Nov 08

THE JAM – “Start!”

FT + Popular63 comments • 5,025 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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  1. 31
    wichita lineman on 25 Nov 2008 #

    I’m guessing this is the same Taylor who wrote about The Jam’s Carnaby Street with similar eloquence and almost made me wet myself laughing. Hats off, and thanks for de-lurking.

    I’m more inclined to look at Start as proto-looping than from the Steve Sutherland ‘beginning of the end’ angle. You can look at the 70s rock’n’roll shows at Wembley where Jerry Lee et al were playing alongside the likes of Wizzard (who, granted, were considerably more forward looking than Oasis). Or go back to the Doo Wop revival of 1959-61 and see The Marcels’ Blue Moon as the beginning of the end.

    Recycling has just become more prevalent since the mid 90s.

  2. 32
    mike on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Rosie, the comments feed is still working for me through Google Reader: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/comments/feed/

    I’d be lost without it!

  3. 33
    mike on 25 Nov 2008 #

    #26 – Taylor, I think that some people did take Weller’s and Strummer’s retrospectively questionable calls to arms at face value, and acted accordingly upon them. And you can still identify them: they’re the ones flogging copies of Socialist Worker outside Marks and Sparks on Saturday afternoons….

  4. 34

    A PORTRAIT OF MAD LOVE: did you ever feel this strongly and how — this is the key bit i guess — do you use the memory of that feeling now?

  5. 35
    rosie on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Mike – thanks chuck!

    Ah, the siren wail of suburban teenage angst! Once again, there is nothing new under the sun. Growing up in Welwyn Garden City in the 60s the cry constantly went up “There’s nothing to dooooooo!” In fact we envied the fleshposts of Stevenage, which had a bowling alley and a Mecca dancehall, although Stevenage was a modest bus ride away (and Kings Cross was half an hour by train.) Mind you, I was a solitary sort of child who was always happy to shut myself in my bedroom with the radio or record-player and a good book. It’s probably a failing in me that I have never been able to understand why everybody else can’t do that.

    But then, I’m now a middle-aged old fart, my attitudes tempered to some degree by six years experience as a local councillor. A chair of a planning committee, to boot, who knows that if you give young people a skate park, say, they won’t use it because they’d rather appropriate the busy public space in front of the town hall (which tends to have interesting and challenging steps, slopes, benches and concrete planters) than be ghettoised in some forgotten corner of the local park. And who can blame them? If a teenager came up to me now and complained about “nothing to dooooo!” I’d probably say, “Well then, what are you going to do about it?” And do what I could to point to ways of getting support for it, but not set about providing anything directly because that would defeat the object completely.

    I always found it a bit hard to get my head round the idea of “new mod”. It wasn’t really a revival movement, was it? Not like the rock-and-roll revival of the late 60s, there wasn’t much nostalgia for Vespas and parkas and the Small Faces. It was something new which appropriated some of the culture of an earlier generation and keeping it for themselves. That’s what Weller is doing here isn’t it – not paying homage to the Beatles but appropriating them for himself (there’s something of Drive My Car about Start! isn’t there? As well as the more obvious Taxman

  6. 36
    Mark G on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Well, “New Mod” was more a continuation, not a revival.

    But then again, it got bogged down in the “authentication” of vespas, parkas, etc…

  7. 37
    admin on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Why am I “FT’s Taylor”, by the way?

    it’s to indicate yr logged-in-ness (as you may have guessed). it seemed short and to the point at the time. we could just use an asterisk or something instead? something less possessive :-)

    the site-wide comments feed is linked on the front page — the little RSS feed icon next to the ‘recent comments’ box in the sidebar.

    Tom keeps asking me for a popular-only feed, but so far i have failed. individual post comment feeds – easy, site-wide comment feeds – easy. but ‘all comments in all posts in this category’ feeds – no easy.

    any WP magicians out there who can solve this, let me know.

  8. 38
    LondonLee on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Lots to chew on today. For a start (ha!) it’s possible to agree with everything Taylor said and still love The Jam — but genuinely, not patronising Weller with a pat on the head and a “full marks for trying Paul, bless your angry little heart” and I’d disagree about Jam fans painful nostalgia and unfulfilled dreams. For one, nostalgia is always painful — you’re missing something lost — and my dreams have turned out pretty well. You don’t think Jam fans were strengthened by them? Maybe there are thousands of 40-something men out there frustrated deep down that they never achieved something they heard in the music back then but they did a lot for me.

  9. 39
    mike on 25 Nov 2008 #

    I suspect Jam fans’ nostalgia is always painful, in a way. All those possibilities left unfulfilled!

    Well, “fan” would be pushing it (I enjoyed the singles but never bought the albums), but seeing Foxton and Buckler perform as “From The Jam” a couple of times last year brought back some unexpectedly and disarmingly intense feelings. I’m not sure I’d call them “nostalgia”, though. Rather, it felt – particularly at the first, more intimate show – as if much of the crowd were collectively re-connecting with their teenaged selves, in a way that was empowering and positive. I think that partly stemmed from a collective realisation that the core of our teenaged selves had never entirely dissolved away. But it’s difficult to articulate, because it was a complex and in some ways contradictory response.

  10. 40
    Taylor on 25 Nov 2008 #

    #39 – Mike, I think that stuff is common to all pop nostalgia, perhaps all nostalgia of any kind. I’ve just read “Phonogram”, that weird graphic novel about Britpop, and it made me feel rather strange – I have no emotional investment in Britpop whatsoever (I hated most of it at the time) but it coincides with the period when I was young and Truly Alive and all that, and while there’s no direct link between any of that music and me, there are certainly mixed-up feelings hanging on from that time period, which are woven into the music whether I like it or not. I found some mp3s of old BP rubbish, and found to my horror I was feeling slightly emotional even as my logical/critical mind stomped all over them. Quite different to your “From The Jam” discomfort, but related in a way, I’d say.

    The difference between Strummer and Weller was that Strummer’s schtick was explicitly political, albeit in the most cartoonish way, and only those who genuinely expected a revolution can now feel short-changed. Weller’s angst and “passion” was more generalised, and barely even knew what it was raging against. That made it work better as pop music, perhaps, but if you took it seriously (tempting at the time, I’d have thought, especially for teenagers with a similarly non-specific beef), there’s no possible way you couldn’t have been disappointed. Surely the hardcore Jam fan had their brain stamped – at an impressionable age – with an imperative that was too vague to mean much, but clear enough to make people feel they failed, whatever they did with the rest of their lives.

    #34 – It’s different for boys, isn’t it? Pop told me to feel that way about real-life girls, and when they didn’t feel that way about me, I moved on to rock and roll for a while, which told me I could feel that way about myself. Both dead ends (for me at least). What I learned: be careful. What a rotten lesson.

  11. 41
    LondonLee on 25 Nov 2008 #

    Well it wasn’t that vague, there was a nice big juicy target in Margaret Thatcher all that rage was directed against. That might not be so easy to see in this post-Blair age where the battle lines have been muddied and cynically moved but back then we did know what the problem was. Or thought we did, we were young after all.

    Young people are always disappointed by life aren’t they?

  12. 42
    lonepilgrim on 25 Nov 2008 #

    re 41: didn’t Weller make some pro-Conservative noises early on in the Jam days? He was quickly ‘reeducated’ by the music press intelligentsia but never seemed entirely comfortable toeing the party line.
    I enjoyed the Jam as pop at the time but never had any great sense of personal or political investment in them so don’t feel any great sense of nostalgia or disappointment with them. I much prefer ‘Stand down Margaret’ by the Beat as a bit of agitpop – mainly because the band sound like they’re having some fun

  13. 43
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 25 Nov 2008 #

    my memory is that in 77, he said something unguarded about planning to vote tory in an interview, was instantly hit by a wave of criticism for it, and rowed back — googling around a bit now, i see that the way it gets told, he claims he was in fact teasing the journalist, and got taken out of context

    as far as i ever knew his commitment to red wedge — fully ten years later — was never less than heartfelt, whatever you think about it as a project, political or artistic

  14. 44
    LondonLee on 26 Nov 2008 #

    And they say “please” in ‘Stand Down Margaret’ – it never hurts to be polite.

  15. 45
    Taylor on 26 Nov 2008 #

    the way it gets told, he claims he was in fact teasing the journalist, and got taken out of context

    I’m sure that’s what he’d like us to believe now. Still, it’s not the case. Listen to “Time For Truth” from the first Jam LP (yes of course it’s awful), an attack on the Callaghan government which most certainly is not an attack from the left. “Whatever happened to the Great Empire? / You bastards have turned it into manure.

    He did, of course, swing leftward pretty wildly at some point in the next few years, but – #41 – I don’t see that The Jam’s anger was ever really aimed at Thatcher directly, apart from the odd song here and there. That wasn’t what I was referring to, at least. I was thinking more of the meaningless motivational “brightness” of The Jam, a muddle of Mod-derived affectations and buzzwords (what was their boxed set called? “Direction! Reaction! Creation!” or something), a half-baked aesthetic of sharpness and “resistance” that was in truth terribly vague, a celebration of empty amphetamine energy, or activity for its own sake (amusing, considering how sullen and uncharismatic, how half-asleep The Jam always seemed). It was kind of appealing, and yes, the same trick once worked fine for the likes of The Creation, busting out of muddy monochrome, sizzling in the white heat of the technological revolution. But there was something self-righteous about The Jam, all clenched buttocks and grumbling gruffness, which brought out the Serious Young Man in their base of bright 14-year-old working class boys – but didn’t, to my mind, provide them with much nourishment. I think they short-changed their fans without even realising it.

    “Absolute Beginners”, which won’t be troubling us here, represents the peak of this “POW! ZAP!” tendency: it’s all very uplifting, and wears a very straight face, but on closer inspection it’s complete gibberish. And I could forgive them this, like I forgive a million other pop records, if they hadn’t been so bloody joyless. I like The Jam when they’re bittersweet (“Life From A Window”, “Ghosts”, “To Be Someone”) or when they’re all-out pop (“Start!”), because I can take Weller seriously as a teen angst merchant, and I find him amusing as a pop star. These songs are still full of meaningless crap about how you have to “keep on movin’ your feet”, but they don’t have that irritating pomposity, half Sergeant Major, half pre-shock of early-90s “go for it!” positivity.

  16. 46
    LondonLee on 26 Nov 2008 #

    “which brought out the Serious Young Man in their base of bright 14-year-old working class boys”

    Do you mind, I’ll have you know I turned 18 the week this came out. Smoking and drinking and everything I was.

    Though, I must admit, when I saw them on their farewell tour I did look around the crowd at Wembley and feel like an old man – they were all so young.

  17. 47
    Tim on 26 Nov 2008 #

    I don’t think the horn line on “Absolute Beginners” is gibberish. And it seems pretty joyful to me.

    I agree that neither PW or the Jam are 100% coherent – who is? – but I do know that the whole reaction-creation-direction thing was pretty powerful to the small me and remains so. I’m glad Weller was all “DO SOMETHING!” and not “DO THIS!”

    And as far as “nourishment” goes, I was reading something the other day which talked about the inspiration of the inner sleeve of “All Mod Cons”, how that gave a huge pile of clues and signs to be followed up by the curious and I’m prepared to bet that countless adventures in and out of rock ‘n’ roll started there.

  18. 48
    AndyPandy on 26 Nov 2008 #

    Taylor’s comment in No26 about The Jam and their Surrey roots is spot on. To me (although by my mid-teens pretty indifferent to most rock music) I always thought the Jam were plugged directly into the experience of growing up working-class (or on the blurry line where it merges with the the bottom of the lower middle class) in the outer London suburbs/Home Counties.

    This is especially true out in the lyrics of ‘That’s Entertainment’ or that line about “milk floats dying in the dairy yard” or something in ‘A Town Called Malice’.

    There’s something to be said that about the working class from Outer London and the Home Counties being England’s most forgotten/ignored people. Falling prey to the idea that everyone in that area rides around in Range Rovers and goes to tea with the Queen.
    When in reality you’re probably looking at least 10 million people who inhabit the world that Paul Weller (for all his faults)came from and knew about.And who many of those middle/upper middle class who believe they ARE the south-east treat as little more than serfs.

    I suppose I could go completely over the top here with my analogy and say that this situation what with the vast majority of the working-people in the area being the original natives of London’s satellite towns and now (through property prices and the influx of “successful” people from the other parts of the region and the rest of the country) being largely marginalised to the council estates of their districts is akin to the North American Indians being confined to their reservations. Yes I know slightly over the top and a long way from ‘Start’ by The Jam but you get the picture…

  19. 49
    Billy Smart on 26 Nov 2008 #

    Re #47: The sleeve of ‘Our Favourite Shop’ may or may not have a similar effect on the viewer. Simon Reynolds excoriated this image as presenting the viewer with a checklist of signifiers of Weller-approved good taste.

    Re #48: See all hilariously slighting mentions of chavs in the last five years or so.

  20. 50
    Tim on 26 Nov 2008 #

    List of things I can remember from the cover of “Our Favourite Shop”:
    – a copy of “Another Country”
    – a copy of one of those Kenneth Williams books (“Acid Drops”?)
    – PW’s goofy haircut

    The sleeve of OFS was not the massive source of inspiration for me that the inner sleeve of AMC was, which is probably a shame, in retrospect.

    It seems to me that Reynolds’s dislike of mod and mod-inspired business is the not-so-secret key to his position on just about everything.

  21. 51
    lonepilgrim on 26 Nov 2008 #

    re 48 I’m sure you’re right about how bands grow in opposition to but are inevitably informed by their home towns, although I’m less sure about your last paragraph. I grew up in the New Town of Crawley which spawned The Cure; I now live in Northampton which was developed as a New Town a little later and which spawned Bauhaus. Bromley of course spawned Siouxsie. The dullness of these places seemed to have encouraged a willed exoticism.
    I still cling to my mundanity though, perhaps I’m a late developer…

  22. 52
    Billy Smart on 26 Nov 2008 #

    That oppositional stance must therefore make Simon Reynolds a rocker. Which sort of fits.

  23. 53
    LondonLee on 26 Nov 2008 #

    There does seem to be a big gap between the photos on the inner sleeve of ‘All Mod Cons’ and the outer of ‘Our Favourite Shop’ – the first was then exciting and secret undiscovered stuff for our generation but by the time of The Style Council it did seem a bit like checking the modernist icon boxes of approved taste and reminds me now of how upmarket and pricey Ben Sherman has got with their fancy Carnaby Street store, the walls all decorated with similar iconography. And don’t get me started on the price of a Fred Perry these days.

    I’m trying to write something about the suburbs for my blog at the moment, but from the point of view of a city boy. I had family in Crawley.

  24. 54
    Taylor on 26 Nov 2008 #

    I grew up with all that Mod stuff, which is probably why so much of it irritates me now. Ex-smoker’s intolerance. I also spent most of my teenage years in the Home Counties, lower-middle-class in a Daily Mail world. That probably explains why I have any time for The Jam at all. I think it could be hard to make head or tail of them otherwise.

    The “Our Favourite Shop” sleeve always struck me as a deliberate breaking away from what was perceived as the Jam aesthetic, somewhere inbetween showing off and throwing off the shackles. Plenty in there which would make the average Mod’s hair curl, not least the prominently-placed “gay stuff”. The album, of course, includes “Walls Come Tumbling Down”, probably the most inadvertently hilarious thing Paul Weller ever wrote. Donkey’s carr-OT, etc.

  25. 55
    LondonLee on 26 Nov 2008 #

    I just went and had a look at my ‘All Mod Cons’ inner sleeve and the imagery is a lot thinner than I remembered. Apart from several photos of the band there’s 45s of ‘Road Runner’ by Jr. Walker and ‘Biff Bang Pow’ by The Creation (a-ha!), a packet of Rothman’s (my smoke of choice in 1978), match books from the 100 Club and The Speakeasy, some Union Jacks, a frothy cappuccino (sign of things to come?), a TWA plane ticket to Boston, a folding alarm clock, some photos of London (but not very ‘Mod’ ones – Tower Bridge and Battersea Power Station), a school badge and an old album called ‘Sounds Like Ska.’

    Which sounds a lot when you type it all out like that, but in comparison to ‘Our Favourite Shop’ they seem like tiny clues to something interesting rather than a lifestyle emporium. But I guess in those pre-information age days a single photo could seem like a treasure map.

  26. 56
    Billy Smart on 8 Dec 2008 #

    NMEWatch: 16th August 1980. Charles Shaar Murray;

    “Most of us dishonest hippies up here are seriously fond of The Jam, and ‘Start!’ is certainly what a previous generation would have described as ‘a diamond-hard riffer’ but it’s a far less challenging piece of work than ‘Going Underground’ or ‘Eton Rifles’. That noted, it’s by no means unlovely, and that galvanic bass and drums part that opens and closes the track (lifted straight from The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ – where the torturous, crazed backwards guitar solo has relatives) will launch a million handclaps. This time, what Weller has his mind on is the distance between individuals, and the public gets what the public wants (what you see is what you get). Will deserve its airplay.”

    CSM awards single of the week to Best Friend/ Stand Down Margaret by The Beat. Also reviewed;

    Ian Dury & The Blockheads – I Wanna Be Straight
    Gary Numan – I Die You Die
    U2 – A Day Without Me
    Cliff Richard – Dreamin’
    Johnny Mathis – Three Times A Lady

  27. 57
    thefatgit on 29 Aug 2013 #

    Just last weekend, an army of scooter (the 2-wheeled variety, not the ‘ardkore bosh-merchants) enthusiasts descended on the Isle Of Wight for their annual rally. The report on TV was an eye-opener: 1st generation 60-something Mods, alongside 1st generation 60-something Skinheads, alongside 2nd generation 40-something Mods and Skinheads, alongside 30-something Britpoppers. All united in their love for Vespas and Lambrettas. Quite remarkable, really. I couldn’t imagine any other type of conveyance uniting so many different followers of so many different varieties of music.

  28. 58
    Mark G on 29 Aug 2013 #

    except Eddie Stobart lorries.

  29. 59
    hectorthebat on 27 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 564
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 419
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 25
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 243
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 13

  30. 60
    Larry on 24 Nov 2014 #

    Liza Radley – the first Belle & Sebastian song?

  31. 61
    Paulito on 30 Apr 2015 #

    For a more fleeting but still very effective example of the Jam taking direct inspiration from a ‘Revolver’ track, compare the very end of ‘Going Underground’ with that of ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’.

  32. 62
    Albert on 22 Feb 2021 #

    The Revolver reference is obvious. But Start! also reminds of me of Syd Barrett. It’s probably the ‘Never ever see you’ bit.

  33. 63
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    I like the lean sparseness to this. 8/10 imho.

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