Wednesday 25 November 2020

There's a really decent album in there somewhere...

Back in the day, I had this - both albums together, in their entirety

The Jam's first studio album, In The City, was released on 20th May 1977. It did okay, surfing in the wake of punk and the single of the same name, and reached a highpoint of number 20 in the album chart. In 32 minutes and two seconds, Paul, Bruce and Rick's debut offering was a short, sharp statement of intent, with ten Weller original compositions and a couple of covers.

Their follow-up, This Is The Modern World, was released a barely credible (by today's standards) 182 days later, on 18th November 1977. It followed much the same format - twelve tracks, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and Chris Parry on production duties, a short running time (31:19) and preceded by a lead-out single of the same name - and had similar chart success, reaching number 22 and eventually selling enough to be certified silver. There were some differences though, certainly being more Mod-revival than (post-)punk. And the songs - two Foxton efforts, a cover and nine original Weller compositions (one of those was co-written with Dave Waller). More than that, though, this was an album on which the band were trying to reach a bit further ... and coming up short.

It's no surprise, then, that This Is The Modern World got quite a critical mauling, silver disc or not, to the extent that the band's third album, November '78's All Mod Cons, really was seen as a last chance to get things right. Luckily for us all, that turned out more than alright. But imagine if it hadn't? The Jam might have become a footnote in musical history and, far from his revered Modfather status, it might have been more a case of "Paul who?"

But here's the thing: take these two short albums, released six short months apart, and put them together, cherry-picking the best bits, and you have one cracker!

Let's pull apart In The City first:

  1. Art School - an absolute statement of intent and philosophy - STAYS
  2. I've Changed My Address - maximum R&B elevated further by pop art guitar after 1m30 - STAYS
  3. Slow Down - a lively, well-chosen cover version but should have been kept for a single B-side - GOES
  4. I Got By In Time - a decent song but doesn't really go anywhere - GOES
  5. Away From The Numbers - in which The Jam sound starts to crystallise, and a recurrent theme emerges - STAYS
  6. Batman theme - yes, it's fun, but there's no place for covering a TV theme here - GOES
  7. In The City - dynamic single and calling card, essential - STAYS
  8. Sounds From The Street - another decent song (spoiler - they all are) but I can live without the falsetto bit - GOES
  9. Non-Stop Dancing - I imagine this played well at early live shows but it doesn't aim high enough - GOES
  10. Time For Truth - musically, if not lyrically, the most mature song on the debut album - STAYS
  11. Takin' My Love - important to showcase the power of the band on a debut album and this rattles along - STAYS
  12. Bricks And Mortar - wearing his social conscience on his sleeve from day one, and imagine a house costing 40 grand... - STAYS

Now let's do the same for This Is The Modern World:

  1. The Modern World - can't not be included, can it? - STAYS
  2. London Traffic - "London traffic, going nowhere, London traffic, polluting the air", etc. Sorry Bruce - GOES
  3. Standards - too rudimentary, feels like they weren't trying - GOES
  4. Life From A Window - you know what I was saying about a band trying to reach a bit further...? - STAYS
  5. The Combine - signposts what was to come on All Mod Cons and with a nice guitar motif late on - STAYS
  6. Don't Tell Them You're Sane - a better effort from Bruce but suffers by comparison - GOES
  7. In The Street, Today - nearly a great early Jam song ... but only nearly - GOES
  8. London Girl - a really interesting lyric from one so young - STAYS
  9. I Need You (For Someone) - but look, he could write Beatley love songs too - STAYS
  10. Here Comes The Weekend - bit hard to remember, in middle age, but the weekend was looked forward to once, wasn't it? - STAYS
  11. Tonight At Noon - one of the best songs on the second album - STAYS
  12. In The Midnight Hour - a decent cover and early live-set staple but no, keep it for a B-side - GOES

So what are we left with? The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that I've chosen fourteen tracks rather than twelve, because the album needs to be a bit longer (and filling more of one side of a C90 - kids, look it up). So that's seven tracks from each album (and all Weller compositions, make of that what you will) - now all I need is a running order. And, without explanation (though there is one, of course, but this post is already getting too long), here's what I've come up with for what could, and perhaps should, have been The Jam's debut album:

  1. In The City (2:19)
  2. Art School (2:02)
  3. London Girl (2:40)
  4. I Need You (For Someone) (2:41)
  5. Takin' My Love (2:15)
  6. Bricks And Mortar (2:37)
  7. Away From The Numbers (4:03)
  1. The Modern World (2:31)
  2. I've Changed My Address (3:31)
  3. Life From A Window (2:52)
  4. The Combine (2:20)
  5. Time For Truth (3:10)
  6. Here Comes The Weekend (3:30)
  7. Tonight At Noon (3:01)

I don't do Spotify, so I can't playlist it for you that way... but I can with YouTube, so without further ado, let me introduce it by saying that, much as I love both the original albums, I think this would have been even better. Ladies and gentleman, I give you This Is The City.


  1. I got both of these albums first on a Polydor twofer (in fact the very tape case you picture) so have always viewed these two as a double album. And as most with most double albums, there's always a bit of filler.
    But if it must be a single platter:
    Good to see Life From A Window saved from the cull. But could you not find room for Standards somewhere. Yes it's a bit derivative, but the live version on Dig The New Breed is properly cooking.

    1. I had the twofer tape too (had the other one, All Mod Cons + Setting Sons, as well).

      Standards was my first reserve but I discounted it on the grounds of banging it out on my teenage guitar whilst a school friend played drums and two others tried their hand at vocal duties - in other words, I feared I was judging it as nostalgia rather than as a song. Totally agree about the DTNB live version.

      God, they were bloody good, weren't they?

  2. great post, I really enjoyed it and pretty much agreed with your selections, now doing the same for the next 2 jam albums would be a challenge

    1. Indeed, not going to try that as there's no filler to cut from the next two!

  3. The Man Of Cheese28 November 2020 at 22:27

    Got to keep Standards for old times sake! Great album that never was. True indeed about Setting Sons and Sound Affects-simply perfect and still on in the car on the way to work.
    What would stay and go for The Smith's first 2 albums-that's surely even harder?!

    1. I was sorely tempted by Standards, for old time's sake!

      Now as for the first two Smiths albums - what would you drop? Think I might just end up with a double album...

  4. The Man Of Cheese4 December 2020 at 22:05

    Totally,nigh on impossible to cull any. If really pushed might let Meat Is Murder go but that's it. Working from studio albums as opposed to compilation s but if Hatful of Hollow was counted as album number 2 it would definitely be a double album as every track a classic.