21
Nov 08

THE JAM – “Start!”

FT + Popular61 comments • 4,085 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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Comments

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  1. 1
    rosie on 21 Nov 2008 #

    The record that Taxman wasn’t only a farewell to the Beatles as a live band – they’d been winding that down for a while and arguably it was Rubber Soul that began that process. The same record ended with a hello to the already-legendary Beatles moving into ground previouly untrodden (except by some very esoteric creatures who were a long way from the mainstream). A move that would resonate for many years to come.

    I first heard this on the jukebox of a pub in Anlaby (the name of which escapes me but the name Red Lion rings bells). My first thought was that this was an outtake of Taxman – was Weller appropriating a chunk of my youth deliberately or was is a My Sweet Lord moment? There’s another band to come, of course, that I thought were Beatles outtakes when I first heard them, and were also responsible for one track that it surprises me was never the subject of litigation by Mr Ray Davies.

    Anyway, this never did much for me and when I try to recxollect it without actually playing it, I segue into Taxman itself. The real thing doesn’t hold up against that seminal track and that – stealing a bit of my youth without enhancing it – was one of two counts on which it irritated me at the time. The other, I seem to recall, is that it denied Stevie Wonder yet another number one. (with respect to the bunny, he’ll get one and a half in time, neither being fitting monuments to the great man, and we’ll see a couple of his songs mangled before the end.)

    No more than 4 from me I’m afraid.

  2. 2
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 21 Nov 2008 #

    my hostility to the jam had by this time plateaued at world-historical levels of silly pathology — so i was cross he was jumping backwards, jumping backwards to the beatles, jumping backwards to the WRONG beatles (“taxman” is one of my least favourite beatles songs, content-wise and soundwise) and etc etc… i was also profoundly out of sympathy with the idea of small-group rock music at this date, it was the PAST and i was all about the FUTURE

    as with bono, my main fascination with weller these days is why he rubs me up so badly the wrong way — i find it worryingly hard to give him the beneift of the doubt; tom’s is a nice and a smart and a generous reading of this song; i wonder if i would have countenanced it in 1980, if i;d read someone making this argument

  3. 3
    Tom on 21 Nov 2008 #

    Haha my reading of “Start!”* was a little bit of a tweak at you Mark in that I was trying to locate it in a Sinkerian punk tradition ;)

    I like “Taxman” a lot more than I should given the “I’ll tax your feet” lyrics. I like it more than this actually.

    *title edited to make comment non-gibberish

  4. 4
    mike on 21 Nov 2008 #

    As far as I was concerned, and regardless of Weller’s actual intentions, “Start!” was about an urgently snatched one-night stand. (By this stage, I was big on twisting lyrics to fit my personal emotional landscape.) Consequently, I loved it to pieces, and still do – not least for the “See you! see you!” in that far from flabby second break, where the backing vocals mockingly imitate a bright conversational tone.

    Also, a big improvement on “Taxman”! If only all chart-topping British bands could have paid homage to the Beatles with similar skill…

  5. 5
    Tom on 21 Nov 2008 #

    I think it works fine as being about a one-night stand, too – albeit with slightly grim grudge-fuck overtones I guess.

    This isn’t the only “Taxman” tribute of course – Cheap Trick’s “Taxman, Mr. Heath” qualifies, though not musically.

  6. 6
    Conrad on 21 Nov 2008 #

    Not an ounce of fat on “Start!”

    2 and a bit minutes of compressed, economical, tight playing and arranging. Sure, it’s a brazen steal from Harrison’s self-pitying drone, and an improvement.

    If you’re going to nick from the Beatles do it with such self-confidence and swagger that you pull it off. I don’t think there was anything more complicated behind this then Weller having a mid-period Beatles phase, listening to “Revolver” endlessly and being inspired/enthused to create “Start”!

    It’s a cracking tune, and brings its own twist to “Taxman” with the “Will I ever see you again” break, the sort of interlude Syd-era Floyd might have recorded.

    The accompanying album, “Sound Affects” is terrific – the one Jam album I return to the most.

    A 9 for me.

  7. 7
    David Belbin on 21 Nov 2008 #

    I first heard this before release at a gig at St George’s Hall in Blackburn and may have had the honour of giving the songs its first review – in a piece for the short lived ‘New Music News’ edited by Giovanni Dadomo (to my shame, this was a scab operation put out during the music papers strike). So I was probably the first person to make the obvious ‘Taxman’ link in print, a connection that has always prevented me from taking the song too seriously. Sadly, I misheard Weller’s introduction, so referred to the song in the review as ‘Stopped’!

  8. 8
    Erithian on 21 Nov 2008 #

    Being perhaps a bit of a late developer in some respects, I’d only just that summer got around to getting a copy of “Revolver”, and although the majority of the tracks on the album were familiar I hadn’t heard “Taxman” previously. So hearing that for the first time in pretty much the week “Start” was released, there was a bit of an “Aha!” moment there. It wasn’t all that long since George Harrison had been taken to the cleaners re “He’s So Fine”/”My Sweet Lord”, so you wonder whether there was some temptation for George to recoup some of the money (he’d just ploughed a fair amount of wodge into “The Life of Brian” so he could presumably have done with it!)

    The record itself is short, to the point, with plenty of aural highlights (the drum roll leading back into the riff; the snarl on “it will be e-NOUGH!”) though not in the same class as some of their earlier and later stuff, still a Good Thing to have at number one.

    Re the lyrical theme, I think it was in the Kutner/Leigh book I saw the theory that “it’s not important for you to know my name… etc” was a principle of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, which would put this in a select and classy group of number ones based on said conflict.

  9. 9
    Conrad on 21 Nov 2008 #

    Two records in this week’s Top 10 for the star of the Big Time – Sheena E!

    I’d be fascinated to see that doc again. I’m sure the music business of 1980 would reveal itself as a quaint cottage industry in comparison to today’s internet-befuddled monoliths.

  10. 10
    LondonLee on 21 Nov 2008 #

    This is where we found out how many Jam fans had heard ‘Taxman’ before and round my way the answer was: none of us. At least not until our 60s-loving (but no Jam fan) mate Martin took us round his house after school one day and played us ‘Revolver’. Personally I was a little shocked but didn’t care too much (The Pistols had done the same thing to Weller after all) but some of my friends were outraged that their God Paul would do such a thing.

    If you think of it conceptually, “Start!” is rather a Pop Art experience down to the exclamation mark in the title, so you could say that Weller was doing a bit of Warhol-esque appropriation.

    My feelings toward this are a bit complicated, it’s never been one of my favourite Jam singles (I prefer the b-side ‘Lisa Radley’) and some of the lyrics are a bit clunky (“feels with a passion called hate” is very Sixth Form) but while I think ‘Taxman’ is a better song this is a better record and Bruce and Rick punch much harder as a rhythm section.

  11. 11
    rosie on 21 Nov 2008 #

    conrad @ 9: Funny you should say that – the two lasses from Human League were on Woman’s Hour this morning, talking about how life is for them now. They sounded like a couple of middle-aged Sheffield housewives, and that appears to be exactly what they are. It was quite refreshing really.

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 21 Nov 2008 #

    This is a song for which I feel more admiration than affection. The economy of the song works in it’s favour. I admire the way that Weller revisits a less popular version of the Beatles’ legacy and folds it back into the contemporary mix – perhaps reminding those spiky postpunk guitarists that there wes a precedent for their sound. On the other hand it seems typical of Weller at his worst that he is trying to revive a style rather than forge a ‘new’ one of his own. Shouldn’t Mods look forward not back?

  13. 13
    johnny on 21 Nov 2008 #

    Tom, I agree wholeheartedly with your interpretation of this one. It definitely was a pretty radical departure for Weller, especially coming after the traditional, overblown Setting Sons.

    I think it would be a mistake to characterize this as merely a knock-off of “Taxman”. I’ve always viewed it mainly as an experiment in songwriting and song structure that fits in rather nicely with the Pop Art motif of the Sound Effects era. “Start!” is basically a sort of readymade object created from a mould of “Taxman”. As a cockeyed analogy, think of “Taxman” as a waffle iron and Weller’s initial song as the batter. We know what the resulting form will be, but a lot depends on how the batter was made to begin with. I’d give it a 9 in theory, but I think you’re right to score it a 7 in actuality.

    Also, is this the first Jam single with a horn section?

  14. 14
    Marshmallow Hamilton on 22 Nov 2008 #

    From one con-artist to another.

    As far as I know, My Sweet George never sued Weller over this. Had but he had. But the liberals’ favourite freedom fighter was, of course, out of reach of any justice even for nicking a riff. The kids had their pied piper, ralling over Thatcher and racists and cabbages and kings, and he was wise and all-seeing and most of the piper’s kids had never heard “Taxman” anyway and those who had or later did hear it hid in denial. So Weller’s a thief (“and what you give is what you get”). But also the ultimate hoodwinker. True, he once promised much and I too was a fan, if never one of the piper’s kids. Any noticeable voice for radical politics and opinion I will listen to and encourage. But then came the betrayal. The angry young man turned smartly on a sixpence and Weller’s legacy is now just as tarnished as the great actor Blair’s. As for “Start”, well let’s just say that it didn’t and part friends.

  15. 15
    peter goodlaws on 22 Nov 2008 #

    Not as good as “Going Underground” and I don’t really know what Paul Weller is trying to say. Just meeting some girl and saying two minutes is enough or at least a start. Hardly calling the youth of England to arms. But anything by the Jam is ace as far as Im concerned and so what if the riff is nicked from an old beatles record from the history books? George nicked my sweet lord from the yanks as the person at no 8 says so why persecute Weller? And I don’t understand Marshmallow H at no 14 saying Weller has betrayed. Does he really expect an old bloke to still be banging on about bollocks like revolution nearly 30 years later when he’s old and shrivelled up and only interested in putting the cat out before going to bed in pyjamas?

  16. 16
    Mark G on 22 Nov 2008 #

    Does anybody remember an advert for a Six Minute version of this?

    I sent off for it, and got

    Side 1: Start (6 mins), basically, the single take, twice over, edited together.

    Side 2: “My Generation” (5.30) the Who single, similarly edited together.

    Rip-off? Some years later, I sold it on e-bay with an accurate description and it sold for a few bob.

    Still….

  17. 17
    dickvandyke on 22 Nov 2008 #

    Great work Tom. Thank you.

    I remember compiling a list of the best Jam songs and I think ‘Start’ came out at No 30.

    As with so much, it was about the TIME as much as anything else. I was 17, it was late summer, the weather was warm, the Fred Perry v-shaped and my Easy jeans tight – with even a few pound notes in the pocket. My chips were hot and the wine was sweet. Girls were finally, finally, a part of my life. (Most of them like the b-side’s Liza Radley).

    Like Lee (at 10) and his mates, for all my supposedly shrewd young music know-how, in 1980 I didn’t know ‘Taxman’. Nor did I know most of the large ‘nods’ which Weller had Artfully Dodgeringly appropriated. Rosie (at 1) alludes to Ray Davies. There are a dozen examples Rosie, but perhaps you’re thinking of The Kinks ‘Shangri-La’ alongside Weller’s ‘slippers’ contribution at the end of Smithers-Jones?

    ‘Start’ was always going to be a Number One; as would any track from the golden trio riding the crest of a wave.
    For all that, I’d agree with 7/10 for the track … but 10/10 for simply being there with it.

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 22 Nov 2008 #

    There was a piece by Steve Sutherland in, I think, Vox at the time of the release of the Jam box set in 1997, when he argued that this was the precise moment when popular music became retrograde and insular, recyling the past rather than attempting to convey the present and invent the future. A tendancy that surely reaches its apogee in Oasis’ vast Knebworth shows of 1996 when they were supported by The Bootleg Beatles, covered ‘I Am The Walrus’ and then played the original recording of ‘Hey Jude’.

    I do really like this, but he did have a point. Weller’s perpetual surliness here works as a barrier for this listener. In the great Jam singles up to this point its been very clear what he’s been angry about, and his targets have been spot on. In this song it just feels like a habitual bad mood vented onto a bystander, and diminishes the clipped and modernist thrill of the music. (As a song, it works rather better in the context of ‘All Mod Cons’ than it does as a single)

    7 is probably about right. The soul-deadening sensation of listening to proper geezer music, with all that implies, makes it a sour experience.

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 22 Nov 2008 #

    Seven-year old Billy enjoyed the mod stylings of this, but found it to be small beer after ‘Ashes To Ashes’

  20. 20
    LondonLee on 23 Nov 2008 #

    Billy, ‘Start!’ was on ‘Sound Affects’ not ‘All Mod Cons’ – unless you were making some really clever point that eludes me.

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 23 Nov 2008 #

    Ooops, sorry! (Its always the obvious facts that I get wrong – not the stuff that has to be looked up…)

  22. 22
    Martin Skidmore on 24 Nov 2008 #

    The thing that always put me off this was a feeling that Weller timed the word ‘start’ really awkwardly, as if he was nervously thinking “must nail this, hit it at just the right moment…”

    I didn’t recognise its source – I hated the Beatles then even more than I do now, so knew almost nothing beyond what you can’t help knowing.

  23. 23
    Lena on 24 Nov 2008 #

    I like this song, heard it for the first time not too long ago. A direct statement to the listener, from the singer. A wall (ahem) knocked down.

    And it’s better than the song it was obv. inspired by.

  24. 24
    pjb on 24 Nov 2008 #

    This is a complete blank. I’m sure I can recall pretty much every track on this list from here on in, regardless of like/dislike, but I have absolutely no idea what this sounds like. I must have completely tuned out, and have never been confronted with it since.

    In a way not completely surprising, given a dislike of Weller in all of his incarnations, and a failure ever to really bother engaging with The Beatles as pop canon. But still, to have completely missed this makes me feel something of a failure in terms of this exercise.

    Hopefully back on track for the next one….

  25. 25
    AndyPandy on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Has anyone mentioned the significance of the Mod revival in the Jam’s chart performance suddenly going through the roof from 1979.Obviously that was the year when the Mod revival first went overground and suddenly Eton Rifles had put the Jam in the top 5. But it was from about 1980 to 1982 when it got really big and surely no significance that then their singles were often Number Ones. I’d say that their retention of a general rock fanbase plus the addition of thousands of Mods made the difference from them going from mid league in sales to suddenly becoming as massive as they were by this time.

  26. 26
    Taylor on 25 Nov 2008 #

    DE-LURKING WITH DRUNKEN, RAMBLING POST: BEWARE

    I don’t much like The Jam, but I find them fascinating, since they fail – aesthetically – in almost every respect, but there’s a sense in which that doesn’t seem to matter. For example: in some ways Weller is the worst lyricist in history, pretentious in the truest (pejorative) sense, fired up with some self-righteous urge to communicate his useless, commonplace confusion, making a fool of himself technically with that mangled poesy, all those malapropisms. The music is hilarious, too, if you’re feeling cruel enough – a genuine (if minor) talent, rowing with one oar. Bursting with real Surrey passion, unable to say or do or feel anything new; a victim of the English class system in ways he would never fully comprehend. The desperation in Weller’s face and voice and songs is never less than laughable, because it’s so hamfisted (that pugilistic huff-and-puff = a raging inarticulacy). But there’s a vulnerability about him, too (not least because he’s aware that his pedestal is preposterous), which adds a certain poignancy to all this heat and lack of light. It makes it possible to enjoy these records… in a way that is perhaps patronising, in as much as you’re viewing The Jam from above, but is still genuine. They make me think of Aylesbury, Stevenage, Bedford; teenage wasteland and all that. What I’m saying, I suppose, is that I kind-of like The Jam in the same I way I really, really like Marine Girls, but I have to scale a wall to get there. I quite enjoy scaling walls, sometimes; I suppose a few people here do too. At least it gives me a way in to songs like “Burning Sky”, which I enjoy greatly.

    “Start!” is possibly their best single, anyway. The “Taxman” riff does work more like a looped sample than a lift, and while he may not have realised it, this is the most radical thing the un-radical Weller ever did on record. There was once a great post on Popular re. “Satisfaction”, about how one tiny touch – the syncopation between Richard and Wyman’s almost-identical riffs – created the groove and made the record move. “Start!” removes the groove from the “Taxman” riff – the original has a pregnant pause just before the last note, which disappears in Bruce Foxton’s funkless fingers – and the result sounds more like a two-step than psychedelic Wilson Pickett. With those lurid, drawling Revolver guitars draped across this oompah rhythm, “Start!” sounds slightly alien, a fogged/disturbed memory of The Beatles, and is in a strange way less like pastiche than anything else Weller ever recorded. He’s suddenly doing something interesting with his influences, albeit by accident.

    It’s still a shame he had to clog it up with more of this vague POW! / do-you-know-what-I-mean-brother / sub-pop-art “commitment” to some vague “vision” of… something-or-other. This non-specific call-to-ACTION! business was always a con (although it took me years to notice), another way for people to reject or despise the genuine possibilities of life in favour of endless hanging-on for something they can’t even define (cf Dexys: “Music, I dunno… films… something special perhaps”), a way for people to end up lonely and bitter and uncomprehending. The only place for this hungry, hysterical vagueness is in POP, where gaping holes in “the message” become sockets for your own neuroses and lusts and obsessions and rearranged priorities – The Jam were never really POP. Not really. Only in the sense of selling a connection. But while the Rollers / Osmonds girls can look back and smile, because their mad love taught them something (strengthened and augmented them), I suspect Jam fans’ nostalgia is always painful, in a way. All those possibilities left unfulfilled! Whatever they were.

  27. 27
    Taylor on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Why am I “FT’s Taylor”, by the way? I logged in as instructed – you never said it meant being swallowed by the corporation.

  28. 28
    rosie on 25 Nov 2008 #

    HELP!

    I’ve lost my RSS FT-wide comments feed. The main entries feed is still here but I can’t find the comments. Anybody seen it lying about?

  29. 29
    peter goodlaws on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Taylor. We all belong to Alastair Darling now, mate!

  30. 30
    Mark G on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Top Marks to Taylor, btw!

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