#973: Town Called Malice by The Jam
John William “Paul” Weller Jr. was born on 25 May 1958 in Woking, Surrey, England. His love of music began with The Beatles, then The Who and Small Faces. By the time Weller was eleven and moving up to Sheerwater County Secondary school, music was the biggest part of his life, and he had started playing the guitar. Weller’s musical vocation was confirmed after seeing Status Quo in concert in 1972. He formed the first incarnation of The Jam in the same year, playing bass guitar with his best friends Steve Brookes (lead guitar) and Dave Waller (rhythm guitar). Paul Weller’s father, acting as their manager, began booking the band into local working men’s clubs. Joined by Rick Buckler on drums, and with Woking-born Bruce Foxton soon replacing Dave Waller on rhythm guitar, the four-piece band began to forge a local reputation, playing a mixture of Beatles covers and a number of compositions written by Weller and Brookes. Brookes left the band in 1976, and Weller and Foxton decided they would swap guitar roles, with Weller now the guitarist.
On May 19, 1977, The Jam were featured on the popular BBC show performing “In The City,” on Top Of The Pops, with an average of 15 million viewers. The song was morphing the familiar punk rock sound into what was becoming known as New Wave. The song drew on classic British pop, unlike the punk rockers who decried The Who, the Rolling Stones and the whole lot. The song resembled the frantic, fast-paced and angry tone on the Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash, critical of the state of the nation and British society. Yet, The Jam had a different look. They wore tailored suits instead of trademark “punk” attire: ripped clothes. The Jam also drew from R&B, especially Motown to inform their compositions. Their first album, In The City, included a cover of the classic “Slow Down” R&B single from 1958 by Larry Williams that was later covered by The Beatles. The Jam also covered the Batman Theme on their album, signaling a mod revival not afraid to draw on music from the past. In their second album, This Is The Modern World, they recorded a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour“. Their third album, All The Mod Cons, featured a cover of The Kinks “David Watts“, (about a real person who Ray Davies of the Kinks later related had a crush on his brother Dave Davies). In a short five years The Jam racked up six albums and 18 singles, including four #1 hits on the UK charts.
By the end of 1979 The Jam released Setting Sons, their second of four Top Ten albums on the UK charts, featuring a cover of Martha and The Vandellas “Heat Wave”, and the band’s first Top Ten single in the UK, “The Eton Rifles“. This was followed by a double-sided non-album single, “Going Underground” and “Dreams of Children“, which became their first chart topper in the UK. The hits kept coming with their debut single from Sound Affects, titled “Start“, which became their second #1 hit in a row. Several more Top Ten hits were released as non-album singles and then The Jam released their sixth album, The Gift, in 1982. The debut single from this album was “Town Called Malice.”
“Town Called Malice” is a play on words based on the 1950 novel, A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute. In the novel, “Alice” refers to Alice Springs, the town a wealthy benefactor wants to pattern a small outback town named Willstown in the novel. The songs lyrics, said Weller in a 2007 interview, were based on a series of observations about tough times for families like the Wellers in Woking in the early days of Thatcherism – “To either cut down on the beer or the kids’ new gear, it’s a big decision” – the song heralded the arrival of left-wing politics in Weller’s life. The fictionalized town, Malice, is a place where rosy days are few, time is short and life is cruel. It’s a place where railway service has been cut and negative outcomes for the dairy industry are evident to all. And joy? The townspeople could use a dose of that. “Town Called Malice” didn’t chart in the USA, but it climbed to #16 in Vancouver, spending a two and a half months on the CFUN chart.
On the heels of the number two hit “The Bitterest Pill” and at the peak of their success The Jam announced their breakup in October of 1982. They had a final #1 UK hit in December 1982 titled “Beat Surrender“, a Top Ten hit in Montreal.
Concurrently to his membership in the Jam, Bruce Foxton discovered a new wave band called the Vapors. They subsequently appeared twice on The Jam’s May 1979 tour. The Vapors were managed by the father of Paul Weller, John Weller. Ironically, The Vapors went on to become a bigger sensation in America than the Jam. The short-lived band scored a Top 40 single titled “Turning Japanese“, which surprising didn’t chart in Vancouver, but did in Quebec and Ontario. After The Jam broke up in 1982, Foxton released a solo album in 1984 with a couple of minor hits on the UK charts. He became a member of a band called Stiff Little Fingers from the late 80’s to the end of the century. He released his second solo album in 2012.
After The Jam broke up, drummer Rick Buckler set up a new band in 1983 named Time UK, who sold 60,000 copies of their first single release “The Cabaret”. In the mid-1980s Buckler briefly reunited with his former Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton, and with Jimmy Edwards they performed in a new band called Sharp. After Time UK broke up, Buckler gave his attention to recording, and produced the album Bound for Glory by The Highliners, which he also drummed for briefly in 1990. He also produced the debut album in 1989 for The Family Cat. In the mid-1990s Buckler left the music business and reinvented himself as an antique furniture restorer and dealer in Woking, the town of his birth.
After leaving The Jam, Paul Weller formed The Style Council in 1983. During the band’s six year existence they experimented with pop and jazz to Soul/R&B, house and folk-styled ballads. The band was at the vanguard of a jazz/pop revival that would continue with the emergence of bands like Matt Bianco, Sade, and Everything but the Girl. The laters members, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, contributed vocals and guitar to the 1984 The Style Council song “Paris Match“, a #3 hit in the UK. The Style Council managed one Top 30 single in Montreal called “My Ever Changing Moods“. Weller appeared on 1984’s Band Aid recording “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” After the Style Council dissolved in 1989, Weller went solo. Between 1992 and 2017 Paul Weller has released 13 studio albums, including his latest, A Kind Revolution, in May 2017.
August 8, 2017
Buckler, Rick. That’s Entertainment: My Life in the Jam. Omnibus Press, London, UK, 2015.
Munn, Iain. Mr Cool’s Dream – The Style Council. Wholepoint Publications, London, UK, 2014.
The Jam performing “In The City,” on Top Of The Pops, BBC, London, UK, May 19, 1977.
Shute, Nevil. A Town Like Alice. William Morrow & Company Limited, New York, NY, 1950.
The Vapors, Wikipedia.org
Weller, Paul. My Ever Changing Moods. Omnibus Press & Schirmer Trade Books, London, UK, 1996.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.