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Thursday 24 March 2022

It's A Dream I'll Always Hang Onto

The Jam were such a formative band for many people growing up in the late 70s and 80s, whether you were twelve or eighteen their songs, look, attitude and influences had a long lasting impact (Weller was especially adept at dropping clues for fans to follow from the poetry of Shelly to the music of The Who and the books of George Orwell). There's been some discussion at various internet places recently about their best album. For some it's Setting Sons, for others Sound Affects. I imagine there's a significant cohort of fans who'd go for All Mod Cons. There's a strong argument too that albums weren't necessarily the trio's strongest suit and that their singles show them at their best, from In The City in 1977 to Beat Surrender in 1982 and all points in between. Is there a poor Jam single? I don't think so. 

Looking at their singles it's pretty striking too that their B-sides were rarely anything below very good and some of them equal their A- sides. A compilation of Jam B-sides would trump many of their contemporaries singles and/ or albums. Some of the B-sides are covers, a showcase for Weller's influences and for paying homage to his inspirations- Disguises was the B-side to Funeral Pyre and So Sad About Us was on the flipside of Down In The Tube Station, both covers of songs by The Who. The Beat Surrender 7" double pack had covers of Stoned Out Of My Mind (The Chi- Lites) and Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield), both signposts for where he'd go next. Shopping, the lead B-side from Beat Surrender is a must for a Jam B-side compilation, swinging modern jazz done Jam style. Then there's The Butterfly Collector (Strange Town), the Syd Barrett whimsey of Liza Radley (Start!), The Great Depression (Just Who Is The 5 'o' Clock Hero?) Pity Poor Alfie/ Fever (The Bitterest Pill) and Smithers Jones (When You're Young). Not to mention the funk workout of Precious (officially a double A- side with A Town Called Malice). 

The two greatest Jam B-sides for me though are these two- Dreams Of Children and Tales From The Riverbank. Dreams Of Children, officially a double A-side but a mix up at the pressing plant did for that notion, is Weller in 1980 coming out of Setting Sons and hitting the button marked 'psychedelic'. The song came out of Weller asking for Setting Sons to be played backwards and recorded onto cassette. Listening to it he found an appealing, trippy section of Thick As Thieves (backwards) and this inspired the guitar riff for Dreams. The horns and Summer of '67 acid guitars poke through the dense production with Weller's lyrics lamenting the loss of childhood ambitions and innocence as a generation brought up on the 60s ideal of full employment were shunted into the late 1970s, three million unemployed and the cold reality of the policies of the Thatcher government. ' I sat alone with the dreams of children/ weeping willows and tall dark building... but woke up sweating in this modern nightmare/ I was alone, no one was there...'

Dreams Of Children

Tales From The Riverbank was the b-side to 1981's Absolute Beginners (there's another clue to follow, the novels of Colin McInnes). Tales From The Riverbank again mines the sound of English psychedelia, but this is slower and sleepier, the bassline drawing us in, Weller singing again of the loss of freedom we enjoy as children, the days he spent in the fields and meadows near Woking- 'true is the dream/ mixed with nostalgia/ but this is the dream that I'll always hang onto/ that I'll always run to/ won't you join me by the riverbank'- while his guitar is beamed in via George Harrison circa Revolver.

Tales From The Riverbank


Martin said...

I love it, just love it, when I see the title of a blog post in my RSS reader and know exactly what it's going to be about and have a fair degree of confidence in what will be written.

Just seeing that list of B-side examples you mention, what an album they would make. I fleetingly considered submitting a Jam B-sides ICA to JC but there are probably too many to whittle down to ten.

Tales From The Riverbank, what a song. And such evocative lyrics. Imagine being able to let this go on a B-side.

JC said...

Jings. Where do I start?

You've picked out two belters, songs which are among my own all-time favourites of the first band I fell for, hook, line and sinker.

The Jam ICA (#52) over at my place didn't contain any A or B sides from the singles, as I'd not long finished a chronological run-through of them.

My own favourite ten....as an alphabetical rundown, as I can't torture myself to put them in any other order.

Dreams Of Children
Liza Radley
Move On Up
Pity Poor Alfie/Fever
Precious (a bit of a cheat, I know!!)
So Sad About Us
Tales From The Riverbank
The Butterfly Collector
The Great Depression

Nick L said...

Cracking good list JC, and a great original post from Adam. I was 13 in 1980, and living not that far from Woking, as I did, you had no choice. You loved The Jam. They influenced your listening, your clothes and your politics. Still do in some ways.

The Swede said...

They really were an astonishing singles band, with b-sides to die for. Favourite b-side? Now you're asking, but fresh from listening to it twice straight off, Dreams of Children is bloody hard to beat.

Echorich said...

For me, The Butterfly Collector is among the greatest B-sides of all time.
In the US we got a 5 track EP in 1981 with Absolute Beginners, Tales From The Riverbank, Funeral Pyre, Disguises and Liza Radley - in that order. I have always thought that in this form, it is a ridiculously strong release.
Dreams Of Children is so brilliant in its socio-political message and urgent Punk anger obliterating the Psychedelic underpinnings. Foxton's bass sounds like it's just moments from all the strings snapping!

Tom W said...

Tangential, but never realised what an influence The Jam were on the comics of Grant Morrison – there's three references in JC's list of ten B-sides...