May 09

THE JAM – “Beat Surrender”

FT + Popular51 comments • 7,087 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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  1. 1
    LondonLee on 5 May 2009 #

    The last few singles ‘Funeral Pyre’ ‘Bitterest Pill’ ‘Absolute Beginners’ were so over the map stylistically (and only the middle one was really good) Weller did seem to be flailing a bit. But I thought this was glorious, a real return to form as if getting the baggage of “The Jam” off his back liberated his mojo again. As high as a 9 for me.

  2. 2
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 5 May 2009 #

    i love that sleeve!

  3. 3
    LondonLee on 5 May 2009 #

    Isn’t it Weller’s then-girlfriend Jill?

  4. 4
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 5 May 2009 #

    possibly but that’s not why i love it!

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 5 May 2009 #

    Weller’s lyrics never bothered me because I had no idea what they were – then or now – but I enjoy the positive energy of the performance.
    The song was performed on the very first edition of the Tube which may explain why I bought this rather than any other Jam single. I have a feeling it may have been bigged up in The Face as well – they seem to put a lot of stock in that Mod/Soulboy lineage so that may have played a part as well. I also bought it early to take advantage of the gatefold sleeve which came with a bonus single which featured a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move on up’ and Edwin Starr’s ‘War’. In those choices you can see the development of the Soul canon which took place in the 80s encouraged by Weller, Dexys, Levis ads, the Blues Brothers, etc. as a indicator of authenticity against the artifice of modern pop.

  6. 6
    SteveM on 5 May 2009 #

    if only he had gone on to cover “Baby Wants To Ride” instead of “Promised Land”

  7. 7
    will on 5 May 2009 #

    I think Tom’s point about magnificent gesture/ so-so song is spot on. I never paid much attention to Beat Surrender’s lyrics – you can hardly make them out anyway – but being a 13 year old boy for whom the Jam splitting up was a big deal, I could definitely relate to its air of anguished defiance. Pop isn’t littered with many examples of great farewell singles. For my money, this is easily the best.

  8. 8
    rosie on 5 May 2009 #

    This is where I know I’m finally entering the fringes of Injun Country. The Jam I know, of course, along with their previous number ones, but this one I listen to and it rings no bells whatsoever. Which is odd because the surrounding entries are still (all too) familiar. All I know is that I’d know it was The Jam because it sounds vaguely Jammy, but it clearly didn’t register with me at the time.

    Still, there are interesting times ahead. I have no real recollection of what I was doing that December but I wasn’t in good shape.

  9. 9
    The Intl on 6 May 2009 #

    I never liked the Jam, but you can’t knock a band that puts a girl with a stiffie on their sleeve.

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 6 May 2009 #

    The big difference between this and Adam Ant as popmanifesto singles is that the words of the Ant songs seem to be engraved forever upon the hearts of those who followed pop at the time, while no-one can remember the words to ‘Beat Surrender’. Even the chorus I always mis-sing “Succumba to the beat surrenda!”

    It does sound like a riot to listen to, but even Secret Affair’s “Glory Boys” songs have a bit more emotional depth to them. This strange single gives me pleasure but I derive no meaning from it – which is odd, because it obviouly meant a great deal to Weller.

    Not much difference to my reaction as a ten-year, old come to think of it – I found it exciting, but didn’t understand what was going on, either as a tune or as a song.

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 6 May 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: The Jam performed ‘Beat Surrender’ on ‘Top of the Pops’ once;

    2 December 1982. Also in the studio that week were; Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Whitesnake, Bucks Fizz and Modern Romance. Peter Powell was the host.

  12. 12
    pink champale on 6 May 2009 #

    #10 same here, to me this is a fairly good jam single but not one of the four or five songs i listen to off ‘snap’. either at the time or subsequently i’ve never really picked up anything of the lyrics (as i definitely did with e.g. going underground or eton rifles) and i don’t think I’ve ever realised before that it was even their last single, let alone a specific farewell.

    looking up the lyrics now, the first thing to strike me is that the one bit i thought i did know is actually exhorting you instructing you to ‘succumb’, not ‘surrender’ to the beat surrender – i think i prefer two surrenders; second, i can’t imagine how these words actually fit to the tune – not sure if this is because i don’t know it all that well or because weller’s trying to cram too much in again; third, what approach did radio take to the “bullshits”?; and fourth – without knowing beforehand that the song relates to popular singer paul weller’s feelings about splitting up his immensely successful band the jam in order to better allow him the freedom to experiment, with various degrees of success, in applying his angry young man lyrics to more mature soul and funk stylings – i’m not sure that this is what you would get from the lyrics.

  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 6 May 2009 #

    Certainly, in terms of pop justice, its a shame that its ‘Beat Surrender’ rather than ‘Speak Like A Child’ (the work of a man considerably more at ease with what he’s trying to do and succeeding totally in achieving it) that we’re discussing on the Popular list.

    There’s more optimism and magic to be derived from the start of a new story as opposed to the end of an old one, in this instance.

  14. 14
    LondonLee on 6 May 2009 #

    Well I’m someone who can remember all the words, though to be honest I’ve never given much thought to what it’s “about” beyond being a vague manifesto about youth and freedom. It’s a bit like “All Around The World” in that respect, lyrically nothing more than a string of slogans but it sounds thrilling.

    The b-side “Shopping” was fab too, probably the closest to The Style Council they ever sounded.

  15. 15
    AndyPandy on 6 May 2009 #

    I’ve never even realised he said “bullshit” and I think that was why the BBC didn’t mind ie as long as the offending words were pretty indecipherable and noone made a point of pointing them out things got played without any problems bit like “Funeral Pyre” with “pissing themselves laughing” or “That’s Entertainment” with “pissing down with rain” in the latter’s case however it was pretty clear and it was still played…and wasnt there a “shit” on “Just who is the 5 oclock hero”

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    dickvandyke on 6 May 2009 #

    ‘Hello darling, I’m home again; covered in shit and aches and pains”.

    I’m with Lee. Paralysis by analysis can perhaps fog the youthful energy and consuming passion of the time. Sure, as a single, it’s probably not in my Jam top 10; but when aged 18, dancing with a girl and armed with enough money for another beer, I was very happy.

  17. 17
    dickvandyke on 6 May 2009 #

    ‘Hello darling, I’m home again; covered in shit and aches and pains”.

    I’m with Lee. Paralysis by analysis can perhaps fog the youthful energy and consuming passion of the time. Sure, as a single, it’s probably not in my Jam top 10; but when aged 18, dancing with a girl and armed with enough money for another beer, I was happy.

  18. 18
    vinylscot on 7 May 2009 #

    We’d all heard Weller’s “passion” by now, and to be honest this was really pretty bland. If this was the best that The Jam could do now, it was just as well they were packing it in.

    A great band in their day, with a number of outstanding tracks, both singles and album tracks, but Weller’s personality quickly put me off. I just didn’t believe him, the way I believed Kevin Rowland or Billy Bragg.

    Also interesting that this is one of the least-commented #1s for a long time.

  19. 19
    Tommy Mack on 7 May 2009 #

    Was ‘be dignified, don’t even let her in again’ taken as being about Thatcher at the time – former Tory boy Weller on his shift over the left?

  20. 20
    Conrad on 7 May 2009 #

    As sign-offs go this is a bit of a non-event but I don’t really like any of their post-Sound Affects singles (bar Bitterest Pill).

    And is that opening piano meant to be a nod to “I Will Survive”?

  21. 21
    Erithian on 7 May 2009 #

    Not too surprising that it didn’t register too much with Rosie – 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. And as others have said, for a manifesto and a declared parting of the ways it’s pretty muddy and indistinct, which is why it’s much the least fondly remembered of their four number ones – if there’s not much of a tune and you’re chuntering inaudibly to yourself, people aren’t going to take too much trouble to listen to your gripes. But of course once they split up there was an invasion of their back catalogue into the lower reaches of the chart, with (depending on your source) 13 or 14 Jam singles in the top 100 simultaneously, an indication of the impact of the split on their fanbase.

    Over in France I could barely make anything of “Beat Surrender” when I first heard it as the new number one – while it was there I had a big row with my landlady and moved out a few hours before she would have thrown me out. Like I’ve said before, “Love Over Gold” got me through some long nights before my fortunes picked up again.

    Again, strange to see the dynamic of the band in action – Weller, two years younger than his bandmates, totally in charge of their fate; Foxton had one solo hit single before a long stint in Stiff Little Fingers; Buckler teamed up with an ex-member of the Tom Robinson Band before combining a jobbing career in music with a furniture restoration business. Two skilful and powerful musicians openly referred to as “the drone Jam members” and now reduced to a reunion which looks pretty lame as two-thirds of the band.

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 7 May 2009 #

    I saw them at Wembley on their farewell tour, at the end Weller exited the stage pretty sharpish with barely a goodbye (much as I loved him he could be a dour, humourless git), but poor old Bruce looked like he’d have to be dragged off the stage and hung around on his own waving to the fans over and over again. I’m sure he was in a state of shock that it was all ending.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 7 May 2009 #

    There were radio play versions:

    “that wubbish is wubbish it just goes by different nay-hay-hay(snip)”


    “covered in dirt and aches and pains”

    The latter one is harder to find, I have the former on a DJ promo 7″

  24. 24
    Mark G on 7 May 2009 #

    I knew Rick’s brother Pete, we worked at the same place in the early nineties. I guessed he was a relation, but never asked. Until one of the girls asked him directly. And at some point later, some colleagues drilled me about it, so I told them. The next day, they came back to me and said “You liar! He said he’s Not related to the drummer in The Who!”

    Any road, the only time I ever discussed it (in passing) was when we were all in the car going somewhere, and This record came on. “Oh, I went to their final gig in Wembley! Mind you, I don’t suppose my viewpoint was as good as yours, Pete!” to which he said “yeah, all the families were backstage at that one”…

    Good bloke.

  25. 25
    The Lurker on 7 May 2009 #

    I think the first memory I have of the Jam is watching Nationwide and hearing that they had announced they had split up – actually encountering the songs came later, and I have no memory of this from that time, despite the previous three number ones registering strongly.

    As for the song itself, I’ve always found the chorus oddly unsatisfactory – it somehow sounds like it’s missing a line, or a chord change or something.

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.”

  30. 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).

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