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.