There are better songs by The Jam and there are better debuts. You can work you way through this or you can indulge in All Mod Cons and Sound Affects, which are the two that always show up for me. This is the Modern World is not as good as In the City, but that’s a matter of taste. I’m less enamored with Setting Sons and The Gift, if only because they seem like lost opportunities to me.
There are compilations that are ready-made to bring you the songs that make up their catalog. I had a knock off compilation for years, and I had a mini-LP of their covers. There is a ton of product out there. But, for me, it all comes back to what I think is the greatest greatest hits album of the post-punk era.
Snap is one of those essential items that can dip you into their sound and keep you paying attention (and it deserves its own telling). By the time I start that with In The City and get to Town Called Malice, I’m always bummed because there should have been decades of that stuff. I love Paul’s approach, and I appreciate the Style Council and his solo works, but, damn. It’s hard to not feel cheated.
In the City is one of those neat, perfect things that encapsulates what the whole game was about. Come up with some songs, play them live, and put it on tape. I suppose you could look at the mammoth 1977 box set that came out a few years back and just consider it all the birth of a band you just can’t ignore. after all of the other compilations. I’d be leaving out half the story if I failed to consider the band’s live output, and all it covered a scant six year period of frenzied activity. No wonder Weller ended it all.
I always come back to the classic track Away From the Numbers, which is as good as anything anyone ever did. You can’t ignore how good Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton were, either. No one should minimize the fact that their impact on these breakneck songs was as important as that soulful howl that Weller would emit at all the right times.
All you have to do is write ten songs and stick a serious cover (Slow Down by the great Larry Williams) and then a silly one in there (Batman got on my nerves, he was a fucking asshole), and you’ve got an album. That’s it. And yet, no one has really managed to do it quite like this. The lid is still torn off the place, and there is no Jam to put it back. Now you know why it started and why it ended.