Year 5, Day 6: “In the City” There’s a Thousand Things The Jam Wants to Tell You

Year 5, Day 6: The Jam – In the City

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Track List

  1. Art School
  2. I’ve Changed My Address
  3. Slow Down
  4. I Got By in Time
  5. Away from the Numbers
  6. Batman Theme
  7. In the City
  8. Sounds from the Street
  9. Non-Stop Dancing
  10. Time for Truth
  11. Takin’ My Love
  12. Bricks and Mortar

About the Album

In the City is the debut album from British punk rock band, The Jam. Recorded in March of 1977, it was released on May 20th 1977 through Polydor Records. The album contains two cover songs, Slow Down originally by American rhythm and blues/rock and rock sing Larry Williams as well as the theme to the 1960’s television series, Batman (originally by Neal Hefti). The album features the band’s hit single and eponymous track, In the City.

Thoughts on the Album

We’re going back across the pond to Surrey, England for one of the legendary names in British punk, The Jam. We’re traveling all the way back to 1977 for The Jam‘s debut album, In the City. Though one listen of In the City, I can already see the influences of The Who‘s Pete Townshend and Dr. Feelgood‘s Wilko Johnson. Guitarist Paul Weller utilizes these influences to create an album that became a punk staple in England for decades.

In the City is a fusion of the core punk aggression (aka “destroy everything”)  and 1960’s British R&B. The album as a whole is an incredibly strong melodic one. What The Jam did was take strong melodies with equally catchy hooks and turned it into a high energy album that doesn’t compromise on the punk values. For a punk album, In the City features excellent musicianship. It is this musicianship that puts it over the top in comparison to their fellow punk rockers of the era.

The Jam with this album bring working class sensibilities to punk, much like The WhoThe Kinks, and the Small Faces. In fact, they were a working class band. The problem is, The Jam are overshadowed by fellow punk bands, The Sex Pistols which focused on anger over politics; The Clash which to a slightly less extent put politics over anger. The Jam, meanwhile took mod elements (pop and rhythm and blues) and incorporated it into their social and political commentary.

Each of the songs on In the City can be grouped into punk, mod, and rock. For example, the opener Art School kicks down the door with as much urgency and aggression as a late 1970’s punk album. But it’s not just a mindless zombie of a song, it’s got the brains and brawn to match it’s aggression and urgency. The track is driven by Pete Townshend inspired guitar riffs. The second track, I’ve Changed My Address is a mod-loving R&B groove that has punk overtones thanks to the driving drums and bouncing bass. It’s like a lost R&B nugget, much in the vein of The Who‘s A Legal MatterAway From the Numbers is a more straightforward rocker with thoughtful, insightful, and what some would define as “profound” lyrics. It slows the tempo down but adds in catchy hooks.

Of course, the album itself is just figurative (and literal) centerpiece for the lead single, In the City. I would make an argument that the catchy and infectious pop/punk of today is born from this song. In the City, lyrically speaking, shows off the band’s working class roots while highlighting key social issues. Speaking out against police brutality…

In the city there’s a thousand men in uniforms,
And I’ve heard they now have the right to kill a man,
We wanna say, we gonna tell ya,
About the young idea,
And if it don’t work, at least we still tried

As well as highlighting the youth movement…

In the city there’s a thousand faces all shining bright
And those golden faces are under 25
They wanna say
They gonna tell ya
About the young idea
You better listen now you’ve said your bit

As well questioning authority…

And I know what you’re thinking
You’re sick of that kind of crap
But you’d better listen man
Because the kids know where it’s at

Conclusion

The Jam generally get overshadowed by their contemporaries, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. However despite being overshadowed, they are still just as important to the punk rock movement of the late ’70s. In the City is an essential punk album that gave birth to many a working class copycat albums. It is a punk album that stands the test of time. Regardless of arguments against against the band and album and the asterisks as well, The Jam created an album that paves the way for future bands and artists within punk. In the City is a genre defining album that is one of the definitive albums of the decade.

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