Monday, May 19, 2008

TVD's Wellerweek | Day One

Rarely does a day go by without an email from my pal Noah with the day's Paul Weller news and updates. As the emails came in heralding Weller's 50th birthday, I wrote him back, "Y'know...I have thought..." And a theme week was born. So, take it away, Noah:

Paul Weller turns 50 on May 25th. To honor the man, known by many as the Modfather, The Vinyl District is devoting the entire week to celebrating the extraordinary oeuvre of this music legend. Over the course of a 31-year recording career Weller has been the creative force behind two of the most important bands in British history, The Jam and The Style Council, while as a solo artist, his albums have topped the UK charts twice. The range and diversity of styles in his musical output is simply staggering – from punk to funk, jazz to rock, new wave to folk, and everything in between – making it impossible to categorize or classify Weller. Nevertheless, as a songwriter, Paul Weller ranks among the greatest in British history, while his voice has gotten deeper and more soulful with age. Indeed, no less a figure than Joe Strummer called Paul Weller “Britain’s number one soul singer.” As we look back and listen to selections from his body of work this week, we also look forward with anticipation to the release of his twenty-first studio album, a double LP, titled 22 Dreams (Universal Records), on June 2nd (Yep Roc on July 22nd in the US). Described as his most eclectic and accomplished record to date, Weller has stated that he wanted make something really special, “an album to be listened to in one sitting, in the same way that Pet Sounds or Sgt Pepper were.” Can hardly wait!

Born in working-class Woking, Surrey, England, Paul Weller formed The Jam with his school mate Steve Brookes in 1972. By October 1976, when The Jam famously set up their equipment in London’s Soho Market on a Saturday morning to play to a crowd, who included The Clash, the band had become a three-piece featuring Weller on guitar, Bruce Foxton on bass, and Rick Buckler on drums. Polydor signed The Jam to a contract in early 1977 and they recorded their first album that spring. A blend of R&B and punk, In The City was released on May 20, 1977. The title track selected below bursts with a raw energy, infectious drum beat, and lyrical content celebrating youth, delivered with a searing vocal by the 19-year old Weller. I get pumped up every time I hear this 2 minute-20 second gem.

Of course in those days bands weren’t given a year or two to develop follow up material to their debut records. Polydor wanted another album right away. As the band’s primary lyricist, Weller was hard pressed to come up with songs for The Jam’s hastily recorded second album, This Is The Modern World, released in November 1977. At the time the music press generally criticized the album and it stalled at number 22 on the UK charts, but in retrospect, This Is The Modern World is much better than its initial appraisal, despite some shoddy production values. Below we have “Life From A Window” from this album. I dig the lyrics: Up here I can see the world
/Ooh, sometimes it don't look nice - That's OK. Musically, I also think the sound of the song signals the direction in which The Jam would subsequently move. All things considered, 1977 was a pretty amazing year for Paul Weller. Two albums out at the age of 19! The Jam also played over 115 shows that year, getting kicked off or quitting The Clash’s White Riot Tour after only 3 gigs and touring the US for the first time.

1978. Another series of live dates in London and a spring tour of America supporting Blue Oyster Cult, of all bands. A disaster, as BOC fans booed The Jam off the stage. Then Polydor wanted another album. The problem, however, was that Paul Weller was suffering from a bout of writer’s block. The band delivered the demos for third album All Mod Cons with most of the songs written by bassist Bruce Foxton. The company rejected these songs. To clear his head, Weller moved back home to Woking. This would turn into something of a pattern for Weller in the years to come. Whenever he went through creative droughts or experienced prolonged periods of self-doubt he would return to his roots to draw inspiration from working-class Woking or the pastoral landscape of the Surrey countryside. Thus rejuvenated and inspired, Weller came back with his best batch of songs to date. Released on November 3, 1978, All Mod Cons soared to number 6 on the UK charts and was a critical triumph for the band and Weller. Tapping into the style of one of his heroes and major influences, Ray Davies, the songs are English to the core with sharp, insightful lyrics that show maturity well beyond his 20 years. Indeed, in my opinion, All Mod Cons is The Jam’s masterpiece, comparable with The Clash’s London Calling as the best album of the era. Choosing just three songs to represent this LP is difficult. “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” tells the story of a guy being attacked in the London Underground by thugs and is Weller’s critique of the rise of right wing movements and escalation of violence in late-70s Britain. It was released as a single and went to number 15. “In The Crowd” sees Weller commenting on the apathy of the masses and the stupefying nature of the modern world, suggesting there is a media and government conspiracy to keep everyone from enacting change. The song’s got a great psychedelic ending with backwards guitar sounds and Weller softly chanting “Away From The Numbers” a song from their first album. A few years ago “In The Crowd” returned to Paul Weller’s live sets – to the delight of everyone in the crowd! The final track selected from All Mod Cons is Weller’s first acoustic ballad, “English Rose.” The lyrics to this song were left off the album’s sleeve as Weller felt the words did not stand up without the music. A beautiful track, “English Rose” occasionally also gets a live airing by Weller these days.

The Jam - In The City (Mp3)
The Jam - Life From A Window (Mp3)
The Jam - English Rose (Mp3)
The Jam - In The Crowd (Mp3)
The Jam - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (Mp3)

(Release dates, chart positions, and tour info gathered from The Jam's Direction, Reaction, Creation)