Oct 08

THE JAM – “Going Underground”/”Dreams Of Children”

FT + Popular93 comments • 7,561 views

#454, 22nd March 1980

Straight in at number one: the public gets what the public wants. “Going Underground”’s arrival at the top is an example of the charts acting justly for once – steady and remarkable improvement from the scrappy punk hand-me-downs of “The Modern World” rewarded. The Jam’s first number one was their best record to date, a distillation of wrath and excitement so potent that it single-handedly justifies the attention paid to Weller ever since. If someone could – even once – produce a record so thrill-powered, it would be irresponsible to take your eye off him, even when his gifts seemed to have calcified forever.

That lifelong attention is probably no more than Paul Weller felt he deserved – the purposefully anthemic “Going Underground” is built on an iron self-confidence. The rest of Weller’s punk-era peers had diversified, looking towards America or Jamaica or further afield still: the Jam had simply put down roots, found the dotted lines joining what happened in 1977 to what had happened in 1965, developing an English rock classicism which helped win them an adoring audience. Their backward-looking tendency is on show in the fine AA-side, “Dreams Of Children”, a well-observed psychedelic pastiche with Weller waking horrified by “this modern nightmare”.

“Going Underground” doesn’t succeed through classicism, though: its triumph is a pop one, all about the surging moment. It’s the way that almost every element of the track is a hook – a slogan, a moment, a chant, a bit of melody. What’s the most memorable thing about it? You could ask five people and get five different replies. The thrilling double acceleration as the first verse finds its feet. The declamatory “the public wants what the public gets”. The harmonies on the chorus. “MAKE THIS BOY SHOUT MAKE THIS BOY SCREAM!”. The way it comes over like a three minute manifesto. “Going Underground” sounds like a record intended to be an event: the market made sure it felt like one.



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  1. 61
    lonepilgrim on 31 Oct 2008 #

    there were a great many crossovers between the original punks and the new romantics – there was Adam and the Ants, Rich Kids featured Glen Matlock of the pistols with Midge Ure and Rusty Egan who went off to join Ultravox and Visage, etc., Bands like Soft Cell modelled themselves on Suicide who were more punk than punk – having been frequently been bottled and booed when supporting the Clash.

  2. 62
    grange85 on 31 Oct 2008 #

    Shortly after this I saw Rick Buckler in Debenhams in Guildford buying pine furniture…I think that might have been the day punk died…

  3. 63
    peter goodlaws on 1 Nov 2008 #

    “God, much as I love this, if anything is going to put me off, it’s the idea of “real geezer music”…”

    Get her!

  4. 64
    Billy Smart on 1 Nov 2008 #

    TOTPWatch: The Jam twice performed Going Underground on Top Of The Pops, on March 27th 1980 and January 1st 1981.

    Also in the studio on March 27th 1980 were; Liquid Gold, Genesis, Dr Hook, Judas Priest, Secret Affair, John Foxx and The Dooleys – something for everyone. The host was Peter Powell.

  5. 65
    AndyPandy on 1 Nov 2008 #

    re 61: agreed there were connections between punk and New Romantics but those people who were seriously involved in both were invariably involved in Punk from the beginning in late75/early 76 and were already demoralised by early 1977 (I’ve heard some say it died for them as early as December 1st 1976 when it went so massively overground after the Bill Grundy interview).
    To these (Steve Strange/Adam Ant etc) it was more about rebellion through fashion etc than boring old rock music..Steve Strange mentions this in his autobiography and how from the beginning they were bored by the already separate scene developing around trad rockers like The Clash.And yes most of these figures identify to this day with Bowie and Marc Bolan than the “back to basics rock” side of punk.

  6. 66
    lonepilgrim on 2 Nov 2008 #

    re #65 I agree -with you and with them – give me style over substance every time. With Weller there is a tension between the two which means that his music can veer between the best of his Jam and Style Council songs and the gurning geezer rock of his latter years

  7. 67
    Conrad on 2 Nov 2008 #

    64 – Secret Affair and The Jam on Top Of The Pops together! Lambrettas were also in the Top 40 at this point, so there you have it – March 27 1980, the very apex of the Mod Revival (I like to pin things down to an actual day if possible!).

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned another reason for the significant upturn in Jam singles’ chart placings with Eton Rifles and Going Underground (although undoubtedly the main factor is that they were both terrific hook-laden songs with memorable lyrics). But I think the Who “Kids Are Alright” and the “Quadrophenia” films were both released in late 1979 and contributed to an upsurge in interest in all things Mod, which chimed in with the parallel interest in ska/rock steady brought about by the Specials and 2-Tone.

    That groundswell of interest did lead to a further broadening of The Jam’s fanbase beyond their original punk
    /new wave following.

  8. 68
    Conrad on 2 Nov 2008 #

    Number 3 watch (am I allowed a Number 3 watch?): Vapors “Turning Japanese”.

  9. 69

    here’s my 1996 anti-weller polemic for dischord (which despite its claim not to have an agenda was i think a “pro-disco” outlet, given that jay strongman was an editor

    with hindsight, i think the follow about this er screed:
    i) blimey i was harsh! i am really VERY RARELY this hostile, and feel very uncomfy reading it now
    ii) at the time, this aggression seemed to me entirely urgent and necessary (yet note my claim that simon reynolds had been “sidelined” — today, i would tend to argue HE is the establishment! affectionately and exasperatedly of course, he is an old friend and sparring partner) (and some of this feelng on my part is straght-up envy; simon has far superior hustling skeez)
    iii) i think this piece is VERY unfair to weller himself, who is plainly a much more complex beast (as witness the decision to break up the jam) than his mid-90s media-following allowed — it is mainly a fight against a particularly awful era in mainstream pop media
    iv) i have myself (a function of getting older — it will happen to you all) become much more interested in the ambiguities of stuff that gets dismissed for being “trad”; when you’re young, history seems to loom over you sneering at your own experience as it unfolds, and you do spiky unthinking battle to make space for your own perspective; in time, you find aspects of that perspective sedimented into recent-history-as-it’s-been-decided, and begin to grasp what the oldsters who long ago battled against YOU were so fussed about; what they saw getting lost; what you see getting lost…

    the key thing is, given my obvious sense of embattlement in this 12-year-old piece, i think the “we” it argues for actually won: except i now also think this “we” has itself fragmented, and this fragmentation feels more complex and awful and bitter, actually… haha unfaced memories of my SECOND (or is it third) divorce

  10. 70
    peter goodlaws on 2 Nov 2008 #

    Well done, Conrad. “Turning Japanese” was brilliant. I really think so. Pity it would be pulled from the listings today as ethnic humour is worse than what Ian Huntley did in the eyes of the mad bosses. There’s a number one next year that faces the same problem but was crap so stuff it. Am writing this on sunday so go for it Louis Hamilton. Hope that the boys from brazil don’t fix his motor.

  11. 71
    mike on 2 Nov 2008 #

    #68 – The Vapors were co-managed by Bruce Foxton and Weller’s dad, and “Turning Japanese” was produced by Jam regular Vic Coppersmith-Heaven. So it really was quite the moment of cultural supremacy.

  12. 72
    peter goodlaws on 2 Nov 2008 #

    LEWIS Hamilton. Sorry. Hope I haven’t jinxed him!!

  13. 73
    LondonLee on 2 Nov 2008 #

    I thought The Vapors were actually produced by Foxton. I’m too lazy to go look it up.

    I saw them supporting The Jam at The Rainbow, in the row behind us were a bunch of skinheads chanting “we hate Mods, we hate Mods” and outside after the gig it “kicked off” as they say.

  14. 74
    Erithian on 3 Nov 2008 #

    Conrad #67 – yes, “Quadrophenia” was the first X-rated (18-plus, for younger readers!) film I ever saw at the cinema, a month before my 18th birthday (rebellious, eh?) Just to make a thematic connection, the first AA-rated (14-plus) film I ever went to see, a month before my 14th birthday, had been “Tommy”. Anyway “Quadrophenia” was terrific, and did Sting ever look cooler?!

  15. 75
    peter goodlaws on 3 Nov 2008 #

    Hamilton wins!!! Now he can become president tomorrow too.

  16. 76
    mike on 3 Nov 2008 #

    Ever the year-zeroist, I avoided Quadrophenia on ideological grounds: namely, that it was based on a “rock opera” (Gawd help us!) by a bunch of boring old-wave farts.

    Perhaps it’s time I got round to seeing it!

  17. 77

    quadrophenia is better than tommy <--- faint praise indeed

  18. 78

    wiki on franc roddam: “best known for the film Quadrophenia and the early reality television series The Family… credited with creating the series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet reflecting his roots in North East England, and devising the format for the television game show Masterchef

    The Family! (that’s the original 1974 one) and Masterchef! All is forgiven

  19. 79
    Colin on 28 Nov 2008 #

    Dreams of Children featured the ending of the song Thick as Thieves played backwards, which appears at the start of the original single track (removed from later releases on compilations) and at the end of the chorus, where some people think it’s Weller and Foxton saying “dreeeeeams”

  20. 80
    punctum on 7 Oct 2009 #

    The name of Ian Page’s group might have summed the situation up, but being a Mod in the mid-seventies was truly a secret affair, about as unfashionable as anyone could get – so no wonder I found it attractive, unlike the feathercuts and flares prevalent everywhere else around me. It felt like something unique to me, my secret pleasure; perhaps the obverse to the love of free jazz – something which, in my world, I and I alone knew about. Nevertheless I had the parka, if not the Vespa, and in those days of pre-punk decadence, the likes of the Who (‘65-7 model) and the Creation seemed like razors of punctum.

    The Jam never really fit in with punk either; witness Weller proclaiming his support for the Tories in the NME to wind up/piss off Strummer. But I loved the suits, the ties, the quicksnap attitude; you only have to delve through contemporaneous TOTP performances by the bearded, seated likes of ELO and Supertramp to judge the never-starker contrast with the Jam’s 900 mph whiplash dervish of a Mod derivé; here was energy, here was life, here was a total fuck-you realism which didn’t make you groan under the scythe of worthy. When “All Around The World” burst into the Top 20 in the summer of ’77 it bore a ferocity and singleminded punch which outdid most other punk hitmakers of the time, though also demonstrated the group’s very palpable musical chops. “A new direction?” Backwards to go into the future? I could, and did, buy into that.

    The second album The Modern World was a too-rushed job with too many duff Bruce Foxton songs, and it already seemed as if they’d burned themselves out. But then they came back in the autumn of ’78 with All Mod Cons, and everyone was forced to sit up and pay attention; delicate ballads (but this was punk!) like “English Rose,” so embarrassing to its author that it was an unlisted extra track at the end of side one, but so needlessly so; and the descent from that tenderness to the brutalist rationalism of “’A’ Bomb In Wardour Street” and “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight,” two stark slaps in the post-New Wave face; unforgiving and condemnatory – unlike the Who, who celebrated London with an uncritical cynicism, Weller never failed to stare the capital straight in its cold face, as much as he worshipped it, taking day trips from Woking as a teenager to tape the sounds of the city and revel in them back in his bedroom at home.

    By 1979 they were established as a solid, if not spectacularly commercially successful, act, though their singles typically peaked at around the #15-16 mark; a secure cult following, but not yet the breakthrough into the mainstream. That latter occurred with “The Eton Rifles” which happened to coincide with the Mod Revival – Page’s Glory Boys at the spearhead, the film of Quadrophenia just released – and which went top three that autumn, a blast of sardonic class rage which arguably cut more deeply in the British youth of ‘79 than “Another Brick In The Wall” because the Jam were so clearly of our time, our generation – Weller only had four-and-a-half years on me, for heaven’s sake! – and we felt they were speaking solely to us, and for us.

    Certainly it is hard here (without getting too personal) how vindicated and triumphant we felt (and there was by now a “we”) when “Going Underground” became the first single by anybody since “Merry Xmas Everybody” to enter the charts at number one. And never mind how we felt; Weller, on tour at the time, burst into tears when he heard the news – seven years of hard work and utter self-belief finally paying off, his group now officially the biggest band in Britain.

    Both Slade and the Jam were on the Polydor label, who clearly knew something about astute marketing; true, there were special gatefold sleeves printed for “Going Underground” and the single was released on a Tuesday rather than the then customary Friday, but the undertow and swelling of support would have guaranteed its victory regardless – “Going Underground” had advance orders of nearly a quarter of a million copies. They had built up their following in the slow-burning, old-fashioned way; and here was their reward.

    It is a nearly frill-free storm of righteous protest, right from the opening staccato tattoo of drums and bass which rapidly ruptures into a fearsome storm of slashing guitar as Weller fulminates actively against the grey standardisation of his world, combining steamroller sarcasm (“People say that I should strive for more/But I’m so happy I can’t see the point”) with harsh declarations of principles (“The public gets what the public wants/But I want nothing this society’s got”) before turning his aesthetic stun guns on the society which doesn’t want him: “You choose your leaders and place your trust/As their lies wash you down and their promises rust/You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns.” And throughout, always the return to the defiant anthemic chorus of “I’m going underground.”

    It’s already intense, but then in the mid-break Weller slowly turns the heat and pressure up even further: “The braying sheep on my TV screen/Make this boy SHOUT, MAKE THIS BOY SCREAM!” as the band roars up into another key; after a short dub-like break, with melodica-like synths and clattering rimshots, the key ascends yet again and the passion becomes bloodied: “Let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrow!” before a reverb of feedback shuts the song down. It was a rallying cry, and Weller knew it; everything this Thatcher world is isn’t the truth – stand up and drown them out. And, despite Weller’s subsequent, problematic relationship with New Pop, this is New Pop in excelsis; attract with a catchy tune, undermine, subvert and rebolster with the message.

    Though nominally a double A-side, “The Dreams Of Children” was rarely played on radio; nevertheless it’s a fascinating variant on a dispossessed urban scenario which isn’t that far removed from Gary Numan’s vision (a comparison I know will make Weller wince) – nonetheless it’s there; “I got a feeling of optimism/But woke up to a grey and lonely picture…/I was alone, no one was there,” though with ominous synths replaced by Foxton’s triplets of dub bass. The track is more restrained than “Going Underground,” and the woozy backwards fadein and fadeout set the picture for Weller’s more extensive adventures in psychedelia later that year, but the rage remains present: “Something’s gonna crack on your dreams tonight,” he repeatedly warns us. There is admittedly a stern and somewhat puritan surface to the Jam’s general approach, which has on occasion tended to turn people off. But as far as we were concerned, they were speaking on our behalf, they inhabited our culture, and “Going Underground” going to number one was rather like “us” going to number one. I still recognise its unalloyed and unapologetic passion; this was life as once I lived it.

  21. 81
    swanstep on 17 Mar 2011 #

    A great record obviously. I don’t have anything to add to the wonderful comments and lead essay, except to observe how miserable it is that the charts so rarely work like this (as effectively Tom begins by noting). In Popular’s present as I write this note (1991), it’ll be as if grunge never existed. Anyhow, agree with:

  22. 82
    Mark G on 17 Mar 2011 #

    Unnoted by wiki, this came with a free live e.p., which obviously won’t have harmed its rapid progress to number 1.

    Especially as it was fairly limited in numbers.

  23. 83
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Dec 2012 #

    And it’s a big well done to Bradley Wiggins, a well-deserved (and in my mind the only really logical) winner of SPOTY. For those of you who are interested, he joins Paul Weller on Boxing day on Radio 2 to spin a few discs beloved by them both. I would then expect one of them to be heading to the Palace in the New Year for a shoulder-tap from Brenda’s sword.

  24. 84
    Erithian on 19 Feb 2014 #

    I was watching a YouTube clip of The Jam on OGWT last night and suddenly realised “Billy Hunt” is really about a minor member of Team GB at the Winter Olympics: “I remember the first day at my job / I didn’t get on too well with the four-man bob”. I’ll get me coat.

  25. 85
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Feb 2014 #

    Talking of the Winter Olympics, it was good to see the Team GB Curling Gals grab a well-earned Bronze, having won the play-off against the Swiss. The men go for Gold in their final tomorrow. Naturally the Swede, like many blokes, has been captivated by our girlie skip, Eve Muirhead and those gorgeous baby blue eyes. Someone in another place commented about Eve’s other talents as a scratch golfer and also as a bagpipe player. “She couldn’t be more Scots if she were deep-fried”, ran the line. I’m afraid that I couldn’t help adding “Eve can pipe in my haggis anytime she liked”.

    Yes, I know…

  26. 86
    hectorthebat on 22 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    PopMatters (USA) – The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared (2003) 88
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 88
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 402
    Freaky Trigger (UK) – Top 100 Songs of All Time (2005) 28
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 51
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 307
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 11
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 44
    Q (UK) – 50 Greatest British Tracks (2005) 16
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 160
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 15
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1980-2004 (2004) 14
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 22
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songsof All Time (2004) 141
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 18
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 2
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 3
    Rockerilla (Italy) – Singles of the Year 7

  27. 87
    Lazarus on 14 Mar 2015 #

    A prison officer performed this on ‘Stars in their Eyes’ once. Matthew Kelly (for it was he) greeted him afterwards. “Going underground, eh? I hope they’re not doing that at your work tonight!”

    He had time to think it up of course, but it was a nice quip.

    Rick Buckler was on South East News at 6.30 in the week – he said that the band were touring in America at the time and jumped on a plane to do Top of the Pops, cancelling the last few dates. We’ll be seeing them very shortly of course (three weeks at Number One, so they can’t all have been Yewtreed).

  28. 88
    Phil on 15 Apr 2015 #

    Come on, how is this not a 10? Ref! It’s one of those rare rock’n’roll moments, a song that openly proclaims its own importance *and earns it*. Very much the Jam’s “New Dawn Fades”‘ mutatis mutandis.

  29. 89
    Mark G on 15 Apr 2015 #

    Well, perhaps because there are a couple of Jam singles that are better, but #84 is excellent, Erithian!

  30. 90
    enitharmon on 15 Apr 2015 #

    @89 Because it’s not about what you like, dickhead.

  31. 91
    Tommy Mack on 15 Apr 2015 #

    Steady on!

  32. 92
    Phil on 15 Apr 2015 #

    #90 I think you meant #88, not #89. Anyway, was it not a rhetorical question?

  33. 93
    Gareth Parker on 30 Apr 2021 #

    For me this is a certain 10. I love the sharpness and intensity of this track. I would be inclined to agree with Phil’s comment (#88).

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