Top five tunes: Depeche Mode (21st century edition)

Who? Depeche Mode

Years active: 1980-present

Band members:
Dave Gahan (vocals) 1980-present
Martin Gore (vocals, keyboards, guitars) 1980-present
Andy Fletcher (keyboards, backing vocals) 1980-present
Vince Clarke (keyboards, lead and backing vocals, guitars) 1980–1981
Alan Wilder (keyboards, piano, drums, backing vocals) 1982–1995

Discography (21st century):
Exciter (2001)
Playing the angel (2005)
Sounds of the universe (2009)
Delta machine (2013)
Spirit (2017)

Context: As it stands right now, Depeche Mode will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in just over two weeks. This year’s ceremony was pushed back from the spring, when it is traditionally held, and now, instead of a live event, a special is due to be televised on HBO on November 7th. In any event, we’ve been assured the induction will happen and in their 40th year in existence, Depeche Mode, iconic synthpop and alternative rock band, will be a part of the action.

At the beginning of 2020, I came up with this idea of celebrating Mode’s 40 years by doing a three-part series focusing on some of their best tunes over the years. I usually try to distill a band’s or artist’s best tunes down to a top five but given this band’s longevity, how long I’ve been following them, and how much their music has meant to me over my own bunch of decades, I decided to spread it out over three top five tunes posts, each focusing on a portion of their career. I posted part one on Depeche Mode’s first and most prolific decade together, the 1980s, back at the end of January. I was hoping to have this whole series wrapped up by the end of July but didn’t get around to posting part two on the band’s 1990s catalogue until pretty much the end of August. Here we are now nearing the end of October and I’m finally presenting the third and final chapter, the one where I will count down my favourite five of their tunes from the 21st century. Yeah. I did it.

I actually thought after posting the last part in this series that the steam I managed to gather would carry on and I’d just bang this one out right away. I honestly didn’t know how much I’d have to write about them after all I’ve done so far. The 80s and 90s were my favourite Depeche Mode years by far. Still, they’ve managed to stay very relevant this century, releasing a new album every four years since 2001. And though I haven’t been as excited about a new release since 1997’s “Ultra”, I’ve stopped and paid attention to each of the five albums the band released when they came out. And on each, there’s been at least one or two excellent tracks worthy of this iconic group and their storied discography.

So yeah, the 21st century, Depeche Mode worked with Mark Bell, Ben Hillier, Flood, and James Flood. They flirted with techno and all of its derivatives, all styles of music upon which Depeche Mode was one of the greatest influences, and though the results were decidedly mixed, it showed that the band was continuing to forward think. Indeed, Depeche Mode have never been a band to rest on their laurels and bank on past successes and the five tunes below will highlight some new classic tunes that are just as timeless as anything they’ve produced in the past. If they continue the trend that they start back in 2001, we should be seeing new music from the trio in 2021 but until then, have a gander here at their recent past and of course, sit back to enjoy the music.

The top five:

#5: Peace (from “Sounds of the universe”, 2009)

We start this top five with the second single released off Mode’s 12th (!) studio album, 2009’s “Sounds of the universe”. Martin Gore, the band’s principal songwriter, has called it one of his favourite songs he has ever written, this on account of its ’spiritual’ feel. David Gahan, the main voice of the group has said that for him, “it represents the joy and ecstasy of everything looking better, tasting better, sounding better.” The song starts off all heavy percussive low end synths with high end electronic beats, flittering and frittering digital party streamers, and then, more synth washes give way to breakbeats and other flourishes, Gahan gets all exultant, even breaking out the falsetto just before that breathtaking chorus, yeah, an unusually optimistic note, the repetition of the refrain: “Peace will come to me”. Gore joins in and it all sounds like we should be hearing this from the highest peak, monks and other spiritualists and the like.

#4: A pain that I’m used to (from “Playing the angel”, 2005)

From uplifting and optimistic, we move directly into more familiar Depeche Mode territory: sleek, dark, and sexy. The opening track off 2005’s “Playing the angel” was released as its second single. It is like the older and wiser and infinitely more lecherous cousin to “Master and servant”. “There’s a hole in your soul like an animal with no conscience, repentance unknown. Close your eyes, pay the price for your paradise. Devils feed on the seeds that are sown.” It feels kind of like industrial light, some bass heavy drumming, half human and half computer, alarming tidal wave synths wash and crush, left and right. Gore breaks out some guitar chops, dusting off the rock and roll stance. Everyone wears sunglasses here. Purgatory and pain. Angelic voices with broken wings. Atonement does not come easy.

#3: Where’s the revolution (from “Spirit”, 2017)

The first single from 2017’s “Spirit”, Depeche Mode’s last album to date, was a real eye-opener and call to arms. This isn’t the sound of a decades old band cashing in old cheques. No. This is Mode getting political, something they did on occasion, but haven’t for decades. “Where’s the revolution? Come on, people. You’re letting me down.” Tentative vibrations are answered by a twitchy and anxious beat, more of that industrial aesthetic, factory thumps and whistling steam exhaust, feet stomping like a military parade in a dystopian, fascist state. Fist pumps and salutes. Gahan is older but his voice has aged like fine whiskey and rather than grow stoic, he’s let the fire spread to conflagration. Fletch and Gore are right behind him, the muscle with arms crossed and sunglasses reflecting rage and moral superiority. These are big brothers but they’re not just watching, they’re calling you out to action.

#2: Dream on (from “Exciter”, 2001)

The runner up track on this particular list was the first single to be released by Depeche Mode in the 21st century. I’ve already written some pretty decent words on this very track when it made an appearance at number 18 on my Best tunes of 2001 list. So excuse me, while I plagiarize myself a little bit here. “You can hear the influence of producer Mark Bell (LFO, Björk) with the EDM beats throughout the record but here, it’s augmented by a bluesy acoustic guitar riff that just doesn’t quit. Dave Gahan’s vocal work is almost soulful and old-timey, clear and front of the palette of the austere production with Martin Gore adding his usual flourishes at opportune moments. Gore’s song subject is an addict hitting rock bottom and you feel that he is a addressing a woman he could love if she would give him the chance. But it’s Gahan that is singing the words and he does so from a place of experience.”

#1: Precious (from “Playing the angel”, 2005)

There’s a very good reason that there’s two songs on this list from 2005’s “Playing the angel” and that’s because, in this blogger’s humble opinion, that album is Depeche Mode’s best album since the 1990s. And this particular track, “Precious”, is the group’s best in a very, very long time. It’s got all of the hallmarks of Depeche Mode at their peak. A driven beat, dark and insular tones, an atmosphere of its own, nay, a world of its own, a wicked hook, and a draw to the dance floor. Not just any dance floor though. I’m thinking of your local vampire bar, dry ice and lasers, leather and PVC everywhere, dyed black hair and tattoos and piercings, and yeah, perhaps some sharp fangs. Martin Gore was at the top of his game when composing this wonder and David Gahan invoked some deep romance in his vocals. “If God has a master plan, that only He understands, I hope it’s your eyes He’s seeing through.” It’s precious and beautiful and pure Depeche Mode. Let’s hope we hear more of this very soon.

For other top five lists in this series, click here.

Top five tunes: Depeche Mode (1990s edition)

Who? Depeche Mode

Years active: 1980-present

Band members:
Dave Gahan (vocals) 1980-present
Martin Gore (vocals, keyboards, guitars) 1980-present
Andy Fletcher (keyboards, backing vocals) 1980-present
Vince Clarke (keyboards, lead and backing vocals, guitars) 1980–1981
Alan Wilder (keyboards, piano, drums, backing vocals) 1982–1995

Discography (1990s):
Violator (1990)
Songs of faith and devotion (1993)
Ultra (1997)

Context: It was way back at the end of January that I posted the first part of this series. I got the idea to do a three part “Top five tunes” series of posts on Depeche Mode when I read the news late last year that they would be celebrating their 40th anniversary together in 2020. I focused on their 1980s back catalogue in that first post and I was hoping to post this second post focusing on their output from the 1990s back in March but that obviously didn’t happen. And it’s pretty obvious by now that my plans of wrapping things up with a final post on the rest of their work before the end of July is dead in the water. However, I’m still optimistic that I can wrap this one up before the year is out.

A lot has transpired since I started writing for this series back in January (and since I actually started writing this post at the end of March). And I’m not just talking about the announcement that Mode was named part of the class of 2020 for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though that ceremony has been delayed now until the end of the year. You might have also heard talk about this thing called COVID-19 and the havoc it is wreaking on what we have all come to know as our ‘normal lives’. Indeed, the pandemic likely had a huge impact on whatever plans the three remaining members of Depeche Mode were hatching to celebrate this year, much as it has for musicians the world over, whether it be album releases or tours or music festival appearances. Everything ‘normal’ has pretty much ground to a halt and our purveyors of music have had to find innovative ways, mostly via social media, to stay creative and relevant. My own personal celebration of Mode’s 40 years can still continue, as it must, albeit perhaps at a slower pace than I was planning.

I mentioned in passing back in January that my first real introduction to the band came by way of “Personal Jesus”. It was released as a single in 1989 and appeared on their 1990 album “Violator”. If you’ve gone back to check, you’ll notice that the song didn’t appear in my 1980s top five and that’s because I’ve always lumped it in with their 90s output, so (*spoiler alert*) don’t be surprised to see it below. “Violator” really blew things wide open for Depeche Mode, continuing the work of exposing them to a worldwide market that “Music for the masses” and its ensuing tour began. They would only go on to release two more albums in the 90s but each were, if not as iconic as “Violator”, at least tremendously successful and continued to build on the momentum from the album before.

I had become a serious fan in the years between the releases of “Violator” and “Songs of faith and devotion” and I distinctly remember the first time I heard anything new from the latter album. That’s right, a certain song came on the radio while I was working kitchen at the King Street Bar & Grill. From the very first blood curdling screech and the bluesy guitar riff, I knew things were heading in a very different direction for Depeche Mode. And then I saw photos in the music magazines of frontman Dave Gahan, the long hair, beard, and tattoos, and read the stories of his relocation to Los Angeles, the drug use and near death experiences. I saw the band live for the first and only time in the summer of 1994 while they were touring that album at Kingswood Music Theatre. Incidentally, it was the first of many concerts that I would see with my wife Victoria, back when we just kids and didn’t know what life had in store for us, so it was a pretty special show for us both.

Multi-instrumentalist and one of the principal songwriters, Alan Wilder left the group the year after that concert, making the quartet a trio, and leaving a lot of question marks in all of our minds. The biggest one for me was would there ever be another Depeche Mode album. That question was answered in the affirmative in the spring of 1997, a great year for music in my humble opinion, with the release of “Ultra”. And though my tastes had moved on and Mode weren’t as near to my heart at that point, the album drew me in nonetheless and featured some very excellent music.

So yeah, Mode in the nineties, only three albums, but some very excellent tunes and many of them are a big part of my memories from that time. Let’s go.

The top five:

#5: Barrel of a gun (from “Ultra”, 1997)

I will forever associate this song with the night my wife and I officially celebrate as the night we got together as a couple after a few years of friendship. Even though the song wasn’t released as a single in North America until the end of the following month, I swear that we heard “Bullet of a gun” on the radio as part of a new music preview driving home from the coffee shop Victoria brought me to, planning to break up with me, a funny thought considering we weren’t yet a proper couple. Instead, I convinced her that we should give it an honest try. I remember taking this song as a sign, given that we had seen Depeche Mode live together, two years prior. Though had I gotten a closer listen to the lyrics at the time, I might not have thought the omen a good one. Frontman David Gahan felt as though Martin Gore had written it about him and his struggles at the time, the drugs that had him “staring down the barrel of a gun”. The track was the first single since Alan Wilder had left them a few years earlier and had their fans breathing a sigh of relief. It was dark, electronic, industrial, sexy, sleek, and undeniably, Depeche Mode.

#4: Waiting for the night (from “Violator”, 1990)

I remember my friend John using this song and quoting lyrics from it to spin yarns about his ability to visit parallel, dream-like worlds to the young ladies in our group of friends back in the day. Even now, I couldn’t tell you if he truly believed it or if it was just an attempt at getting some play. Listening to this song loudly, though, in a darkened room, through half closed eyes, might have anyone believing in the supernatural. “And when I squinted, the world seemed rose-tinted and angels appeared to descend.” Everything seems better when partially obscured says track five on Depeche Mode’s iconic album, “Violator”. The rapid fire, repetitive, percussive synths mesh together and wash miasma to create a sort of mist, a haunted space where all seems at peace, and Martin Gore and David Gahan sing together as one, a dream, a pang at the heart, a big glass of deep red wine. Just lay back on your carpet, let the night wash over you, the vibrations sink into your bones, and it doesn’t really matter if the story was true or not. It just is.

#3: I feel you (from “Songs of faith and devotion”, 1993)

“Violator” saw Depeche Mode branching out and adding other instruments, like guitars (!), to their typical synth palette but their next album, “Songs of faith and devotion”, was the closest thing to a rock album that the band would record. “I feel you” has a serious blues riff, care of Martin Gore on guitar, and Alan Wilder played the rhythm on an honest to goodness drum kit. Though truth be told, his playing was then looped, digitized, and sampled throughout. The religious overtones in their lyrics were taken to new heights on the album, flirting with gospel tropes and choirs, and here on “I feel you”, as per usual, Gore has Gahan equating God with the very human emotion: love. “You take me where the kingdom comes. You take me to and lead me through Babylon. This is the morning of our love. It’s just the dawning of our love.” It’s a sensuous piece that bumps and grinds along and Gahan roars like the sexy beast that he is, newly long hair a flailing, attitude personified. Yes indeed.

#2: Enjoy the silence (from “Violator”, 1990)

The fact that there are three songs from “Violator” on this list of Depeche Mode’s best five tunes from the decade (don’t worry, I know you’ve already skipped ahead to see which one was number one) only serves as a reminder (as if it was needed) as to how great that album was. Both this track and the number one also hit these pages as part of my Best tunes of 1990 series. “Enjoy the silence” was number 11 on that list and only comes second here to an indisputable modern classic, but it too is definitely one of my favourite tunes of all time. It is breaths of fresh air interspersed with delectable guitar licks that, together, approximate the beauty of the soul. Drum beats explode with confetti and get frenetic and tribal. It is worldly and interstellar, calling to mind the vastness of the grand canyon and the grandeur of the alps and the solitude of the Sahara or Antartica. It is all this and yet, all David Gahan (or was it Martin Gore) wanted and needed was here in his arms, the love of his life, the love of your life, equating silence, equating everything. Yeah, it’s all that but it’s also a great tune with which to smash the dance floor.

#1: Personal Jesus (from “Violator”, 1990)

I hinted earlier in this post that this song would appear somewhere in this list and given that I mentioned that it was my introduction to Depeche Mode and that this very same song was my number one track on my best tunes of 1990 list, you shouldn’t at all be surprised to find it number one here. Don’t be disappointed. Really, is there anybody that was alive in 1990 that doesn’t know  and love “Personal Jesus”, at least to some degree? Just play the twin chiming bells at the start of the song and I’d say that most will chime in with “reach out and touch faith”, call and answer like. The song was everywhere for a time and with good reason. “Personal Jesus” is an excellent track that feels that it pokes fun at televangelists at the same time as it examines the nature of love and obsession. The bluesy guitar riff and and the stomping percussion that plays through the first part of the verses is sexy and danceable and then things get all erratic and driving and needy before the familiar refrain kicks in. Yeah, we all need faith and we all need something to believe in, love is a religion. “Personal Jesus” is a revolution.

For other top five lists in this series, click here.

Top five tunes: The Jam

(Happy Thursday everyone! As a special treat to get you through the weekend, I’ve got a guest post that has been in the can for a while now. I asked my good friend and erstwhile contributor to both of my blog’s in the past, Andrew Rodriguez, to do this post on The Jam a few years ago now. I asked him because he’s the biggest Paul Weller fan that I know. It’s been so long now that I feared I’d never get the post and then one day, a few weeks ago, this monster appeared in my email inbox. It’s super long but I didn’t want to edit it down because I know how he struggled with it, wanting to do the band justice. So here it is with just a few typos corrected and some of his f-bombs censored to ensure better reach. See you Monday.)

“Where did you get your tan!?!?”

Eye roll, smirk. A look over the shoulder; resigned shrug, and a nod.

That was around 4:30 in the afternoon, at the entrance to the Phoenix Concert Theater in Toronto. Thursday, 12th May, 1994. I was doing the eye rolling and smirking. The girl that asked about ‘the tan’ later that night gave me her sweater (it was a cool sweater – and – well she was actually quite hot). The ‘over the shoulder look’ etc – that was Paul Weller. And he was indeed well tanned. Decked out in snakeskin shoes, well worn jeans, nice 2 button tshirt, and Ray Ban Olympia sunglasses. I had just spent about 15 minutes talking to him.

I was there to see PW on his Wildwood tour. Wildwood was his second solo album, and while no-one I knew was aware of it – that was just prior to the whole ‘Britpop’ thing (Above which, you should know, Paul Weller loomed large. If you didnt know that – then read on and learn something). It wasn’t the first time I had seen PW. That was 23 July 1992, at the Concert Hall.

I barely made it to that show. I did not have the chance to meet him. I was a soldier then (well, in training). I was stationed at CFB Borden (Canadian Forces Base). Which is, at the best of times an hour or so north of Toronto. They were gracious enough to grant us leave when I was on that course so I did have the weekend off. It wasn’t guaranteed and I seriously considered going AWOL had leave not been granted. My parents picked me up at the Base, then drove all the way downtown to the Concert Hall. I frantically changed in the backseat. from my army uniform into my ‘other’ uniform. That being a Fred Perry and some slim casual pants and desert boots with a Harrington jacket. It was really cool that summer. Which is good weather for mod style. I was on edge the entire drive down. It was only my second actual concert. I’m more seasoned and cool now. I was 17 then.

Parents dropped me off, fruitless scramble to try and find my mod pals who I knew were there. We had a Modernist Society, United Soul. In those days, there were a lot of clubs, societies, gangs – whatever you want to call them. USMS, we were the last Mod club in Toronto (that I know of).

Now its getting boring and might seem like I am losing the plot. I’m not. It was 1992, no internet. As far as I was concerned, the bulk of the bands that I liked, were long broken up (long being relative). PW came out with his first solo album that year, I hadn’t heard it. The tour came a couple of months before the album was actually available. All I had heard was a single on the radio (Uh Huh Oh Yeh – he never seemed to play that live – its a great tune) and I had heard that there was a concert. So I bought a ticket (knowing I might have to resort to going AWOL to actually make the show). I KNEW I HAD TO BE THERE. The Concert Hall was sold out by the way, I wasn’t the only one that *had* to be there – but I am the one writing this. WHY?

I HAD to be there because I knew Paul Weller from The Jam. THE JAM. John, a few years ago, suggested that I write a piece about my favourite 5 Jam songs. This entry has been a long time coming. Partially due to me being busy, slightly due to me being lazy – but mainly because its a very tough task. Why? The Jam released 6 studio albums, numerous singles and b sides, and – there is a lot of material to sort through. Over their career, their sound changed, in the sense that – well it became fuller in some regards (towards the end they needed session musicians to help flesh out the sound and meet the needs of the material). But – the Jam were a 3 piece band. They didn’t start that way, but the Jam that we know and love consisted of Paul Weller, Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton. Lead vocals, guitar; drums; bass and backing vocals respectively. Paul Weller wrote almost all of their material, and generally dictated the direction of the band. BUT. He could not have done it on his own. Buckler and Foxton were, in my ‘humble’ opinion, the greatest rhythm section of any band at that time. The Jam was a 3 piece, it was not Paul Weller and some backing band.

The Jam had clear influences and were also clearly influential. I’ve put a lot of thought into this selection of 5 songs. My intention is to showcase the full depth and breadth of their career. As mentioned it has been tough! I don’t shy away from their ‘hits’ (they had a few) because of some juvenile “hits are bad!” bullshit ethos. I shy away from their hits because I never really cared for them, and in one (hahahaha just an aside – i’m listening to their catalogue right now – and ‘That’s Entertainment’ just started playing – JESUS CHRIST if that isn’t a sign i don’t know what is) case, That’s Entertainment has already been talked about in this blog.

So, lets get to the songs shall we? It’s tough enough to restrict it to 5. This is not a ranked order. I will, if possible, provide Youtube or other links for each, and I will try to explain the reason for each song’s inclusion. I will also try to give background info about each song and the album from which it is drawn. Lastly, while I recommend listening to all of their albums – I HIGHLY recommend The Jam Extras. It was a cd only (so far as I know) album that came out in 1992. It was the first cd that I ever bought (I didn’t even have a cd player yet!). It contains a lot of material that you will not find anywhere else – and it is the perfect side dish to the main course of their studio releases. It is also on Spotify, but here is a link if you want to look it up. 🙂

FINALLY, the songs!

Art school (from “In the city”, 1977)

First, we have Art School. Now – you will note that this youtube link has 2 songs meshed into one video (John – I swear this was NOT me trying to ignore the 5 song rule! I swear – it’s simply that I could not find the Art School video that I was looking for – on its own, if anyone REAAAAAALLY wants to – just skip to 2:14 and you can hear Art School – although I would recommend hearing both). Art School was the Jam’s first single, in 1977. It was also the opening track on the first album – In The City. It also, most importantly was the first Jam song that I heard. I bought the LP (YES JOHN – it was vinyl) when I was 14. I had a record allowance from my parents (also music fans large), and we used to go to record shows. I bought it because – well I was impressionable at that age, I had already decided that I was a mod, and well, mods were supposed to like the Jam. Also the album sleeve looked cool, my parents already knew who they were and they approved – so I bought it. Now – if you were naughty and listened to both songs in the youtube link, you might (depending on your musical knowledge) notice that In the City sounds like a direct ripoff (not lyrically) of the Sex Pistols Holidays In the Sun. If you noticed that you get a gold star. That was the first thing that I thought when I heard In the City, as I had been listening to the Sex Pistols (my parents had the NMTB album) for over a year at that point. However, the first song that I heard was Art School. AND I WAS HOOKED. 4 chords – PW shouting the count in – and BAM!

Seriously there wasnt a heck of a lot going on musically in 1988, I mean there was – but nothing that grabbed me like The Jam did. My hair stood on end. It was electrifying. At that age I was sort of in limbo really. I was at that time attending a private boarding school near Toronto, so I didnt get much time at home and I most definitely did not get much time on my own to think. We moved around a fair bit back then, so I was used to not really being connected to much of anything. I went to a summer camp, that I loved and eventually worked at (when I met Paul Weller, I was with 2 camp friends actually), and then there was school. Lyrically – and you CANNOT talk about the Jam without getting into the lyrics. The Jam were not some tosspot disposable pop band. Pop? Yes, actually they WERE a pop band. Pop is not necessarily a bad word. The Who, The Beatles and The Small Faces were also pop bands. The Jam, for me, and many others – had it ALL. Aggression, style, talent, skill – and heartfelt and poignant lyrics to back it up. For me – and pay close attention to this – for me, they were inspiring. The lifescapes that The Jam painted, for me, were a perfect compliment to everything else I was getting. Boarding school was tough, I didnt exactly hate it, but I was disappointed in it. A lot of hypocrisy. The Jam became one of my 2 go to bands, I could retreat into my own little world and listen to them without it feeling like (or being) brainless escapism. The only other band at that time that I got the same feel from was The Specials but that’s a different entry altogether.

The Jam In the City LP was produced to sound as close to a live show as possible. The band weren’t actually happy with the finished product. They thought it was over produced. I don’t care either way. I never got to see them live. For me, it was great. And it formed the soundtrack of my 14 year old (and going forward) life. Now there – there is an awful lot to talk about with the Jam – I am actually trying really hard to keep this short and sweet. In The City came out in 1977. The Jam had actually been a band for about 5 years prior. I will give you the short version of their bio. Early 70s in a place called Woking – its a satellite town of London, Paul Weller and his best pal Steve Brookes basically decided they wanted to form a band. They were not into any of the music that was popular at the time so they went backwards – r’n’b, rock’n’roll etc. and I do not use those terms loosely. r’n’b isn’t Beyonce and rock’n’roll isn’t Aerosmith. Shortly they got Rick Buckler to drum for them, and eventually Bruce Foxton joined. There was a period where it took them awhile to sort out who would play what. Weller was bass player for awhile, Short story – Foxton eventually took over bass playing duties, Brookes left the band, and they became a 3 piece. The lineup that would stay intact until 1982. So they banged around, Wellers father John was their manager – for their entire career, Weller Sr was instrumental in booking all of their early gigs and basically hustling for them. Aside from inspiring them occasionally, kicking their asses into gear, and constantly hustling for places to play – John Weller imbued the band with a firm and realistic ethos. Be nice to the fans. Remember the fans put you up there on stage. The Jam were always a very extremely fan friendly band. Their soundchecks were always open to fans, they always gave autographs and they were always approachable. You, dear reader – need to remember that – I may seem to be rambling but there is an overall arc to this story – and if you are bright and I am not too boring – you should be able to stick it out and get the full picture.

Tales from the riverbank (from “Absolute beginners”, 1981)

I apologize for the annoying graphics in the video. I didn’t make it. Just read this, and listen. This song did not make it onto any of the Jam’s studio albums. It was B-side to their 1981 single “Absolute Beginners”, which also wasn’t on any studio album. As mentioned above – this list of 5 is my list and it doesnt follow any order. Tales from the Riverbank is one of the most haunting ‘pop’ songs I have ever heard. 4 years after In The City. Now when the Jam started, they – well noone really knew what to make of them. Paul Weller admitted he was late in clueing in to The Who. When the early Jam had been playing old 60s covers, The Who hadn’t really crossed his desk until around 1976. Around the same time that he saw The Sex Pistols play in London. It was a sort of combined EUREKA! moment for PW, and the Jam – who by that point he was effectively the leader of. Early Who turned PW on to the whole mod thing. Of course, the Who were only ‘mods’ as long as it sold them a few albums. Mod was an actual ‘thing’, the Who were just initially a crudely rendered commercial face (no pun) for it. That all said, The Who still had energy and creativity – 2 traits the Jam possessed in abundance, most of the time. Weller – and the Jam, adopted the Mod look. It set them apart from all of the ‘punk’ bands that were their ‘contemporaries’. They looked sharper. They had a hard edge of course – but they were more melodic and possessed the same amount of energy as The Clash or The Pistols. And PW had been clearly moved by seeing the Sex Pistols live (the other half of the EUREKA moment). But they weren’t punks. And they weren’t from London, Again, they were from Woking, a satellite ‘hick’ town that none of the London elite gave a f*ck about. Now both John and I are from a satellite hick town, I will point that out. By the time Tales from the Riverbank came out – obviously the Jam had grown and their sound had changed slightly. They were also by that point well established – on their own terms. No punks were being snobby to them in 1981 – why? HAHAHAHA well mainly because there were no ‘punks’ left. Tales From the Riverbank – I first heard it on a compilation album called SNAP! – there are loads of Jam compilation albums out there, and most of them are just – well they mostly have all the same songs. If you are short on time – take it from me – between SNAP! and EXTRAS – you cannot go wrong. Riverbank? It has one of the most haunting melodies – but even then – holy shit – just turn up the volume – and Bruce Foxtons’ bass line. It is a beautiful song. The Jam – they could blow the stage apart with aggressive powerchords and explosive drumming – but they could also be very subdued – and sometimes – the Jam subdued – were a lot more powerful and moving. I’ve generally always lived near water. Rivers, creeks, lakes. This song – is about the closest aural equivalent that you can get to living near water and all of the variously beautiful and creepy things that go with it. It is a song to listen to when you are down, or not, when you are in a pensive mood, or not. Listen to the song.

Dream time (from “Sound affects”, 1980)

Alright dear reader, you will remember the previous song was from 1981. Well this, Dream Time, is from 1980. Track 1 on side 2 of the album Sound Affects. It is the same album that That’s Entertainment came from. Also Start! which is a very good song and was also their second #1 single (The Beatles weren’t around to take the credit). But, for me Dream Time – wow – it – this was 5th Jam album. PW has said that it is his favourite Jam album. Dream Time. Now Tales from the Riverbank – you have listened to that – so you understand the romance and the depth that the Jam were able to create through their music – Dream Time – for me – is the perfect combination of anger as an actual state of mind, panic, helplessness desire and HOPE. YOU FEEL THIS SONG. It is, for me, the most ‘human’ of Jam songs. And all of their songs were human to a degree. This – for me – was the most identifiable. And the end bit – ‘its a tough tough world…’. My father – who I love dearly – told me the same damned f*cking thing. My father was a martial artist, several arts. Loving, but he, and this was out of love, was often very harsh with me – never cruel – he told me the same thing. Remember what I said earlier about Jam lyrics? There is a great documentary called ‘About the Young Idea’. It came out a few years ago. My mum ordered it for me. And guess what the f*ck what? Your humble blog contributor, Andrew Rodriguez, was (this is a matter of minutes) either the FIRST or the SECOND person in North America to own it. I highly recommend that documentary. But what I found fascinating is – the number of people who – different experiences – quite candidly talked about the influence of the Jam on their lives. So, no, I m not a freak. HOWEVER, if you have read this far – I can GUARANTEE you are getting something here on MLIML that you cannot get anywhere else. It cannot be bought. I am talking about experiences. And, the Jam – well sure I bought their music – but the experiences that I have had listening – that cannot be bought. Dream Time – it just wraps up a whole pile of things for me. And – frankly I don’t have the flowery vocabulary to go on this further, and I also have constraints. John cracks the whip on me you know. Dear Reader – things here at MLIML are not always rosey. Its like a bad dream sometimes. LISTEN TO THIS SONG.

Precious (from “The gift”, 1982)

OKAY – let’s lighten things up a bit. I remember reading once as a kid – the Jam had to release some Christmas jingle sort of song – and Paul Weller had to introduce it by saying “This is Paul Weller speaking – but don’t let that stop any of you from having a good time”. I know I can sometimes be a bit heady. Sorry – that is the way I am wired. However – sometimes I just want to groove the f*ck out. Precious (no – not a reference to Gollum) is just that. From The Gift, 1982 and the last Jam album. it was a double A-side to Town Called Malice, which got most of the airplay. Now, this song is – groovy as all hell. But notice – the extra instrumentation. Notice also – drums and bass are still very much in the game. By this point – PW was really getting rootsy and delving more into soul music. It should be noted that back in the early 70s they were covering soul songs. They did a blistering live version of Wilson Picketts’ “In The Midnight Hour” live, and that was added on to the end of their second LP in 1977. So, again this was the final Jam LP, but the ‘soul direction’ wasn’t actually anything new. What WAS new was the band were able to pay extra musicians to flesh out the sound. By this point of course – well, Buckler and Foxton were starting to get uneasy. They felt that the band was going in a direction that they weren’t comfortable with. Who can say? I’m not Paul Weller, or Bruce or Rick. Basically The Gift was the Jam’s last LP. Limited copies actually came out wrapped in wrapping paper – with a tag – like a present. And – oh my readers….guess what? A young Andrew Rodriguez actually came across one of those original wrapped up albums – in a record shop in about 1989. And of course – I didn’t pick it up – we can’t be on all the time now, can we? But yes – the Jam were – I mean – basically they were at the top – they had achieved far more than they ever realised was possible. Or at least possible for them.

Beat surrender (from “Beat surrender”, 1982)

And now, my Dear Readers – we get to the sad part. Have any of you ever heard a song from a band that you loved – and maybe not known that it was their last one – but there is just a ‘feel’ about it? Beat Surrender is just such a song. The last Jam single. I’ve always liked it. But, it was their last. And, you look back, listen back, over the last little bit – the time you have spent with me. Art School – to Beat Surrender. And that is the Jam. Not all of it – I had to really focus on selecting the 5 songs I eventually picked. It was hard – but I did it for YOU, the reader. Because I care about the Jam – they have been important and influential to me – and many many other people (many of whom are not so easily accessible as me courtesy of MLIML – so you should thank me and thank John). This song makes me tear up. I am not ashamed of that. I am man enough to admit that I cry easily, sometimes. And I really don’t care what people say about that. It is not contrived. I am an emotional person – and the Jam – well they – I grew up with them. Inadvertently, I came across their albums in basically the order that they came out. Odd that. Beat Surrender was the end of the Jam. Their earliest shows they used to have Northern Soul dj’s warming up the crowd. Funny that their last song would be essentially a piece of Northern Soul – or in their case – a piece of Southern English Soul. Its an odd tune – a biographical tune, but not just for the band – also for their fans. Bittersweet. But while it was the end of The Jam – Paul Weller wasn’t anywhere near finished. PW teamed up with Mick Talbot, who had been the organist for a short-lived Mod revival band called the Merton Parkas (I have their album – uhhhhh, ok it had a wicked cover of Stepping Stone), and The Style Council was born. TSC lasted until about 1989. People either loved them or hated them, but no-one could dispute they weren’t afraid of trying new things. When TSC fizzled, well, Paul Weller went solo.

“Where did you get your tan?!?” – I think that’s where we began. HAHA. Man that was a f*cking riot. Phoenix. I was stood outside with my friends Bill and Trevor. Remember when I mentioned summer camp earlier? They were camp friends, we had spent several summers working together. I had actually gotten them into Paul Weller, solo material, and eventually The Jam. Bill is a Magician these days (seriously, a professional), and he was musically more into Hip Hop and Jazz. he was a wicked drummer. But he, as a drummer – respected Rick Buckler. Trevor, well he was just Trevor. Hahaha, A good friend. We were standing at the foot of the entrance to the Phoenix. A group of girls were gathered by the door. Including the sweater one. We were there hours before the show. I was waiting for my other friend Andrew to show up. He was one of my mod club colleagues. At one point, this guy walked around the corner carrying a guitar case. Trevor loudly said “HAHA! check this guy – he thinks he’s Paul Weller!” I was mortified “shut up! it IS HIM!”

I had fantasised about the moment for years. And really – I don’t give a fuck what anyone makes of this. For me, meeting Paul Weller was a high point in my life. Why? well a few reasons. One being, it is very very rare that you ever get to meet – face to face – one of your heroes. Rarer is having both the opportunity and the presence of mind – to be able to tell them what you think of them. I had the opportunity – and I took it. And, he listened. I won’t bore you with the details – but I introduced myself, I basically laid it out – I had grown up with his music, been from a smaller outlying town had felt like an outsider but had always been inspired and how basically his music was like basically what my parents were telling me but cooler etc. Its a bit of a blur. I have read that Paul Weller is considered by many people to be a dick. I didn’t get that at all. He listened to me, he talked with me. For about 15 minutes. And I think that came from his Jam days, when Weller Sr told them to always remember the fans. Bill talked to him a bit and Trevor also then he had to move on. We had a very decent conversation. When he got to the door – that’s when the one girl blurted out “where did you get your tan??” – and PW and I made eye contact. And – well that was basically it.

Later after the show I got the sweater from the tan girl – she – well I wont get into detail – she was very cute, albeit a bit flakey. Whatever. My friend Andrew eventually showed up. He missed Paul Weller by minutes. He rode down on his Vespa. And actually had been delayed because he was packing a bunch of tapes our friend Roy had made for me. Roy was sort of the leader of our Mod group and he was moving to Hong Kong – he lives there to this day. Andrew missed Paul Weller, I got the tapes, I got the sweater – and most importantly – I was able to meet one of my heroes. And I found him to be genuine. Paul Weller was the genuine deal. I have met frauds and idiots before. But PW was everything in person that I had hoped for. And as a result – I can still listen to the Jam with the same enthusiasm I had when I was a teenager.

Thus ends my list of the Top 5 Jam songs. Go out and look for yourself. It’s a lot easier these days. They were a great band. I hope you have enjoyed the list.

Peace out.

A few more stats on The Jam

Years active: 1972-1982

Band members:
Paul Weller (vocals, lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) 1972-1982
Rick Buckler (drums, percussion) 1972-1982
Bruce Foxton (vocals, bass guitar, rhythm guitar) 1972-1982
Steve Brookes (lead guitar) 1972–1976
Dave Waller (rhythm guitar) 1972–1973

Discography (studio LPs only):
In the city (1977)
This is the modern world (1977)
All mod cons (1978)
Setting sons (1979)
Sound affects (1980)
The gift (1982)

For other top five lists in this series, click here.