5
May 09

THE JAM – “Beat Surrender”

FT + Popular47 comments • 3,493 views

#511, 4th December 1982

Nothing became The Jam so much in their career as the manner of their leaving it. To quit when their cult – and Paul Weller’s icon status – was at its height? Unthinkable. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, it doesn’t seem quite that way – the limitations of the band’s format, the interpersonal stresses that chafed at Weller, the gradual shift in his taste and sense purpose; all clear enough in the band’s music. Their last few singles had been equal parts passion, pastiche and confusion, and the band’s termination was more a declaration of independence.

But the idea of the Jam going out in glory was appealing, and to back it up the band produced this piece of theatre. “Beat Surrender” is as much gesture as song, which is just as well, since as gesture it’s approaching magnificent and as song it’s not terribly good.

The record is staged quite deliberately as a farewell, the final Letter from Paul to the Modernists. By the end it’s deliberately gospelly, almost call-and-response, an embrace of the band’s audience even as the curtains come down. Weller himself sounds audibly more gleeful as the song proceeds and the strings tying himself to punk, rock, Foxton and Buckler snap one by one. It’s the sound of a man hitting escape velocity.

For all its puffing passion, though, “Beat Surrender” is a bit silly. When St Paul intones “Watch phonies run to hide!”, it’s treading a very fine line between stirring and pompous. Like Kevin Rowland or Adam Ant, the lyrics are squarely in manifesto territory – “seize the young determination!” – but they lack the humour of Adam or the wounding self-knowledge of Rowland. Weller – as ever – sounds like he takes himself very seriously indeed: on his best records that gives him a desperate edge, on too many it just means he can’t start the party like he wants to.

6

Comments

1 2 All
  1. 26
    Jonathan Bogart on 7 May 2009 #

    This is very odd. Usually when I disagree with Tom or the collected wisdom of the commenters, I can understand what they’re hearing and see why they hear it that way — and frequently enough my own view is modified by it and my world expands (thanks for reintroducing me to Come On Eileen in just that way).

    But I simply can’t hear “Beat Surrender” as anything but one of the supreme expressions of joy to be had in pop. No doubt my status as an ignorant American contributes to the divide: I don’t have the mod/soulboy context to put Weller in, I don’t know much at all really about the Jam apart from their records, I don’t have any views on what Weller is like as a person, only rarely having encountered him outside the space of a Jam song (the few times I tried the Style Council and his solo material, I heard nothing to encourage me to continue). So I have virtually none of context in which to place it (except for the “farewell single” hook) which many of you have cited in your observations.

    Here’s the context I do have:

    I happened upon the “Greatest Hits” singles compilation at a point when I was interested, based on a previously-established love for the Clash (London Calling) and Blondie (Parallel Lines), in expanding my punk-era library. None of the songs were familiar to me; in America, nobody ever hears the Jam unless they’ve sought them out. So I listened to the compilation, which went in straight chronological order from In The City and The Modern World through to The Bitterest Pill and Beat Surrender. It was not unlike a religious experience.

    The early mod singles were more or less what rock & roll/punk orthodoxy told me was Proper Music. The middle period, with the Ray Davies influences, was what my previous infatuation with the British Invasion told me was Music I Loved. The later funk-and-disco inflected singles were music undreamt of in my philosophy. My musical education had been embarrassingly, even unforgivably white. It took Weller and Foxton and Buckler interpreting Stax, Motown, and Philly through the limited strictures of punk rock for me to understand soul as the lifeblood of human existence it is for me now. As each single moved slowly but inexorably out of the guitar-based lockstep of rock, introducing a groove here, a horn line there, a Hammond organ elsewhere, I felt suddenly liberated. This was clearly, undeniably, GROWTH. A move from rock to soul, from sneering to dancing, was being posited by the Jam as a triumph of the human spirit. It was one of my first tastes of the pop-centric philosophy, and it was sweet. “Beat Surrender” was the culmination of all that, propulsive like the best Jackson Five singles, with a funky disco breakdown in the “young determination” bridge, unapologetic about its horn riffs and backup singers and glossy brio.

    It’s still my favorite Jam song, and I can’t hear it without wanting to dance and sing along throatily; the missing line/chord change noted above is what drags me through the song, never pausing to allow you to get a good look at anything before rushing on, a whirlwind montage of exultation and freedom and, as I said before, joy. (I’m thinking maybe particularly of the fanfare that precedes the final “doubts are cast aside” verse.)

    I don’t generally think ratings are a particularly useful tool, but I don’t think I could ever give it less than a 9, and that would be on a very bad day.

  2. 27
    lonepilgrim on 7 May 2009 #

    thanks for that JB – it’s a refreshing perspective on the band – although I’d like to put in a good word for the Style Council. Fans of the Jam try here: http://www.bigozine2.com/archive/ARrarities07/ARjamdort.html

  3. 28
    adam on 8 May 2009 #

    If you listen to the ‘Jam’ version of ‘A Solid Bond In Your Heart’, which was considered as an alternative last single, they take the vocal bridge from Beat Surrender (“And if you feel there’s no passion…”) and bung it in as a bridge verse there, which always comes as a surprise. I like Beat Surrender a lot, (and I defo think it’s a better final Jam single than Solid Bond would have been, which is Wholly and Entirely a Style Council song, and in a very good way) – I think it’s the end point of Weller reading his sleeve notes and nodding back to Absolute Beginners (the book, not the song) and it really does feel like the end of something, and that matters. I agree with Jonathon Bogart at 26, it’s a 9 for me.

    I’d add, too that if you can find it the gatefold single is really worth it on this one for a couple of really lovely covers – a version of Move On Up which is bursting with life and love and passion, a lovely laid back version of ‘Stoned Out Of My Mind’ and a passable shot at ‘War’. Of course they sound even less like The Jam than Beat Surrender does, but I have more than a feeling that they were essentially Weller plus session men rather than the tender trio themselves.

  4. 29
    Conrad on 8 May 2009 #

    JB that’s a great take on it.

    For me, I didn’t think the move from punk/new wave to soul to put it simplistically worked for The Jam. I don’t think the band grooved. They sounded much more alive and focused with the taut new-wave rhythms of Eton Rifles or Going Underground. Foxton’s bass big and fat, Weller’s vocals rubbing up against the angular rhythm section.

    The 1981 singles were messy and unfocused – Funeral Pyre a contender for the One Love of its era.

    Of course, Weller could do lilting, Ray Davies English balladry very well. “English Rose”, “Tales from the Riverbank” and of the later singles, the swoonsome “Bitterest Pill”.

    But the white soul thing didn’t sit right for me. Probably why I found The Style Council such a dreary experience, although I admired him for taking chances with his music and his image at that point, and loved the Brideshead pastiche video to “Long Hot Summer.”

  5. 30
    Mark G on 8 May 2009 #

    Now, that “Long hot summer” video managed to deflect attention from the lyric, which seemed to be all about his breakup with Gill.

    And so, Radio DJ’s up and down the country would announce the “song about the Long Hot Summer” which is only actually mentioned in passing (literally).

  6. 31
    johnny on 8 May 2009 #

    much like jonathan, i’m an american teenager who had to seek out the jam on my own time and was incredibly happy with what i found. when i was 16 i heard the early stuff and loved it. now it’s the latter half of their career that intrigues me. as no one’s mentioned it yet, i’d like to put in a good word for “The Gift”, their last LP. I think this period (last year of the Jam, first year or so of Style Council) was Weller’s peak, and the bulk of his worthwhile music. Anyone who does “Monday”, “Tales From the Riverbank”, “Bitterest Pill”, “Carnation”, “Solid Bond”, “Long Hot Summer”, and “Paris Match” in the space of two years is obviously on a roll.

  7. 32
    peter goodlaws on 10 May 2009 #

    I think that Rosie’s description about this being “Vaguely Jammy” is right. For me, BS told me that The Jam had run out of steam and indeed jam. This was their “Telegram Sam”, I think. Pretty ropey effort, really and I’m not at all surprised to learn that it was gone in next to no time. Rather like Ricky Hatton when that Filipino lad belted him.

  8. 33
    Chris Brown on 10 May 2009 #

    I’m a bit surprised anybody could fail to notice the word “succumb” considering he even – perhaps uniquely in the history of popular music – pronounces the “B” at the the end. But the verse lyrics are more elusive, I have to admit, and I’d heard my Dad’s copy of the Greatest Hits many a time before I noticed “bullshit”. I’m sure I’ve seen a video somewhere of him miming “Bullfrogs are bullfrogs” but that sounds a little bit too odd for me to believe myself.

    On a general level, I think I’m going to have to follow the consensus and say that this works better as gesture than song: although I do find it a bit odd that such a self-conscious and obviously carefully constructed farewell song fades out. I think the same about the early Style Council singles though (particularly ‘Speak Like A-Child’, as he insists on pronouncing it) he often seemed to be trying a bit too hard to make the point that not being in the Jam meant he could make records that didn’t sound like the Jam. By the time he’d settled down he seemed to have passed his peak.

  9. 34
    Tom on 11 May 2009 #

    Here’s something that reached me via the non-pop half of my infostream:

    http://www.slideshare.net/mobileyouth/understanding-the-youth-culture-code-mods-mobileyouthorg

  10. 35
    Jonathan Bogart on 11 May 2009 #

    Can’t say I’m any the wiser!

  11. 36
    Malice Cooper on 13 May 2009 #

    Rather like the Police, they could record paper and comb and come straight in at number one.

    This is just routine hand-clapping familiarity, almost vulgar and nothing like the music they were capable of.

  12. 37
    James K. on 13 May 2009 #

    Another American here:

    If this song is meant to have a message, what is it? When I first heard it, I found it almost completely indeciperhable except for the refrain and thought perhaps the song was meant as an attack on mindless pop music, chiefly because “succumb” is a word one rarely hears in a positive or even neutral context. After reading the lyrics, I no longer think that was the point Weller was trying to get across, but what was the point? The lyrics still strike me as rather opaque.

  13. 38
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2009 #

    NMEWatch: 20th November 1982, Single of the week from Adrian Thrills;

    “Paul Weller’s decision to split The Jam must be one of the bravest moves a major pop performer has made in ages. The temptation for him to carry on steering them towards the stagnation of middle age must have been strong, and his courage in calling a halt now can only be admired.

    So here we have the final Jam single and a fitting epitaph it is from the Beatley opening chords right down to the neat Peter ‘Punk’ Barrett gatefold sleeve. With all the big guns beginning to flex their musical muscles for a seasonal assault on the charts, ‘Beat Surrender’ already sounds like one of the most powerful contenders for the coveted Christmas number one slot.

    (…) The title song finds them returning to something approaching the fiery flair of their debut album, going out in a brash blaze of glory (…)

    While I stand by all the criticisms I have made of The Jam in the past few years, a single as strong as ‘Beat Surrender’ makes such gripes seem of only nsecondary importance; beneath Weller’s often pious, puritanical public image, there has always burned an upful tide of positive, youthful energy in his songwriting. And while the format of the three-piece rock band has ultimately proven too restrictive for his future plans, the record emphasises the value of The Jam as a vehicle for those songs.

    Succumb to the beat surrender.”

    Also reviewed that week;

    Madness – Our House
    Bananarama – Cheers Then
    Malcolm McLaren – Buffalo Gals
    Culture Club – Time (Clock Of The Heart)
    Adam Ant – Desperate But Not Serious

  14. 39
    James K. on 17 May 2009 #

    Chris Brown: This song was on VH1 Classic’s 120 Minutes today, and yes, he said “bullfrogs,” albeit with a Jagger-on-Ed-Sullivan-like wince.

  15. 40
    thefatgit on 1 Dec 2009 #

    I had a soft spot for The Jam. However I was strangely unmoved by their decision to split. Maybe it was their fans, that made me think “you’ve had it coming”. Their unflinching loyalty to The Modfather was admirable, but Beat Surrender was no Eton Rifles or Going Underground, yet they still lapped it all up despite the noticeable dip in quality. I just couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm to buy this as I had with other Jam singles. For some forgotten reason I avoided the albums. So it seemed only right at the time for them to call it a day. I still chuckle to myself, when I recall the reaction of a particular Jam fan when he saw that first Style Council video;
    “Oh no! Weller’s gone all arse-bandit on us!”

  16. 41
    JetGloBoy on 9 Apr 2010 #

    Having read all of the above posts, I would argue that there’s not a great deal of stuff Weller wrote post ’79 that many could take issue with. Even album filler tracks were of such high quality and production (once Weller started to exude his influence over the mixing desk and learnt the art of the overdub) that they could have been released as singles and given most ‘pop’ of the time a run for it’s money. The Gift still ranks as one of my own all time favourite albums. I just failed to see how having released an album with the seminal ATCM thereon, as well other now much-overlooked gems such as Running on the Spot and Ghosts, the well(er) ran dry. I honestly believe that the Jam version of Solid Bond SHOULD have been the last single because it at least sounded like them and had some balls!!! Unfortunately, Beat Surrender sounded exactly like what it was. A self-effacing, cobbled together climb-down, with excessive ‘soul-boy’ piano. After capturing the zeitgeist so perfectly in songs that still resonate today, it could (and should) have been great. We (as the record buyers and gig attenders) deserved at least that. It should have all ended with a bang. Unfortunately, Weller thought differently. Ultimately the yearning for a wedge haircuit, pastel clothing and taking a pickaxe to his career was too much for him…

  17. 42
    Brendan on 30 Sep 2012 #

    Didn’t Weller do this on TOTP with just a girl singing with him? Who was she?

  18. 43
    Lazarus on 1 Oct 2012 #

    Without looking it up, I’m pretty sure it was Tracie Young, who also co-vocalised on the first Style Council single ‘Speak Like a Child’ (emphasis on the ‘a’) and went on to have a few solo hits starting with ‘The House that Jack Built.’ She seems to have disappeared after recording Elvis Costello’s rather lovely ‘I Love You when you sleep.’

    Incidentally, #31 is spot-on I think and I would also add ‘Ghosts’ to that list. Makes me want to dig The Gift out again actually.

  19. 44

    Yes, she was a featured artist of Weller’s own signing, wasn’t she? His first signing? All I recall otherwise is that she had very big eyes. #professionalcriticreallypayingattentionthere

  20. 45
    Lazarus on 1 Oct 2012 #

    Signed to Respond Records, yes. Along with the Questions, and no-one else that I can recall. What I remember is her really big fringe (a “soul-boy”/Princess Di job also sported by Hazell Dean) so I’m surprised you noticed her eyes. Wiki states that she’s been a radio presenter in Essex and the East Midlands for the last 15 years or so, so she did disappear from about 1986-97, presumably starting a family – which was long enough for the music press to forget about her.

  21. 46
    wichita lineman on 1 Oct 2012 #

    And the Dolly Mixture, whose influence was huge on mid 80s indie and, ultimately, riot grrrl. Two singles on Respond including their best, Everything And More in ’82.

  22. 47

    The eyes are the window to the soulgirl.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page