sort of album that could make one go on at length about each song, but we’ll finish this particular love letter with the following:

Please tell me if my philosophy’s wrong
I’ve got to know the truth
I don’t mean to offend anyone but
You know it’s something that I do

You know it’s something that I do,” — To use the modern tumblr parlance (that is to say, the young idealist’s parlance), I know that feel.

The Jam - In The City (inner sleeve 2)

Side One

Art School
I’ve Changed My Address
Slow Down
I Got By In Time
Away From The Numbers
Batman Theme

Side Two

In The City
Sounds From The Street
Non-Stop Dancing
Time For Truth
Takin’ My Love
Bricks and Mortar

The Jam - In The City (back cover)

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.

3 replies on “Record Machine: In The City by The Jam”

I was talking about the punk attitude. The scene, the way of dressing, being violent and misogynistic and calling it edgy are all what I think of when I think of punk. I like the classic ‘punk’ bands like the Clash, the Ramones and the Dead Kennedys but I don’t appreciate the punk attitude. Frankly the pejorative makes more sense to me than the positive label.

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