Paul Weller has a new album out, so it’s as good a time as any to take a look back to “In The City”, where it all started for him.
Paul Weller formed The Jam whilst he was at secondary school (high school for those of you outside the UK). Initially a four-piece, by the time their first single, “In The City”, was released, the band had morphed into the three-piece format that would see it through its years at the top of the charts — Paul Weller on guitar and lead vocals, Bruce Foxton on bass and Rick Buckler on drums.
The Jam were by far my favourite group of the punk era, although I wouldn’t really classify them as a punk band. They put a lot more effort into their songwriting, musicianship and performance than most of the punk bands.
In interviews, Paul Weller has credited 60s bands like The Kinks and The Who as the initial inspiration behind his songwriting.
And you can certainly hear that on “In The City”…basically a homage to The Who’s “My Generation”, but updated for a world that had changed in the dozen-or-so years since Pete Townshend had spoken up for the disaffected teenagers of the mid-1960s.
What makes “In The City” a great song is that it’s a homage, not a rip-off of what had gone before. It wasn’t a sample. It wasn’t a cover. It was a song that stood up entirely on its own merits, while politely doffing its cap at the giants who had gone before.
You can feel Pete Townshend’s spirit living on in these lyrics…
In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you
But whenever I approach you
You make me look a fool
I wanna say
I wanna tell you
About the young ideas
But you turn them into fears
It’s funny how, through the centuries, new ideas have such difficulty getting the traction they deserve.
That’s not to say new ideas are universally good and old ideas are universally bad. But it’s interesting how often people get caught in the trap of thinking their world will never…or perhaps, should never, from their perspective…change.
Until it does…
After years of being assailed by special interest groups and people who are wedded to the current way of doing things for one reason or another, eventually good ideas break through. As long as they’ve been kept alive by someone persistent enough to keep going through the years of negativity they endured.
I imagine the herbalists and healers of Victorian times put up a doughty defence when some young whippersnappers came along and suggested that things like washing your hands and using disinfectant would save more lives than waiting for people to get sick and then feeding them potions handed down from someone’s great grandmother.
In fact, what worries me more about young people nowadays is how un-rebellious most of them are. It’s hard to be rebellious when you can’t move to somewhere that might not have wifi.
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s there was always something for young people to protest against. Things went a little quiet in the 90s and, apart from a brief flurry around the Iraq War, have been pretty quiet ever since.
I kinda miss the old days…
What made The Jam’s “In The City” a cut above the punk rock bands who were breaking through at the same time is it brought at least an element of hope for a positive outcome, in the way that “My Generation” and “The Times They Are A-Changing” had done for parents of The Jam’s fans.
In the city there’s a thousand men in uniforms
And I’ve heard now they 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
In the end, that’s all any of us can do. Try our best with the ideas we have.
Don’t fall for all that online motivational stuff…all that “trying isn’t good enough, you need to make it happen”.
That’s not how ideas work. An idea isn’t a guaranteed solution, it’s just an avenue for exploration which may or may not work out…just like not everything that scientists pull together in a lab will work in the “real world”, often for reasons nobody can quite put their finger on.
What Paul Weller wanted to do was to get people to listen to the “young idea”. He accepted it might not work, or it might be squashed by “the powers that be” for some reason.
He didn’t want to insist on his idea happening. Then his mind would have been just as closed as the people who were refusing to listen to the new ideas “In The City” was complaining about. He would have been as bad as they were.
He just wanted someone to listen to him, take him seriously, and give a new idea or two a fair try every once in a while. Keep it if it works, discard it if it didn’t.
You see, whether you’re a rebellious teenager or…ahem…a little older like me, that’s all any of us wants. Someone to listen to us and someone to take our ideas seriously, ideally at the same time.
We can all accept that the world might not be 100% the way we’d like it for all sorts of reasons. But if there’s a better way, what’s the harm in at least trying something new?
You never know what you might find.
Here’s The Jam with a typically full-throttle performance of their first UK Top 40 hit. Sadly, The Jam were never that big outside the UK. If you ask me the world has missed out on some wonderful songs…including this one. It’s “In The City”… the best 2' 20" you’ll have spent in a long time…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/250dZY8xYbhHGQpM6bgL52
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.