Sounds

The joy of The Jam’s All Mod Cons

The joy of The Jam’s All Mod Cons
The joy of The Jam’s All Mod Cons (image credit: Polydor/Universal)
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It was probably my first introduction to Mod. Although to me, The Jam’s All Mod Cons was just a brilliant album. And it still is.

It landed in my last year of primary school and just before what was later known as the Mod Revival. Yes, All Mod Cons was my first introduction to anything Mod.

Not that I had a clue what Mod actually was at that age. I’m not sure anyone did at school. Well, there were a few teachers who probably lived through it (unlike us kids), but in 1978 punk was still the prevailing trend.

It seems odd today to think of kids aged 9 or 10 being obsessed with music, not least the movement known as punk. But punk was huge. I even did my school project on punk. I remember passing an exam for an assisted place into public school. At the subsequent interview, I talked to the headmaster there about it. As a result, I didn’t get in. Oh well.

Anyway, as a result of our love of punk, every Saturday we would hike down to town and buy up anything and everything punk-related. Well, as much as we could with whatever pocket money we had. A 7-inch single on a good day in reality. Or maybe a pin badge. Certainly not an album. And definitely not the clothes.

Albums were big purchases. Holiday spending money, birthday or Christmas. Singles were our territory. Although having a big brother meant I did have access to the occasional LP. As long as he was out. Records weren’t for sharing in our house.

So between a posse of us at primary school, we amassed various singles. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Undertones…and The Jam. The Jam was a punk band. They had attitude, they were noisy, they were fast and they were cool. And they regularly appeared on Top Of The Pops (unlike some of the others) so we felt we knew them.

I remember buying News Of The World and later Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, the latter rapidly becoming a school sing-a-long. And then it appeared. The All Mod Cons LP.

As I said, albums never came into my life easily. I remember spending all my holiday spending money on the Clash’s debut album (and perhaps more embarrassingly), Sham 69’s Hersham Boys around that time. But All Mod Cons was a birthday present. Yes, I probably gave up some Action Man accessories or a Subbuteo team for that album. Which at that age was the ultimate sacrifice.

Getting it is one thing, but playing an album wasn’t easy either. With my brother’s record player out of bounds and my ‘hand-me-down’ suitcase player (which spun a selection of old 1960s 45s constantly for months) falling apart, it was left to the family’s trusty radiogram to blast out the sound of ’78.

And it did. A lot. As much as I could get away with in a small terraced house before my dad got back from work. He liked a bit of Frank Sinatra and not much else. He really didn’t like the sound and the profanity of ‘Mr Clean’ as he puffed on his post-work Woodbine. That I do recall. Despite him uttering similar words every 10 minutes in the house. Especially when Top of The Pops was on. I still vividly remember his reaction to Pil’s Death Disco to this day.

Perhaps because it was my first Jam album, All Mod Cons is my definitive Jam album. Yes, you can probably make the case for at least two or three others. And if I was in the mood, I could too. But you never forget your first love. But there might be another reason why I loved All Mod Cons – The Kinks. Or rather, Ray Davies.

Remember that suitcase record player and the old singles? It was a dumping ground for all the 7-inch records no one in the house wanted anymore. The Beatles, The Stones, Walker Brothers, The Hollies and others everyone would rather forget. Yes, stuff like Lily The Pink and the song about the mouse with clogs on. But the most represented act amongst them was The Kinks. I can only assume my mum was a fan for at least a short time. I can’t imagine anyone else buying them.

As a result, The Kinks were embedded in my brain. I was probably the only primary school kid who knew every word of Dead End Street. They were my musical ‘day one’. Then punk happened and those old singles were pushed aside. At least, in the physical sense.

But not my love of The Kinks. And I think that love is what drew me most to All Mod Cons. Well, that and the cover, but I’ll get onto that in a moment.

I knew The Kinks but I didn’t know who Ray Davies was and I had no idea that he wrote David Watts. But there’s no denying that All Mod Cons had something of a Kinks influence. It was the album where Paul Weller and The Jam shifted from the early aggression (although some of it is still present) and moved into the realm of classic British storytelling in song. It was Ray Davies or Lennon and McCartney for a new generation.

The music slowed down a little, the lyrics of each song told the story. Just like Waterloo Sunset or Where Have All The Good Times Gone a decade or so earlier. You listened to the words, you painted the picture in your mind. You knew someone like Mr Clean, you went down that ’Tube Station’ with Weller, you wanted to be mates with Billy Hunt and especially David Watts and you felt the longing and nostalgia of English Rose. It’s a song that still gets me today. Fly is unashamedly pure pop and you really wouldn’t get that from the Damned or The Clash in ’78.

OK, it wasn’t all that like that. No one is calling ‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street a ballad or a Ray Davies pastiche. But you get the idea. It was a significant shift.

It was a musical line in the sand. While the punk movement lumbered on, The Jam jumped off that particular train and went in a new direction. As Weller says in In The Crowd: ‘And everyone seems just like me. They struggle hard to set themselves free’.

It was probably a risk setting themselves free of their peers. I suspect some people would have loved more of the same. They always do. But the years since have shown that Paul Weller is never afraid to take a risk. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But if you stand still, the world moves on without you.

It wasn’t just the music, it was the look too. The cover of All Mod Cons was a triumph of minimalism. It said so much but offered so little visually. A bleak room, parquet flooring and the three band members. And being brought up in a terraced house in Bolton, I knew what ‘bleak’ was.

Bruce Foxton in those black and white shoes and white blazer, Rick Buckler in basketball boots and button-down and Paul Weller at the back in slim blue trousers and white shirt. It really wasn’t punk anymore. It was a laid-back look that was as much a statement as the music. The rear cover with just the instruments even more.

The inner sleeve too is a mix of memorabilia and a hint of the Mod revival just around the corner. It was something you soaked up and stared at for hours. It felt like a mission statement. Well, it would if I knew what one of those was back in the late 1970s.

Alongside the Quadrophenia movie, All Mod Cons was also probably the starting pistol for the Mod revival to go overground. Overnight, everyone at school seemed to have turned their tie ‘skinny side front’ and invested in a Fred Perry, a parka and a plethora of pin badges and patches. A copy of All Mod Cons under the arm finished the look perfectly. People at school knew what you were about.

And at this point, I’d like to say that it was the point where I embraced Mod for life. But to be honest, I didn’t. Like many other provincial kids, I stuck it for a bit, bought some other Mod singles (there’s no denying early Secret Affair is excellent) and eventually drifted off after the movement peaked. What came after did nothing for me.

But I didn’t leave Paul Weller. His music has been a constant in my life and his musical and sartorial transformations have been a fascination throughout subsequent decades. No one has continued to push the boundaries for so many years like Paul Weller. You might not like it all, but that’s not really the point. He could have kept The Jam going forever. But he didn’t. He continues to adapt and push himself and in doing so, maintains an ‘always interesting’ presence in music. If I ever meet him, I’ll tell him just that. After he’s signed my albums, of course.

Mod did come back into my life as the scene became more aligned to what I was about and more in tune with the original 1960s scene. The optimism of the ‘90s threw in some much-needed energy too. In truth, I’d loved the music and clothes bit for years. I just didn’t need the scene bit in my life. Until I did.

One said footnote to this is that I no longer have my original All Mod Cons. It was lent to a mate for ‘taping’ and never came back. Presumed passed onto to another mate, then another, then another, then lost. And every time I play subsequent copies I get slightly annoyed that they don’t have the same scratches and pops as my original LP. You really can’t replicate those. Although I’m sure someone is developing an app somewhere to try.

But even without the marks of age, All Mod Cons remains one of my favourite albums. Probably number one. It’s an album that changed me musically, it is an album I still play regularly and it’s also an album that hasn’t really aged. You could argue that it’s a 1970s album with ambitions to be a 1960s album. But All Mod Cons is far more than that.

It’s the album that confirmed The Jam’s greatness. That they were ready to rise above the ‘70s punk pack and become one of the finest bands the UK has ever produced.

As I said, you could argue that other albums by the band are better. But that’s not the point. All Mod Cons was the album when it all changed. And over 40 years on, this is still a work of art.

David Walker

Of course, every home should have a copy of All Mod Cons., If you haven’t, you can pick it up cheaply at Amazon.

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3 Comments

  1. Beautifully put mate. I saw Mr Weller only last week live at Southend. He put on a fantastic show and his new album Fat Pop is the nearest his solo work has come to rival the superb All Mod Cons.

  2. That is spot on and very familiar. My first copy of All Mod Cons (purchased secondhand for similar reasons to you) was lent to a short term Girlfriend and never came back. I still miss the jump in To Be Someone.

    Classic album, and like you has set the tone for the last 40+ years.

    Cheers

  3. Paul Grange

    Great piece, very reminiscent of my own early teens, and since.

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