Nov 08

THE JAM – “Start!”

FT + Popular61 comments • 3,602 views

#465, 6th September 1980

Not everyone in 1980 wanted to break from the past, but “Start!” is more than just recycling – in fact it’s one of Weller’s more experimental hits. The “Taxman” riff holds the track together, taking the place of a chorus, lending beat and muscle to an otherwise piecemeal record. There’s not even an attempt to disguise the source – especially as one of the fragments the riff glues together is a solo lifted nakedly from the same place. Playing this unifying role the “Taxman” lift is working like sampled breaks will come to operate – and in fact the beatwork is the star of “Start!”, those urgent, clipped shakers and brushes upping the track’s momentum considerably.

The record “Taxman” kicks off was the Beatles’ farewell to life as a working band – they’d come as far as they could with the tightness and telepathy the small-group, live-oriented format offered and were getting ready to expand. “Start!” is Weller reclaiming “Taxman” for mod and for small-group pop, a song about the vital power of communication, the magnetism of the tiny gang, the way two minutes can make a lifetime of difference: by the two-minute standard, the track has 14 seconds of flab – probably the second “If I never ever see you” break. Communication, of course, leads to compromise, so lace it with opposition: unite through hate, split immediately, never let us speak of this again (only remember it always). This gives “Start!” a slightly austere, hectoring tone, its compressed fury directed at least a little bit at you for listening to it.

My impression of Paul Weller – at this point anyway – is that he was both deeply conflicted about having become some kind of youth leader but also entirely convinced that nobody else could do it. And he was probably right – all the other candidates would have wanted the job too much. You could imagine someone like Bob Geldof writing a song like “Going Underground” – and probably making a fearful bish of it – but not a song like “Start!”, a record that sounds so angrily uncomfortable in its own borrowed skin.



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  1. 51
    lonepilgrim on 26 Nov 2008 #

    re 48 I’m sure you’re right about how bands grow in opposition to but are inevitably informed by their home towns, although I’m less sure about your last paragraph. I grew up in the New Town of Crawley which spawned The Cure; I now live in Northampton which was developed as a New Town a little later and which spawned Bauhaus. Bromley of course spawned Siouxsie. The dullness of these places seemed to have encouraged a willed exoticism.
    I still cling to my mundanity though, perhaps I’m a late developer…

  2. 52
    Billy Smart on 26 Nov 2008 #

    That oppositional stance must therefore make Simon Reynolds a rocker. Which sort of fits.

  3. 53
    LondonLee on 26 Nov 2008 #

    There does seem to be a big gap between the photos on the inner sleeve of ‘All Mod Cons’ and the outer of ‘Our Favourite Shop’ – the first was then exciting and secret undiscovered stuff for our generation but by the time of The Style Council it did seem a bit like checking the modernist icon boxes of approved taste and reminds me now of how upmarket and pricey Ben Sherman has got with their fancy Carnaby Street store, the walls all decorated with similar iconography. And don’t get me started on the price of a Fred Perry these days.

    I’m trying to write something about the suburbs for my blog at the moment, but from the point of view of a city boy. I had family in Crawley.

  4. 54
    Taylor on 26 Nov 2008 #

    I grew up with all that Mod stuff, which is probably why so much of it irritates me now. Ex-smoker’s intolerance. I also spent most of my teenage years in the Home Counties, lower-middle-class in a Daily Mail world. That probably explains why I have any time for The Jam at all. I think it could be hard to make head or tail of them otherwise.

    The “Our Favourite Shop” sleeve always struck me as a deliberate breaking away from what was perceived as the Jam aesthetic, somewhere inbetween showing off and throwing off the shackles. Plenty in there which would make the average Mod’s hair curl, not least the prominently-placed “gay stuff”. The album, of course, includes “Walls Come Tumbling Down”, probably the most inadvertently hilarious thing Paul Weller ever wrote. Donkey’s carr-OT, etc.

  5. 55
    LondonLee on 26 Nov 2008 #

    I just went and had a look at my ‘All Mod Cons’ inner sleeve and the imagery is a lot thinner than I remembered. Apart from several photos of the band there’s 45s of ‘Road Runner’ by Jr. Walker and ‘Biff Bang Pow’ by The Creation (a-ha!), a packet of Rothman’s (my smoke of choice in 1978), match books from the 100 Club and The Speakeasy, some Union Jacks, a frothy cappuccino (sign of things to come?), a TWA plane ticket to Boston, a folding alarm clock, some photos of London (but not very ‘Mod’ ones – Tower Bridge and Battersea Power Station), a school badge and an old album called ‘Sounds Like Ska.’

    Which sounds a lot when you type it all out like that, but in comparison to ‘Our Favourite Shop’ they seem like tiny clues to something interesting rather than a lifestyle emporium. But I guess in those pre-information age days a single photo could seem like a treasure map.

  6. 56
    Billy Smart on 8 Dec 2008 #

    NMEWatch: 16th August 1980. Charles Shaar Murray;

    “Most of us dishonest hippies up here are seriously fond of The Jam, and ‘Start!’ is certainly what a previous generation would have described as ‘a diamond-hard riffer’ but it’s a far less challenging piece of work than ‘Going Underground’ or ‘Eton Rifles’. That noted, it’s by no means unlovely, and that galvanic bass and drums part that opens and closes the track (lifted straight from The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ – where the torturous, crazed backwards guitar solo has relatives) will launch a million handclaps. This time, what Weller has his mind on is the distance between individuals, and the public gets what the public wants (what you see is what you get). Will deserve its airplay.”

    CSM awards single of the week to Best Friend/ Stand Down Margaret by The Beat. Also reviewed;

    Ian Dury & The Blockheads – I Wanna Be Straight
    Gary Numan – I Die You Die
    U2 – A Day Without Me
    Cliff Richard – Dreamin’
    Johnny Mathis – Three Times A Lady

  7. 57
    thefatgit on 29 Aug 2013 #

    Just last weekend, an army of scooter (the 2-wheeled variety, not the ‘ardkore bosh-merchants) enthusiasts descended on the Isle Of Wight for their annual rally. The report on TV was an eye-opener: 1st generation 60-something Mods, alongside 1st generation 60-something Skinheads, alongside 2nd generation 40-something Mods and Skinheads, alongside 30-something Britpoppers. All united in their love for Vespas and Lambrettas. Quite remarkable, really. I couldn’t imagine any other type of conveyance uniting so many different followers of so many different varieties of music.

  8. 58
    Mark G on 29 Aug 2013 #

    except Eddie Stobart lorries.

  9. 59
    hectorthebat on 27 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 564
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 419
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 25
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 243
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 13

  10. 60
    Larry on 24 Nov 2014 #

    Liza Radley – the first Belle & Sebastian song?

  11. 61
    Paulito on 30 Apr 2015 #

    For a more fleeting but still very effective example of the Jam taking direct inspiration from a ‘Revolver’ track, compare the very end of ‘Going Underground’ with that of ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’.

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