The Genius Of The 7" Singles By The Jam

No band since The Jam have been so prolific in their singles output. They were so good, even the B-Sides could stand alone.
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No band since The Jam have been so prolific in their singles output. They were so good, even the B-Sides could stand alone.

‘And if you feel there's no passion
No quality sensation
Seize the young determination
Show the fakers you ain't foolin'
You'll see me come runnin'
To the sound of your strummin'
Fill my heart with joy and gladness
I've lived too long in shadows of sadness’

Beat Surrender. The Jam. 1982.

Not a bad final call to arms from a 24 year old Paul Weller on The Jam’s final single, and one that indeed never fails to fill my heart with gladness.

……..24!!!

I was in a noisy boozer a few years ago, whilst trying to find a friend in Oxford St; ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ by The Arctic Monkeys came on the jukebox, it cut right through the hubbub, before I’d finished contemplating how much they must regret their choice of name ‘What A Waster’ by The Libertines came on. Another great single from around that time. I spent the next three minutes trying not to think about how dirty Pete Doherty’s hands always seem to be, and the small fame that he’d acquired. Then ‘Strange Town’ by The Jam came on. It was more vital, more urgent, more British, more pure and far better than the two songs before it. It still sounded contemporary, over 20 years after it was released, on a 7” single only, with ‘The Butterfly Collector’ on the b-side.

….. that’s right, the cracking, timeless ‘The Butterfly Collector’ ……on the b-side!

To put such a fine song out as a b-side Weller must have been off his rocker, I’ve lost some hours thinking of it, for any other band that would have been the lead single prior to the release of the new album containing that song. But that wasn’t the way of The Jam. The Jam were a singles band. And no band, before or since, has come close to matching their barrage of magic 45s.

The 7” Single- Two songs, one piece of plastic, bought for one quid. For me, and many others, it was the only religion. I rushed my money to the record shops every saturday. The  7” was what it was about, and The Jam were masters of the craft.

The Jam were a singles band. And no band, before or since, has come close to matching their barrage of magic 45s.

Many Jam fans still put on the kettle and make some tea and bicker about which is the best Jam album…. ‘All Mod Cons’…. ‘Setting Sons’…… ‘The Gift’ . Personally I’d sooner put some joy back in and agree that they are all good in different ways. However, to me, if I had to chose one album by them, the only one that truly reflects the dynamic of that band is ‘SNAP!’ the singles (and selected b-sides) double album released shortly after they split. There is no finer document of how a British pop band should go about their job.

It contains 29 songs. It starts off as a youth explosion and ends no less passionately but with finer crafted songmanship and a bit more soul. Of these tracks 9 were either superb b-sides or band favourites, the other 20 were released as singles, but only 9 of these 20 were ever on any of the bands ‘studio’ albums, less than half, and the only intention of recording them was to release them, as quickly as possible, as singles, rather than recorded for intended inclusion on to a future album. (By the way, all of these singles were released within a period of five and a half years).

It was about putting songs out as stand alone statements, not with masses of production and preparation, but with any guitar and anybody’s drums, with no concern for any long term career goals or revenue streams or album sales, or international success, or commercially syncing the songs to a film or product. When you turned on your tranny radio the tune may have got through for two minutes only but that was enough for you to want to add it to your stash of 7”s.

Record company execs, (the few that are left), once pissing themselves laughing, are now so concerned with commercial sales tactics they must often wake up sweating from this modern nightmare. Planning who they are going to drop from the roster, how they’re going to make the weak get crushed as the strong get stronger. 18 month long global promotional and touring cycles followed by lengthy album recording sessions saps the vitality out of young bands. Worse still is that it creates a debt between band and record company, which then perpetuates the need for more sales, promotion and financial returns on an international level. Personally I’m glad the record companies are fucked.

The Jam were the last great singles band, in the days before bands were hired and fired by record companies concerned only with money. It seemed that the sole objective for The Jam was to write it, record it and bang it out……….and run off home for your tea. The net (accidental) effect of this was that the albums sold anyway, as the fans were obsessed with what was coming next from a band that rarely stopped for breath.

 It seemed that the sole objective for The Jam was to write it, record it and bang it out……….and run off home for your tea.

I’d be curious to know, and I’m sure that not even the band themselves will remember, how long it was between writing a song and having it on a 7” and in the shops. I can imagine that on occasion it was less than three weeks.

I recall seeing, or reading, an interview with Weller in which he said ‘Funeral Pyre’, one of the bands most aggressive and powerful tunes,  was rapidly written and released as a single simply to contrast some of the overproduced and gimmicky stuff he’d seen on Top Of The Pops. He was using his singles as a swift retort to the likes of Shakin’ Stevens and Bucks Fizz just as much as he was to the politicians, the braying sheep on his TV screen. Even with the availability and exploitation of modern technology very few bands have the  bollocks, savvy, or the songs, to do that.

Of course the decision to work like this will have been entirely Weller’s doing. The other two were only ever in his slipsteam. He was the sharp one, all the edginess was down to him, visually, verbally and musically.

I’ve stopped waiting for the quiet life and am now buying more vinyl than ever before. When you’re watching the news and not eating your tea, when you feel there’s no passion, no quality sensation, SNAP! is a dead cert, or if your lucky enough to still own all of their singles, stack them on! What they have said will always remain.

I got a passion from The Jam and the way they put their singles out, and it’s never left me. If only another band would emerge who could show another generation how to master the art of the single….true, it’s a dream, mixed with nostalgia, but it’s a dream I’ll always hang onto, that I’d always run to…..

If you liked this, have a look at these…

The Jam: The Band That Inspired Me To Become A Music Writer

‘The Distance’: The Review That Inspired Me To Become A Music Writer

‘Brown Sugar’: The Song That Inspired Me To Become A Music Writer

‘Seven Nation Army’: The Song That Inspired Me To Become A Music Writer

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