10 Albums

As a quick footnote to my last post, I have recently been pondering at what point I should become concerned and/or seek medical attention (NOT from Dr. Julia Hoffman, of course) when I find myself resonating with sentiments expressed by David Collins? (He only tried to kill his father…twice? Has been possessed a handful of times, made friends with ghosts, been accused of being an insane liar…totally respectable!)

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(That point has passed. You went past go, Brittany, but you did not collect $200. )

Moving on…

I was recently “tagged” on social media to post about ten albums that have had an impact on me. This task was particular difficult for me because it’s easier for me to think of individual bands and musicians who had an impact on me, as I have this obsessive personality that requires me to listen to everything they ever recorded and consequently makes it hard to narrow down which album has had the most impact. But hey, let’s give it a whirl…

10. Graham Nash, Songs for Beginners (1971) 

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I am a simple man
And I play a simple tune
Wish that I could see you once again
Across the room
Like the first time

I’ve said it before, and I guess I’ll say it again: Graham Nash is undoubtedly my favorite member of CSN. Compare Nash’s first solo effort to those of the other members (which aren’t too shabby, don’t get me wrong–I love CSN), and you’ll hear why. The album is full of raw, emotional songs about Nash’s breakup with Joni Mitchell and fervent cries for political activism, but each song is so carefully crafted to pop/singer-songwriter perfection. I listened to this album a lot as a teenager–no regrets.

9. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)

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Remember when you were young? 
You shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond 
Now there’s a look in your eyes
Like black holes in the sky 
Shine on you crazy diamond 

As a teenager, I had a vague notion of Pink Floyd but didn’t really become interested (translation: obsessed! I can’t have interests like normal people, remember?) in the band until I discovered Syd Barrett and his music. “I’ve got a bike/You can ride it if you like/It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and/Things to make it look good/I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.” Ughh, love that stuff. Everything about that era of the band is so unique–the sounds, the lyrics, even the delivery of the lyrics…nothing like it in the world, methinks. Ice creeeeeam, tastes good in the afternoon! Ice creeeeeam, tastes good if you eat it soon!

But the fact of the matter is that the band endured and made more music without Syd Barrett than they did with him. The band could not have happened without Syd Barrett, but it also could not have lasted with him at the helm. Still, the band found ways to acknowledge his importance and pay tribute to him in some of their most famous works, Wish You Were Here included. (Even though Roger Waters has stated, in his usual stubborn way, that only one song off the album is really about Syd, but I find his influence permeates so much of the album, albeit if not always so forthrightly as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”) During the recording of the album, a shaven, overweight Syd Barrett visited the studio, shocking his former bandmates and reducing them to tears. The emotional weight this album carries is palpable in its lyrics and music.

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How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here

When I bought the album on CD (that used to be a thing, you know), I specifically ordered a version that also included the early Pink Floyd singles–“Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play,” “Candy and a Currant Bun,” “Apples and Oranges”–as bonus tracks, making it the perfect CD for me, as it melded my favorite non-Syd Barrett Floyd album with some of my most favorite Syd Barrett songs.

8. Pulp, Different Class (1995) 

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You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.

(Now I’m wondering why I didn’t re-create this album cover at my wedding? Uhh, because those are some ugly flowers, that’s why, the second voice in my head says.)

Oh, Jarvis.

What can I say? I spent a good portion of my life obsessed with and worshipping that guy. And for good reason.

Pulp spent a long time (what, fifteen years or something) in the music business without much to show for it. (And that would be because some of the early Pulp music is really, really not very good. Just trust me on this one.) With Different Class, Pulp’s recognition and success reached a whole new level. They had top ten hits, nationwide fame, and Jarvis Cocker–the guy who once fell out of a window trying to impress a girl with his Spider-man impression and spent months in a wheelchair as a consequence–was suddenly a sex symbol at 32.

Different Class is full of some of his best songwriting, dealing with themes of sex (Jarv’s fave), the class system, drugs…yet all set to a flagrantly POP beat. There’s the scathing, vengeful “I Spy” (in which Jarvis advises that you should take him “seriously, very seriously indeed ‘cos I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks”), anthemic call to arms for all the mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits, the depressing come-down at “Bar Italia” “where other broken people go”, the infectious sing-a-long “Disco 2000” about the one that got away, and the ultimate ATTACK on the clash of the social classes “Common People” (really a shame how the video/single omits the final, most biting verse). And then there’s “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.”, “Live Bed Show,” “Underwear,” “Monday Morning,” “Pencil Skirt”….

It’s impossible to choose a best or even favorite track. This is the album that catapulted a mild interest in Jarvis Cocker to a full-blown obsession, kicking the door open for all the rest of “Britpop.” It would be years before any other musical genres would be allowed to enter the fortress.

7. Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957) 

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I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 
Those holiday J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 
Those happy J-I-N-G-L-E B-E-DOUBLE L-S 
I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh 

If you’re surprised that there’s a Christmas album on this list, then you CLEARLY haven’t listened to this Christmas album. I listen to this album year-round. A song from this album made its way to my wedding reception playlist. It’s Sinatra. It’s perfect.

I first got into Sinatra after being assigned to read Gay Talese’s magnificent profile of Sinatra, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” during my next-to-final quarter of college (the first time around), and I thought, “Wow, he has to be the coolest guy, ever.” And guess what? He is. I just don’t wanna live in a world where there is no Frank Sinatra. In the words of Dean Martin, “This is Frank’s world, and we’re just living it.” Amen, brother.

6. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow (1984) 

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I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular

It was difficult to choose one Smiths album; truthfully, any of their albums could be inserted here. But I may or may not still be wearing an oversized, pit-stained Smiths t-shirt, an heirloom passed down from an older sister, with this album cover on it, so I’d say its impact is pretty obvious.

Morrissey has a lyric for every situation in my life:

Struggling with the state of yourself and your life? “Every day you must say, how do I feel about my shoes?”

Feel like your work is not meaningful or productive? “But sometimes I feel more fulfilled making Christmas cards with the mentally ill.” 

When someone finally asks your honest opinion of them? “Frankly, Mr. Shankly, since you ask: you are a flatulent pain in the arse!”

Have to deal with the consequences of telling someone your honest opinion of them? “Sweetness, sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head.”

Feeling under the weather and someone asks you how you’re feeling? “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.”

Just something I may or may not say every day: “Oh, I’m too tired/I’m so sick and tired/And I’m feeling very sick and ill today.” (I am a “delicate flower”!!!!)

Someone says “I love you”? “So…scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen. This means you really love me.”

Moving onto a new obsession and your previous obsession starts to feel left out? “I still love you, oh, I still love you/Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love.”

PMSing and carrying around some extra “water” weight? “You’re the one for me, fatty/ You’re the one I really, really love/And I will stay/Promise you’ll say/If I’m ever in your way/A-hey!”

And ad infinitum.

I mean, these lyrics just roll off the tongue. So good.

(I recently saw a headline about a study that concluded that “Smiths fans were neurotic.” Was such a study necessary? I mean, really????????)

If you want to have a fun game of charades sometime, try using Morrissey lyrics. “Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate.” Ahhh, fun times.

5. Oasis, Definitely Maybe (1994) 

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You’re the outcast, you’re the underclass
But you don’t care, because you’re living fast
You’re the uninvited guest who stays ’till the end
I know you’ve got a problem that the devil sends
You think they’re talking ’bout you but you don’t know who
I’ll be scraping your life from the sole of my shoe tonight

As a young child, my brother and I would go upstairs to my older sister’s lair and deface the posters of her musical heroes with sticky-tack: Morrissey’s nipple magically grew one very long hair and the Gallagher brothers’ noses always had dangling boogers. I had a strong aversion to the Gallaghers in particular because I knew one of them (who also thought he was John Lennon) had called George Harrison a “nipple” (“NIP-PLE”) and I got tricked into watching one of their concerts instead of getting to watch A Hard Day’s Night for the nth time because I was told John Lennon was in it. (He was–in photographic form at the conclusion of “Live Forever.”) So it was a long time before I sold my soul to this rock ‘n’ roll band.

But oh boy, when I did, there weren’t no turnin’ back. Noel Gallagher’s latest solo effort asks, “Who built the moon?” Uhhhh, you? Would follow that dude to the moon and back, no questions asked.

What a debut album–it kicks in with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and never, ever lets up. Soul sold.

4. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home (1965) 

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Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

I cycled through many musical obsessions as a teenager, but I think perhaps my obsession with Bob Dylan lasted the longest and had the greatest impact, which is odd considering I probably listen him to the least out of any artist that appears on this list. I devoured all his albums, watched Dont Look Back more than was healthy, and wore sunglasses a lot. Yeah, not healthy behavior, but having a thorough knowledge of Dylan’s catalogue is something I consider worthy of being mentioned on my resume. Once, I had to explain to a dense individual how important Bob Dylan was to music. Like, they legitimately didn’t get it. It was sad. Don’t be that person.

Bringing It All Back Home is my favorite Dylan album, as it blends both acoustic and electric Dylan and contains some of my favorite Dylan tracks (which I did NOT play at my wedding reception!)–and Rick Nelson’s, too. I know, I have great taste.

3. The Jam, The Gift (1982) 

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Why are you frightened can’t you see that it’s you
That ain’t no ghost it’s a reflection of you
Why do you turn away an’ keep it out of sight
Oh don’t live up to your given roles
There’s more inside you that you won’t show

Paul Weller is the man who knocked down the walls built by Jarvis Cocker.

My first exposure to The Jam was the video for “Going Underground.” I thought, “Good song, lead singer is a bit odd-looking.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I feel like with each of my obsessions, it just got worse. Like, I spent A LOT of time obsessing about Paul Weller. Way more time than I spent obsessing about Jarvis Cocker, even. The only reason I don’t spend so much time doing it anymore is because…well, I found more fulfillment in my work and life, I guess. And I also sought medical attention. Only kidding, ha. Maybe I should have.

Anyway.

The Gift may not be my favorite Jam album (but it includes my favorite Jam song, bar none), yet it is their most musically diverse and adventurous. And it has so, so, so many good songs.

And it’s their last. Weller, at age 24, announced the dissolution of the band at the height of their fame. Guts, man.

Bring on The Style Council!

(Never forget the time I threatened to turn this blog into an analysis/discussion of Style Council videos.)

2. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (1966) 

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Sometimes I feel very sad
Sometimes I feel very sad
(Can’t find nothin’ I can put my heart and soul into)

I don’t even know what to say about this album. I love it so much. It is absolute perfection from start to finish. It’s a spiritual kind of thing, don’t you think? Yes, yes, it is. Yet there are still people who don’t “get” this album. Don’t be that person. Make the world a better place. Listen to Pet Sounds, preferably at least once a day. You just have to listen…listen.

1. The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965) 

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Was she told when she was young
That pain would lead to pleasure?
Did she understand it when they said
That a man must break his back
To earn his day of leisure?
Will she still believe it when he’s dead?

Any Beatles album could hold the top spot on this list. As many musical obsessions have come and gone, The Beatles were the first and remain the most intense and innate part of my existence. The Beatles are the sound of my beating heart.

It’s odd (to me, anyway) to think of how this is the album that so influenced Brian Wilson to write Pet Sounds, yet he and I listened primarily to different versions. Brian was listening to the Capitol version, with a different track listing (including the false-start version of “I’m Looking Through You”), and I have always listened to the original UK version. (Capitol may have been onto something, actually: omitting “What Goes On” is downright inspired and inserting the folksy “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” blend in well with the musical landscape of the album.) Yet we both have the same intense love affair with the album. Revolver may have opened the doors for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Sgt. Pepper is certainly more advanced technology-wise, but neither has the heart of Rubber Soul. In fact, as much as I love each of their albums, I might go as far to argue that no other Beatles album has the heart that Rubber Soul does. The empathetic drumming Ringo lends to John in “In My Life”? Just…my heart.

I’ll stop now. I find it hard to express my feelings about this band of brothers for, like Cordelia, my love’s more richer than my tongue…

I know everyone stays up REALLY late at Collinwood, but it’s way past my bedtime…

P.S.

Because no one has found out that he’s a vampire from another century.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. HELP!

Five Favorites I Would Induct into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In 2006, it was announced that the Sex Pistols would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In response, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) faxed a handwritten letter to the institution, politely declining the honor. He described the hall of fame as a “piss stain” and “urine in wine”, and he also raised some legitimate criticisms of the institution–the fact that it is a non-profit organization lacking transparency as to where exactly its funds go (you have to exit the actual museum via the gift shop, y’know), the anonymity of the nominating committee, and the vagueness of their criteria. It is a great letter, full of sneering Rotten-isms and grammatical errors, and it addresses many of the things I dislike about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But most of the time I don’t care about the Rock and Roll of Fame, whom it inducts and whom it snubs. Except last night the 2013 induction ceremony was on television. It was vapid and tasteless, and it reminded me of all the things I hate about the Hall of Fame–its elitism, its inconsistency, its unpredictability. Why are some genres (er, prog rock) so underrepresented? Why is a performer’s induction so dependent upon commercial success in the United States? And why oh why is Randy Newman an inductee but not the Zombies? Odessey and Oracle, hello! It’s not rocket science, people.

The value and meaning of an artist’s music isn’t found for me in recognition from a board of anonymous weenies. A band or artist is going to mean the same to me whether they’re in the Hall of Fame or not. But because I’m in a contradictory sort of mood, let’s discuss five (out of many) of my favorite artists currently eligible for induction that I think deserve a spot in the Hall of the Fame.

 5. Pulp

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Eligible Since: 2008
Nominated In: Never
Essential Albums: His ‘n’ Hers (1994), Different Class (1995), This Is Hardcore (1998)

Pulp was a band that was always slightly out of step with the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-old Jarvis Cocker formed the band in 1978, they released their first record in 1983, and, after many lineup changes but with Cocker still at the forefront, they finally achieved mainstream success with 1995’s Different Class–in the UK, at least. And that, more than anything, is what is  going to bar their entrance into the Hall of Fame. Because, you see, a band has to have HUGE SUCCESS in the United States to have any credibility for the Hall of Fame. It’s ridiculous. It’s especially ridiculous in the case of Pulp because Jarvis Cocker is one of the greatest songwriters and lyricists. He writes about the mundane, the seedy, and the misfits with warmth and disgust and humor and the keenest details. There is no one in the world like him, and I was intent on marrying him all through college.

Actually, I still would.

Britpop is one of those genres and musical movements that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is probably going to ignore as long as possible. Which is stupid as it produced some of the best music of the 1990s.

4. The Monkees

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“I got a chandelier!”

Eligible Since: 1991
Nominated In: NEVER!!
Essential Albums: The Monkees (1966), More of the Monkees (1967), Headquarters (1967), Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. (1967). Also you have to watch both seasons of their television show because it is fun, funny, zany, and did I mention FUN? Also John Lennon watched it and loved it.

The Monkees are a tricky one. There’s still some confusion as to whether they were a real band because apparently all those albums they made without Don Kirshner playing puppet master isn’t enough proof. Yes, they were initially a manufactured band, but they went on to write and perform their own material. And even when they weren’t writing and playing ALL the instruments on those first two albums, they were still, you know, singing. Other groups used session musicians and performed the work of other songwriters. Other groups who are currently in the Hall of Fame. So, what’s the deal, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Oh yeah, I forgot, y’all are elitist wieners. The Monkees had some great songs, written for them and by them, and they are a unique cultural phenomenon.

3. The Smiths

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Eligible Since: 2008
Nominated In: Never
Essential Albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

Johnny Marr’s guitar playing. Morrissey’s morose, biting, hilarious lyrics, sung somberly and gloomily as only Morrissey can. Does a more perfect musical marriage exist? Nope. Their influence is palpable, and the fact that all of their studio albums (and you also have to listen to the singles compilations, of course!) are essential listening speaks volumes.

But in order for Morrissey to attend the ceremony (which would be a major long shot anyway), there would probably have to be no meat within 50 miles of the venue because, you know, meat is murder, and he does not tolerate your alternate views.

2. T. Rex

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Eligible Since: 1993
Nominated In: NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Essential Albums: Electric Warrior (1971), The Slider (1972). I also really love Futuristic Dragon (1976), but, y’know, it ain’t for everyone.

I had forgotten that T. Rex has never been inducted–or even nominated!–into the Hall of Fame, and I suddenly got very, very, very mad because that is absolutely ridiculous. Bolan (the man I wanted to marry before Jarvis, sigh) and T. Rex may have not had been able to sustain the same level of commercial success as their contemporary David Bowie but their influence is incredible. My suspicion is that the Hall of Fame is wary of inducting them because they are so closely linked with “glam” rock, although Bolan did experiment with other genres (soul and R&B, notably), and that’s embarrassing for some reason. Fact is, Bolan wrote some great rock ‘n’ roll songs. Some of the best. Summer is heaven in ’77! 

“I can’t cleverly theorize about Marc,” Morrissey once wrote. “I just loved him.” Me too, Mozzer. Me too.

1. The Jam 

Photo of Rick BUCKLER and JAM and Bruce FOXTON and Paul WELLER

Eligible Since: 2002
Nominated In: Never, because, once again, the nominating committee are actually shareholders in Oscar Mayer. (Translation: They’re WEENIES!!)
Essential Albums: In the City (1977), All Mod Cons (1978), Setting Sons (1979), Sound Affects (1980), The Gift (1982). I just listed all of their studio albums, save one. OOPS!!

In case I haven’t made it clear here before…I worship Paul Weller. I mean, I really have it bad for this guy. I think he is the world’s most wonderful human being and a stunning lyricist and songwriter with unquenchable passion for and belief in what he does. And wham bam, long live The Jam! I would induct Weller into the Hall of Fame in all of his incarnations–with The Jam, The Style Council, and as a solo artist, but The Jam probably holds the most value as far as influence and a solid, cohesive body of work. It still blows my mind that the group produced six albums in five years, with so many great songs, and they broke up at their commercial and critical peak. What guts 24-year-old Paul Weller had! Love that guy. But The Jam never really achieved any kind of success in the United States, which is commonly explained by their being “too British.” (And the Kinks were…?) Yes, because the stream of images painted in “That’s Entertainment” are only relatable and vivid if you are British: “Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight/Two lovers missing the tranquillity of solitude/Getting a cab and travelling on buses/Reading the graffiti about slashed seat affairs/I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.”

Name me a songwriter in the hall of fame who can write lyrics like THAT. I can probably count ’em on one hand.

The Jam, A Gift…

The year 1981 was a relatively quiet one for The Jam, a group who had released five albums and 11 top 40 singles (including two consecutive number ones), many of which were exclusive to the 45 format and featured similarly exclusive b-sides, in the space of just three years. With no new album and only three singles (including a release of “That’s Entertainment”, taken from Sound Affects) issued in 1981, it may have appeared that they were slowing down. Yet they were still touring the globe furiously, and chief songwriter, Paul Weller, was writing songs just as furiously for the group’s next album, an album he hoped would be the perfect album.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, as Weller himself readily admits in the foreword to the beautiful book that accompanies the Super Deluxe Edition of the recently reissued album, The Gift: “I think apart from a couple of turkeys (not gonna say which–you work it out!) it’s a great album.”

Yes, 2012 meant many different things to different people, but for fans of The Jam, it marked the thirtieth anniversary of the band’s split–and the thirtieth anniversary of what turned out to be the band’s final album, The Gift. Universal, thankfully, also remembered and repackaged the album as both a double-disc deluxe edition and a Super Deluxe Edition, which includes the original album, non-album singles and b-sides, a disc of previously unreleased demos and alternate takes, the full audio of the band’s December 3 show at Wembley Arena, a DVD of performances and promo clips, a replica of the original tour program and postcards, and an absolutely stunning 72-page hardcover book, featuring new interviews with Paul Weller and an insightful essay on the album by John Harris.

Unfortunately, the latter edition was also considerably more expensive–overpriced, even, some might say. But I bought it anyway. ‘Cos, in case you forgot, Paul Weller has stolen my soul, and I’m never, ever serious about the New Year’s resolution where I resolve to finally get it back from him.

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Is this not the most beautiful sight your precious little eyes have ever beheld (excepting Paul Weller himself, of course)? It’s even more beautiful than I could have ever possibly imagined. Definitely justified my drooling excessively at the thought of it every single day for the past six months.

There is nothing new on the first disc, all the non-album singles and b-sides previously made available elsewhere, but there are a few treasures on the demo and alternate takes disc, notably the demos of “Running on the Spot” and “Just Who Is the 5 O’Clock Hero?”, which I fell in love with on first listen when it accompanied the November issue of MOJO. The live show offers proof of the band’s passion and power, as do the clips provided on the DVD, exempting Top of the Pops, where Weller half-heartedly mimes along. (Too bad the full Birmingham show isn’t included, though. Every Jam fans know it exists! Come on, Universal.) My favorite part about this package, though, has to be the 72-page hardcover book, which is skillfully written and designed. The pages are not only filled with striking designs and fresh analysis but also facsimiles of original press clippings and memorabilia. My favorite has to be the “See Bruce Jump” craft taken from the NME. You can create your own pop-up of Bruce Foxton jumping around like a fox terrier! Oh, and there’s also this photo:

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Oh yeah. Look at this pin-up. This adorable, blind pin-up.

Anyway. Moving on.

The album itself unleashes mixed emotions. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s favorite Jam album (Sound Affects or go home, ya’ll). Tainted by the group’s split and a few “turkeys,” as Weller calls them, it is not the perfect album he aimed to create, yet it still contains some of Weller’s finest and (sadly still) most relevant lyrics. In his essay about the album, John Harris details the social and historical context of the album, specifically the rise of Margaret Thatcher and how, by the winter of 1981, unemployment in Britain was nearing three million, manufacturing had lost a fifth of its capacity, and the nation itself was becoming quite literally a series of ghost towns, hence the rise of The Specials’ “Ghost Town” to the top of the charts in 1981. Weller vented his feelings about the state of the nation in his new compositions.

“I was trying to capture a sense of the anger that I felt–that a lot of people felt–about Thatcherism and the way that she and the Tory party were trying to dismantle the communities and the working classes. Attacks on the trade unions, small businesses disappearing, and so many of aspects of English life being closed down to people…I was trying to reflect the frustration and despair that sprang out of all that,” says Weller in the accompanying book.

Yet, Harris is apt to point out, these were not the finger-pointin’ songs of Bob Dylan. Oh, no. (But don’t worry, The Style Council, replete with explicit attacks on Margaret Thatcher and, of course, aesthetically offensive haircuts, is coming!) These were songs that “ran the gamut of feelings and emotions, sounding notes by turns sad, angry, wistful, and sometimes almost desperate. They key point was that it never let go of a perspective that is focused on people rather than the cold stuff of ideology, something reflected in both its eye for everyday detail and the sense that most of its songs were actually less about any political problems than the human condition.”

Take, for instance, “Town Called Malice”: “Better stop dreaming of the quiet life–‘cos it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus–‘cos those rosey days are few/And stop apologizing for the things you’ve never done/’Cos time is short and life is cruel–but it’s up to us to change/This town called malice.” Or “Just Who Is the 5 O’Clock Hero?”, an earnest, straightforward ode to the working man: “Alright then love so I’ll be off now/It’s back to the lunchbox and worker-management rows/There’s gotta be more to this old life than this/Scrimping and saving and cross off lists.”

The album’s most enduring sentiments are found in “Running On the Spot,” a song Weller has recently reinstated into his set lists. It is a song, as its title indicates, about halted progress (if there ever was any to begin with), and this idea is fittingly reflected in how its sentiments and statements are still relevant, depressingly so: “I was hoping we’d make real progress/But it seems we have lost the power/Any tiny step of advancement/Is like a raindrop falling into the ocean/We’re running on the spot–always have–always will/We’re just the next generation of emotionally crippled.”

Not every song on the album is politically charged, however. “Happy Together” and “Precious” are intense and complex love songs, each expressing an overwhelming need to be with the singer’s loved one and brimming with the energy so closely associated with The Jam, epitomized by bass player Bruce Foxton’s desperate scream at the start of “Happy Together”: “Baaaaaaby!”

The album’s crowning moment, though, has to be “Ghosts.” Or at least it has to be for me. This is quite possibly my favorite song in the entire world, barring none except perhaps The Beatles. John Harris describes the song as two minutes of “near-perfection” in his essay. He’s wrong. This is two minutes (and ten seconds!) of absolute perfection. Weller often introduced the song in concerts as a song about “the power inside you”: “Why are you frightened–can’t you see that it’s you?/That ain’t no ghost–it’s a reflection of you/Why do you turn away–an’ keep it out of sight?/Oh, don’t live up to your given roles/There’s more inside you that you won’t show.” Uplifting and lyrically flawless, I could listen to nothing but this song every day for the rest of my life. (Unfortunately, we only get an instrumental demo of this song on the demos disc. I really, really, really hope no one is hoarding any demos or alternate takes of this song from me.)

In stark contrast to “Ghosts” stands “Carnation,” a song equal to “Ghosts” in its lyrical power and imagery. The song depicts the coldness of someone’s–indeed, anyone’s–heart, perfectly reflected in the image of the crushed petals of a carnation: “If you gave me a fresh carnation/I would only crush its tender petals.” If “Ghosts” describes the “good” power inside you, then “Carnation” paints quite the opposite: “And if you’re wondering by now who I am/Look no further than the mirror/Because I am the Greed and Fear/And every ounce of Hate in you.” Liam Gallagher once uttered the most succinct and perfect description of the song, with a flash of what I can only presume was intended to be devil horns: “It’s proper Lucifer, innit?” (Watch the brief interview and cover of “Carnation” here. Cute keyboard player, by the way!)

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“He looks younger than me in that thing. I look terrible! Really massive bags under me eyes.” — Paul Weller

Weller worked incredibly hard on the album, so hard that he contracted shingles, a rare illness for a 23-year-old, and had a mini-panic attack, both induced by stress. He also met Paul McCartney, resulting in the above photo snapped by McCartney’s wife, Linda. Weller later recalled: “We was in the same studio, right, in Air. We was in Number One and he was in Number Two or something. They just started talking to us. They knew all about us. Linda really liked The Jam, knew most of the songs, and he’d heard some of the new stuff, which was The Gift at the time. If I’d met him 12 years ago I would have been really knocked out–‘cos I used to really like him then–but now he just seems like a really ordinary geezer. Seemed really nice and straight. She had, like, a backdrop set up in the studio and she was taking photos all day of, like, him and the kids and she just got me in there and sat me down and done it. He looks younger than me in that thing. I look terrible! Really massive bags under me eyes.”

Terrible? Someone obviously forgot about THIS photo:

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Yeah. This picture alone was worth the price of admission.

With so much hard work and so many outstanding songs, Weller was still disappointed with the results, writing in the tour program, “Cracking up over The Gift LP, I wanted it perfect, but settled for good, oh well!” Oh, if only more bands could release “good” albums like The Gift!

Seven months following the album’s release, Weller announced the split of the group. With the band at the height of their commercial and, arguably, critical peak, it was a bold move. At the time, Weller stated, “The longer a group continues, the more frightening the thought of ever ending it becomes. That’s why so many of them carry on until they become meaningless.”

This was not to be the case for The Jam, a band whose meaning has, if anything, only increased with time, uncontaminated by mediocrity and nostalgic reunion tours. Their honesty, passion, fire and skill still resonate, as they did so brilliantly on The Gift, which we are allowed to re-experience in this remarkable, if slightly overpriced, Super Deluxe Box Set.

P.S.

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Yeah, this will never get old.