1977 - 1982
As a musical group, The Jam dates back to 1975, when a bunch of schoolboys from Dorking, (Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler and Steve Brookes), joined forces and started jamming in the school music room. Having built up enough confidence, the band played gigs in local social clubs with a certain degree of success. At this point, guitarist Brookes left the group and The Jam became the trio everyone remembers.
Although The Jam emerged during the British punk scene, they didn't fit in with the punk image at all: Wearing mohair suits, plus shirt and tie they certainly didn't dress like punks and their music was strongly influenced by American R 'n' B and 60's musicians such as Pete Townshend, (of The Who), and The Kinks. What they did inherit from the punk ethos was a raw, guitar-based sound, a lot of energy and a rigid belief in their musical values. Performing in working mens' clubs gave way to venues such as The Marquee and the 100 Club and, after a string of successful gigs, The Jam were signed to the Polydor record label in early 1977.
By mid-1977, The Jam had released their first album: In The City. A huge step forward and all the more remarkable for the fact that the album was recorded in just 11 days, with all material written by Paul Weller alone, (just 19 years old at the time). All the original material, that is: the closing track was a cover version of the Batman theme!
A UK tour was followed by a debut appearance on Top of the Pops. The Jam 'sound', (think Rickenbacker guitar), and smart-suited 'mod' style, (harking back to the days of mods and rockers during the 1960's), lead to accusations of being 'revivalist' - a not-so-subtle way of saying 'derivative' . Fair comment at the time, but the trio stuck to their guns and pressed ahead regardless. Next, a second album release in 1977, This is the Modern World, which included a cover version of In The Midnight Hour, followed by a disastrous US tour.
It wasn't difficult to see why the band failed in the US: their sound and look was definitely British. They were a British band singing about British things using British words. Despite this early failure in the US, (and probably under pressure from their record label), The Jam ventured across the Atlantic for a second beating in 1978, where they less than warmly-received playing support to the Blue Öyster Cult - who'd have thought it?!
Even in the UK, This is the Modern World hadn't been that successful. The next album, All Mod Cons, changed all that and peaked at no. 6 in the UK album charts. Paul Weller's writing had matured immensely over the course of the first three albums but he still paid homage to his musical influences with the inclusion of a cover version of The Kinks' David Watts. Things were starting to look a lot better for the band and they embarked on a European tour, followed by a world tour in 1979. Yes, they visited the US again - no record of how they were received stateside this time, but it didn't really matter. By now, The Jam were arguably the biggest band in Britain and that's what mattered to them.
Every single The Jam released charted with ease and they found themselves at the vanguard of the British mod/ska revival. They built on this success over the next three years, consolidating their repuation with a series of blistering live performances. However, cracks were beginning to show. Singles such as That's Entertainment and The Bitterest Pill hinted at Weller's tendency towards gritty ballads and social commentary. Also, Weller felt increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to consistently produce fresh material in the same style and, frustrated, decided that "always leave the public wanting more" was the best policy. In early 1982, Weller's announcement that he was quitting the band effectively ended The Jam. Inevitably, but justifiably, the band's superb swansong, Beat Surrender, entered the charts at no. 1. Naturally, a cover version was on the B side: Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up. This final release was, ironically, a taste of things to come from Weller's next band, The Style Council.
...And, that's were the story ends. Or, at least, where it should end. A quick run throught their catalogue shows that a boatload of albums have been released after The Gift, (their 'final' album). In fact, there are more album releases after the band split than before. A sceptical person would view this as simply fan-exploitation. I, on the other hand, think it's partly due to the fact that The Jam seem to have had a policy of releasing singles that weren't necessarily on their albums, (a total of nine, in fact). It's also partly due to a new generation of fans who want to collect everything The Jam produced in a relatively short career. And, just possibly, partly due to cynical exploitation on the part of the record label.
All in all, a great legacy which, I suspect, surpassed even Paul Weller's early expectations. Cheers, lads!