The Jam's 15 greatest songs ever, ranked

23 September 2021, 13:19

The Jam: Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler and Paul Weller
The Jam: Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler and Paul Weller. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

The Jam released music for just five years, but they put together an incredible run of 18 top 40 singles in that time.

From In The City in 1977 to The Gift in 1982, The Jam released a remarkable six albums in five years, each littered with hit singles and other standout tracks.

Paul Weller then abruptly broke up the band, much to the surprise of bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler.

He went on to have a successful career as part of The Style Council, and then a solo star.

If you're not sure where to start with his former band, here we round up the best of the best, with 15 of The Jam's finest.

  1. News of the World

    While The Jam was very much Paul Weller's band, the contributions from Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler to their sound shouldn't be underestimated.

    What's more, Bruce also wrote and sang this non-album 1978 single, which got to number 27 in the charts when it was released between their second and third albums.

    The newspaper it was named after has long gone ("don't believe in everything you see or hear" the band wisely warned), but you can still hear the song as the theme to comedy panel show Mock The Week.

  2. Pretty Green

    This wasn't a single (though the label wanted it to be), but the opening track from the band's fifth album Sound Affects.

    By 1980, The Jam were beginning to push their sound beyond their early punk/mod revival beginnings and 'Pretty Green' mixes up its critique of capitalism ("power is measured by the pound or the fist") with a super sleek bassline.

    Superfan Liam Gallagher also borrowed the name for his mod-inspired fashion label.

  3. Start!

    Weller won the argument with the label about the lead single from Sound Affects, and was probably proved right when 'Start!' became the band's second number one single.

    The song borrows A LOT from The Beatles' 'Taxman', but instead of being concerned about losing pretty green to HMRC, it's a study of Weller's loneliness.

  4. Beat Surrender

    The Jam's last single, 'Beat Surrender' was written by Weller as a farewell and call to arms.

    "I wanted it to be a statement, a final clarion call saying: Right, we're stopping, you take it on from here," he explained.

    Alongside Weller's 'Shopping', the 12" single featured covers of The Chi-Lites' 'Stoned Out of My Mind', 'Curtis Mayfield's 'Move on Up', and Edwin Starr's 'War', showing the change the band's influences that you can hear clearly on their funked up swansong.

  5. The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)

    A standalone single as the band was winding down, 'The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)' got to number two for two weeks, only kept off the top by the mighty pair of 'Eye of the Tiger' by Survivor and 'Pass the Dutchie' by Musical Youth.

    It features backing vocals by The Belle Stars' Jennie Matthias, and like many of The Jam's final songs, begins to hint at the blue-eyed soul of The Style Council.

  6. In The City

    Where it all began: The Jam's debut single and the title track of their first album, 'In The City' lays out the band's early punk-powered mod-revival sound, with a title borrowed from a Who B-side

    A celebration of the youth revolution ("the kids know where it's at"), it just scraped into the Top 40 on its release in 1977 (their first of 18 Top 40 hits).

    While The Jam were clearly taking notes from the punk scene and the Sex Pistols, the relationship worked both ways, as the Pistols borrowed the rhythm of the riff for their own 'Holidays In The Sun'.

  7. Carnation

    A track from The Gift, 'Carnation' was one of those songs that proved how good Weller had become at stripping away all the noise to create something as fragile and beautiful as the flower he was singing about ("If you gave me a fresh carnation / I would only crush its tender petals").

    It was later covered by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher and Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Cradock.

  8. The Butterfly Collector

    Released as the B-side to Top 15 hit 'Strange Town' in 1979, 'The Butterfly Collector' emerged as a classic in its own right, often finding its way on to Jam compilations, including the Snap! greatest hits released the year after the break-up.

    A scathing attack, not on groupies, but instead rock journalists who Weller feels manipulate and exploit musicians, who he dismisses ruthlessly ("the small fame that you've acquired / Has brought you into cult status / But to me you're still a collector").

  9. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight

    Powered by Bruce Foxton's incredible bass playing, this rollocking single from All Mod Cons soared to number 15 in the charts in 1978 and is one of The Jam's best-loved songs.

    Opening and closing with the evocative sound of the Tube taped at St Johns Wood, its narrator is on his way home to his wife with a curry before he gets battered by who "smell like pubs, and Wormwood Scrubs, and too many right-wing meetings". Ooof.

  10. Ghosts

    The second track from The Gift, Ghosts was another song that showed just how many potential hits The Jam had that they never released as a single.

    Like the same album's 'Carnation', it showed that softer side to Weller you couldn't have imagined on In The City, as he urges its subject to throw off their fear and shyness to truly come alive and be themselves ("Lift up your lonely heart and walk right on through"), before it's too late.

  11. The Eton Rifles

    The sole single from The Jam's third album Setting Sons is up there as one of their best. Their first top-ten hit, it went to number 3 in 1979.

    Inspired by street fights between working class marchers in Slough and Eton students, despite its defeatism ("What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?") it's remained one of the most powerful class anthems in pop history.

    Inexplicably, Tory leader (and Old Etonian) David 'Dave' Cameron revealed that he was a fan of a song, prompting Weller to ask:" Which part of it didn't he get? It wasn't intended as a f**king jolly drinking song for the cadet corps."

  12. Burning Sky (Demo)

    'Burning Sky' was one of the songs on Setting Sons that was originally going to be part of a concept album along with 'Thick as Thieves', 'Little Boy Soldiers' and 'Wasteland', though that never came together.

    It tells the story of a man who has drifted apart from his friends and holed himself up with high-paying, value-free corporate work (There's no time for dreams when commerce calls").

    The best (and most heartbreaking) version is the stripped-back demo from the band's Extras compilation, so that's the one we've got here.

  13. That's Entertainment

    For reasons we'll never quite understand, 'That's Entertainment' wasn't released as a UK single while the band were still together, but it was so good that an import found its way to number 21.

    An acoustic-powered stream of consciousness classic from their fifth album Sound Affects, Weller wrote it in 10 minutes looking around at the world in his newly-adopted London ("A smash of glass and the rumble of boots / An electric train and a ripped up phone booth").

  14. Town Called Malice

    A play on Nevil Shute's 1950 novel A Town Like Alice, 'Town Called Malice' went straight to number one on its release in 1982 as a double A-side with the funky 'Precious', keeping The Stranglers' Golden Brown off the top.

    While 'That's Entertainment' weighed up London life, 'Town Called Malice' was a look back at Weller's life growing up in Woking ("Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard").

  15. Going Underground

    The Jam's first number one single, and the first of three in a row they scored at the start of the 1980s 'Start!' and 'That's Entertainment' followed).

    Backed by an insistent riff, the lyrics flow out of Weller, taking in politics ("their lies wash you down and their promises rust") class and generational conflict ("let the boys all shout for tomorrow") and Cold War fears ("nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes").

    'Going Underground' was a non-album single, released between Setting Sons and Sound Affects and it was apparently meant to be the B-side of 'Dreams of Children', before winning double A-side status.

    It inevitably took all the attention and more than deserves its spot at the top of this list.

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