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Oct 08

THE JAM – “Going Underground”/”Dreams Of Children”

FT + Popular86 comments • 4,276 views

#454, 22nd March 1980

Straight in at number one: the public gets what the public wants. “Going Underground”’s arrival at the top is an example of the charts acting justly for once – steady and remarkable improvement from the scrappy punk hand-me-downs of “The Modern World” rewarded. The Jam’s first number one was their best record to date, a distillation of wrath and excitement so potent that it single-handedly justifies the attention paid to Weller ever since. If someone could – even once – produce a record so thrill-powered, it would be irresponsible to take your eye off him, even when his gifts seemed to have calcified forever.

That lifelong attention is probably no more than Paul Weller felt he deserved – the purposefully anthemic “Going Underground” is built on an iron self-confidence. The rest of Weller’s punk-era peers had diversified, looking towards America or Jamaica or further afield still: the Jam had simply put down roots, found the dotted lines joining what happened in 1977 to what had happened in 1965, developing an English rock classicism which helped win them an adoring audience. Their backward-looking tendency is on show in the fine AA-side, “Dreams Of Children”, a well-observed psychedelic pastiche with Weller waking horrified by “this modern nightmare”.

“Going Underground” doesn’t succeed through classicism, though: its triumph is a pop one, all about the surging moment. It’s the way that almost every element of the track is a hook – a slogan, a moment, a chant, a bit of melody. What’s the most memorable thing about it? You could ask five people and get five different replies. The thrilling double acceleration as the first verse finds its feet. The declamatory “the public wants what the public gets”. The harmonies on the chorus. “MAKE THIS BOY SHOUT MAKE THIS BOY SCREAM!”. The way it comes over like a three minute manifesto. “Going Underground” sounds like a record intended to be an event: the market made sure it felt like one.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    mike on 3 Nov 2008 #

    Ever the year-zeroist, I avoided Quadrophenia on ideological grounds: namely, that it was based on a “rock opera” (Gawd help us!) by a bunch of boring old-wave farts.

    Perhaps it’s time I got round to seeing it!

  2. 77

    quadrophenia is better than tommy <— faint praise indeed

  3. 78

    wiki on franc roddam: “best known for the film Quadrophenia and the early reality television series The Family… credited with creating the series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet reflecting his roots in North East England, and devising the format for the television game show Masterchef

    The Family! (that’s the original 1974 one) and Masterchef! All is forgiven

  4. 79
    Colin on 28 Nov 2008 #

    Dreams of Children featured the ending of the song Thick as Thieves played backwards, which appears at the start of the original single track (removed from later releases on compilations) and at the end of the chorus, where some people think it’s Weller and Foxton saying “dreeeeeams”

  5. 80
    punctum on 7 Oct 2009 #

    The name of Ian Page’s group might have summed the situation up, but being a Mod in the mid-seventies was truly a secret affair, about as unfashionable as anyone could get – so no wonder I found it attractive, unlike the feathercuts and flares prevalent everywhere else around me. It felt like something unique to me, my secret pleasure; perhaps the obverse to the love of free jazz – something which, in my world, I and I alone knew about. Nevertheless I had the parka, if not the Vespa, and in those days of pre-punk decadence, the likes of the Who (‘65-7 model) and the Creation seemed like razors of punctum.

    The Jam never really fit in with punk either; witness Weller proclaiming his support for the Tories in the NME to wind up/piss off Strummer. But I loved the suits, the ties, the quicksnap attitude; you only have to delve through contemporaneous TOTP performances by the bearded, seated likes of ELO and Supertramp to judge the never-starker contrast with the Jam’s 900 mph whiplash dervish of a Mod derivé; here was energy, here was life, here was a total fuck-you realism which didn’t make you groan under the scythe of worthy. When “All Around The World” burst into the Top 20 in the summer of ’77 it bore a ferocity and singleminded punch which outdid most other punk hitmakers of the time, though also demonstrated the group’s very palpable musical chops. “A new direction?” Backwards to go into the future? I could, and did, buy into that.

    The second album The Modern World was a too-rushed job with too many duff Bruce Foxton songs, and it already seemed as if they’d burned themselves out. But then they came back in the autumn of ’78 with All Mod Cons, and everyone was forced to sit up and pay attention; delicate ballads (but this was punk!) like “English Rose,” so embarrassing to its author that it was an unlisted extra track at the end of side one, but so needlessly so; and the descent from that tenderness to the brutalist rationalism of “’A’ Bomb In Wardour Street” and “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight,” two stark slaps in the post-New Wave face; unforgiving and condemnatory – unlike the Who, who celebrated London with an uncritical cynicism, Weller never failed to stare the capital straight in its cold face, as much as he worshipped it, taking day trips from Woking as a teenager to tape the sounds of the city and revel in them back in his bedroom at home.

    By 1979 they were established as a solid, if not spectacularly commercially successful, act, though their singles typically peaked at around the #15-16 mark; a secure cult following, but not yet the breakthrough into the mainstream. That latter occurred with “The Eton Rifles” which happened to coincide with the Mod Revival – Page’s Glory Boys at the spearhead, the film of Quadrophenia just released – and which went top three that autumn, a blast of sardonic class rage which arguably cut more deeply in the British youth of ‘79 than “Another Brick In The Wall” because the Jam were so clearly of our time, our generation – Weller only had four-and-a-half years on me, for heaven’s sake! – and we felt they were speaking solely to us, and for us.

    Certainly it is hard here (without getting too personal) how vindicated and triumphant we felt (and there was by now a “we”) when “Going Underground” became the first single by anybody since “Merry Xmas Everybody” to enter the charts at number one. And never mind how we felt; Weller, on tour at the time, burst into tears when he heard the news – seven years of hard work and utter self-belief finally paying off, his group now officially the biggest band in Britain.

    Both Slade and the Jam were on the Polydor label, who clearly knew something about astute marketing; true, there were special gatefold sleeves printed for “Going Underground” and the single was released on a Tuesday rather than the then customary Friday, but the undertow and swelling of support would have guaranteed its victory regardless – “Going Underground” had advance orders of nearly a quarter of a million copies. They had built up their following in the slow-burning, old-fashioned way; and here was their reward.

    It is a nearly frill-free storm of righteous protest, right from the opening staccato tattoo of drums and bass which rapidly ruptures into a fearsome storm of slashing guitar as Weller fulminates actively against the grey standardisation of his world, combining steamroller sarcasm (“People say that I should strive for more/But I’m so happy I can’t see the point”) with harsh declarations of principles (“The public gets what the public wants/But I want nothing this society’s got”) before turning his aesthetic stun guns on the society which doesn’t want him: “You choose your leaders and place your trust/As their lies wash you down and their promises rust/You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns.” And throughout, always the return to the defiant anthemic chorus of “I’m going underground.”

    It’s already intense, but then in the mid-break Weller slowly turns the heat and pressure up even further: “The braying sheep on my TV screen/Make this boy SHOUT, MAKE THIS BOY SCREAM!” as the band roars up into another key; after a short dub-like break, with melodica-like synths and clattering rimshots, the key ascends yet again and the passion becomes bloodied: “Let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrow!” before a reverb of feedback shuts the song down. It was a rallying cry, and Weller knew it; everything this Thatcher world is isn’t the truth – stand up and drown them out. And, despite Weller’s subsequent, problematic relationship with New Pop, this is New Pop in excelsis; attract with a catchy tune, undermine, subvert and rebolster with the message.

    Though nominally a double A-side, “The Dreams Of Children” was rarely played on radio; nevertheless it’s a fascinating variant on a dispossessed urban scenario which isn’t that far removed from Gary Numan’s vision (a comparison I know will make Weller wince) – nonetheless it’s there; “I got a feeling of optimism/But woke up to a grey and lonely picture…/I was alone, no one was there,” though with ominous synths replaced by Foxton’s triplets of dub bass. The track is more restrained than “Going Underground,” and the woozy backwards fadein and fadeout set the picture for Weller’s more extensive adventures in psychedelia later that year, but the rage remains present: “Something’s gonna crack on your dreams tonight,” he repeatedly warns us. There is admittedly a stern and somewhat puritan surface to the Jam’s general approach, which has on occasion tended to turn people off. But as far as we were concerned, they were speaking on our behalf, they inhabited our culture, and “Going Underground” going to number one was rather like “us” going to number one. I still recognise its unalloyed and unapologetic passion; this was life as once I lived it.

  6. 81
    swanstep on 17 Mar 2011 #

    A great record obviously. I don’t have anything to add to the wonderful comments and lead essay, except to observe how miserable it is that the charts so rarely work like this (as effectively Tom begins by noting). In Popular’s present as I write this note (1991), it’ll be as if grunge never existed. Anyhow, agree with:
    9

  7. 82
    Mark G on 17 Mar 2011 #

    Unnoted by wiki, this came with a free live e.p., which obviously won’t have harmed its rapid progress to number 1.

    Especially as it was fairly limited in numbers.

  8. 83
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Dec 2012 #

    And it’s a big well done to Bradley Wiggins, a well-deserved (and in my mind the only really logical) winner of SPOTY. For those of you who are interested, he joins Paul Weller on Boxing day on Radio 2 to spin a few discs beloved by them both. I would then expect one of them to be heading to the Palace in the New Year for a shoulder-tap from Brenda’s sword.

  9. 84
    Erithian on 19 Feb 2014 #

    I was watching a YouTube clip of The Jam on OGWT last night and suddenly realised “Billy Hunt” is really about a minor member of Team GB at the Winter Olympics: “I remember the first day at my job / I didn’t get on too well with the four-man bob”. I’ll get me coat.

  10. 85
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Feb 2014 #

    Talking of the Winter Olympics, it was good to see the Team GB Curling Gals grab a well-earned Bronze, having won the play-off against the Swiss. The men go for Gold in their final tomorrow. Naturally the Swede, like many blokes, has been captivated by our girlie skip, Eve Muirhead and those gorgeous baby blue eyes. Someone in another place commented about Eve’s other talents as a scratch golfer and also as a bagpipe player. “She couldn’t be more Scots if she were deep-fried”, ran the line. I’m afraid that I couldn’t help adding “Eve can pipe in my haggis anytime she liked”.

    Yes, I know…

  11. 86
    hectorthebat on 22 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    PopMatters (USA) – The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared (2003) 88
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 88
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 402
    Freaky Trigger (UK) – Top 100 Songs of All Time (2005) 28
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 51
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 307
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 11
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 44
    Q (UK) – 50 Greatest British Tracks (2005) 16
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 160
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 15
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1980-2004 (2004) 14
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 22
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songsof All Time (2004) 141
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 18
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 2
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 3
    Rockerilla (Italy) – Singles of the Year 7

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