Back in the day as a teenager in the late 70s embracing much of the "New Wave" movement of the times, I have to admit up front that I skipped on The Jam for numerous reasons. And that is really a shame as I think I would have liked them had I been turned onto them earlier and properly. But I never really knew anyone into them, didn't hear them played on the radio and I don't think they played on television here in the U.S. So I saw these singles and albums occasionally in some of the record shops, but never got the connection. Instead, I got into Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Devo and many other artists after seeing them on shows like Saturday Night Live and hearing them on the radio. I got into many of the Stiff Records acts and Rockpile with Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. Heck, I was a big fan of Martha and the Muffins. But, not The Jam.
The Jam... they eluded me for some reason which is a bit tragic as I was (and still am) a huge fan of many of their biggest influences, particularly The Who and The Kinks. When I finally did get formally introduced to them by one of my room mates in college around the time of Sound Affects, it was in fact the lead song on that US pressing of album -- which put the song "Start" at the beginning of Side 1, with its blatant copping of George Harrison's lick from "Taxman" (on The Beatles' Revolver album) -- that turned me off.
It wasn't until years later when I heard Morrissey's cover of lead guitarist, singer and main song writer Paul Weller's brilliant "That's Entertainment" that I began to reconsider The Jam. And I've since come to appreciate the humor (and hubris) of their pulling off such a bold nick on the Fab Four, making it their own for their song (including crafting a fresh guitar solo modeled loosely after Harrison's). I recognize now that this song was probably never meant to be the first song on the album -- and for attracting knowledgeable listeners like me, it was no doubt a bad move on the part of the US record company for messing with the track running order that way.
Anyhow, it's a shame The Jam weren't bigger here in the United States as they were clearly important. And that is part of why they are the subject of a fine new five disc boxed set simply titled The Jam / 1977. The set includes the first two albums by the group -- In The City and This Is The Modern World -- plus a disc of demos and a fourth discs of live recordings. The fifth disc is perhaps the most powerful of the bunch, a DVD with live television appearances -- I can't help but feeling that if I had seen this band first before just hearing them, I would have bought into them hook, line and sinker. If this DVD is any indication, they were pretty tremendous live and a whole lot of fun (as evidenced by the pogoing mosh pit-like crowds around the stages!).
Since The Jam were a power trio, their live recordings kind of mirror the studio recordings, replacing studio finesse with on-stage energy -- and that energy is palpable, even as I dig down into them 40 years hence. The live disc opens up with eight tracks from UK DJ John Peel's legendary radio show. But I think I really rather prefer the live soundboard quality recording (from London's Nashville Room) for the purer concert experience. Tracks like "Time For The Truth" and "In The City" are super powerful. There are some choice cover tunes peppering their live set including an almost obligatory Who song ( the tremendous "So Sad About Us"). The band are really in their moment doing a revved-up funky power-punk-pop versions of Arthur Conley's 1967 hit "Sweet Soul Music," Wilson Pickett's 1965 smash "In The Midnight Hour" and Larry William's 1958 gem "Slow Down" (which was covered by The Beatles). These guys were super tight!
All in all the CDs on this set sound quite good, albeit delivering a different listening experience than when I play my original UK LP pressings. The disc of previously unreleased demos are also revelatory, somehow revealing the basic rock band that they were vs. the powerful polished-yet-raw presentation of the group on those first two albums. The Jam grew a lot in a very short time, especially notable on tracks like "Time For Truth" which sounds positively huge in comparison to the demo version.
You can hear all the audio from this set up on Tidal, if you have a subscription in pretty much the same quality as the CDs.
But ultimately, for me at least, it is the one thing that is not on Tidal -- the videos on the DVD -- that is the star of this set. Featuring stellar clips of The Jam appearing on Top of the Pops and (especially the obviously live) So It Goes from 1977 as well as a couple of Polydor Records promo films from that year, these time capsule-like films go a long way to giving you a strong sense of what this band really was like in concert and on stage. What a great fun band they were on stage! It makes you wish you could go back in time to be in that mosh pit...
The Jam / 1977 box set lovingly presents this music with individual album covers and inner slip sheets for each disc as well as a fun -- and fairly hefty -- 144-page book with reproductions of press clippings, tour itineraries, photos and other memorabilia from the period. Whether you are a hard core fan -- who probably has a lot of this stuff in lesser quality -- or a relative newbie like myself, this new set would be a fine addition to your collection.
Now my only hope is that there will be another set tracing the band's trajectory from 1978 through 1982.
I'm ready to go underground...