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May 09

THE JAM – “Beat Surrender”

FT + Popular51 comments • 6,520 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.

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Comments

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 35
    Jonathan Bogart on 11 May 2009 #

    Can’t say I’m any the wiser!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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!”

  11. 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…

  12. 42
    Brendan on 30 Sep 2012 #

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 47

    The eyes are the window to the soulgirl.

  18. 48
    hectorthebat on 2 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 22
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 19
    Rockerilla (Italy) – Singles of the Year 3

  19. 49
    Larry on 28 Dec 2014 #

    I far prefer the TOTP mix from YouTube to the released one, which sounds murky to me.

  20. 50
    phil6875 on 15 Apr 2015 #

    Erithian @21 – ‘Like many Jam songs from their peak era it was in and out of the chart very quickly, going 1-1-2-10 and only seven weeks in the top 40 in all.’

    According to an article on Wikipedia ‘Beat Surrender’ wasn’t even in the Top 50 best selling singles of 1982. The other No.1 that missed the Top 50 was ‘Happy Talk’.

  21. 51
    Dave G on 11 Aug 2015 #

    Beat Surrender was a superb song for The Jam to finish on in December 1982. It really is Paul Weller saying to the fans ‘Over to you guys now.’ Strangely, no video was ever made for this song.

    I’ve been a Jam fan for 25 years or more but like many, was too young to see them live. I’ve seen Bruce Foxton in From The Jam with Russell Hastings though – and briefly Rick Buckler. The vibe is much better at their gigs than all the Paul Weller solo shows I’ve seen. Sorry if that upsets the Weller diehards!

    After Beat Surrender, I really think Bruce and Rick should have continued under a different band name. Adding Jimmy Edwards on guitar – he was also a very under-rated songwriter in my opinion – probably would have meant more from them in the 1980s. When this trio finally teamed up briefly in 1985 as ‘Sharp’, the musical landscape had changed and the rollover effect from The Jam had disappeared.

    I also think Bruce and Rick have had a hard time over the years. Neither were the songwriter that Paul was – fair enough – but people forget that Bruce had awful marketing from Arista Records in 1983-84. Time UK also had no support from their record label at all. They were also the tightest rhythm section in the business and ‘News Of The World’ features every Thursday on Mock The Week. Bruce did write some good songs.

    With hindsight, splitting The Jam in 1982 has preserved their legacy. But Weller not speaking to Rick since 1983 and his only recent rapprochement with Bruce in 2010 left Jam fans reeling over the years.

    Bruce’s ‘Back In The Room’ album from 2010 (which Weller played on) was superb, a ‘what might have been’ if The Jam had stayed together.

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