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Paul Weller's 15 greatest songs, from The Jam to The Style Council

The Modfather has recorded 27 studio albums plus several live releases, EPs and stand-alone singles throughout his influential career. Goldmine picks the best cuts from each era.

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This year marks several important landmarks in the career of Paul Weller. It’s the 50th anniversary of Weller and his friend Steve Brookes starting The Jam as a duo, the 40th anniversary of The Jam’s final show and breakup and 30th anniversary of the release of Weller’s first solo album. Over the course of his career with The Jam, The Style Council and his solo years, Weller has recorded 27 studio albums as well as several live albums, EPs and stand-alone singles. He has also collaborated with artists from Peter Gabriel to Amy Winehouse and appeared on Band Aid’s landmark famine-relief single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Paul Weller performing live onstage, playing Rickenbacker 330 guitar, with The Jam logo on backdrop behind, 

Paul Weller performing live onstage, playing Rickenbacker 330 guitar, with The Jam logo on backdrop behind, 

Weller is something of a musical chameleon, unafraid to try new things. And rather than dwell on his past accomplishments, he seems far more interested in concentrating on what comes next. To provide an overview of Weller’s long and diverse career, Goldmine has chosen five songs from each era: The Jam, The Style Council and solo. While some of the songs are well known, we have included a few tunes that are more obscure to paint a full picture of Weller’s diverse output since 1977.

   

THE JAM
Song:
“All Around The World”
Album: It was a standalone single in the U.K. and a track on the U.S. release of This Is The Modern World (1977)
Debuting in the U.K. between the release of The Jam’s first two studio albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World, which were both released in 1977, “All Around The World” crackles with punky, power-pop energy and tells of a “youth explosion.” It contains outstanding performances from all three members of The Jam: Weller on lead vocals and guitar, Bruce Foxton on bass and backing vocals and Rick Buckler on drums. It’s a good example of the promise that The Jam showed in the first year of their recording career and served as a prelude to the peak of their early years, 1978’s All Mod Cons album.

An electrifying live-in-the-studio performance of “All Around The World” from the August 24, 1977 broadcast of Marc Bolan’s show Marc that aired on the U.K.’s Granada TV can be seen below:

Song: “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight”
Album: All Mod Cons (1978)
Weller initially did not want the song included on the All Mod Cons album because he wasn’t completely happy with it but changed his mind when the album’s producer, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, insisted that it was a quality song. The song tells the tale of a late-night London commuter being mugged in a London Underground station. Weller as narrator sings that the muggers “smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs / And too many right-wing meetings.” (Wormwood Scrubs is a prison in the White City section of West London.)

A video of The Jam miming to the studio recording of the song on a 1978 broadcast of BBC-TV’s Top of the Pops can be seen below:

Song: “The Eton Rifles”
Album: Setting Sons (1979)
Enraged at hearing about low-income right-to-work marchers being jeered by the well-to-do students of the exclusive Eton College, Weller wrote the song as a blast back at the entitled students. Sympathizing with the marchers, Weller asks in the song, “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?”

Future Prime Minister David Cameron was a student at Eton College at the time that the song was released. In 2008, Cameron stated that he liked the song and that it meant a lot to him as a student at the school and a member of the cadet corps, whom Weller was targeting in the song. When he was made aware of Cameron’s comments about the song, Weller retorted, “It wasn’t intended as a f—ing jolly drinking song for the cadet corps.”

A video of The Jam miming to the studio recording of the song on a 1979 broadcast of BBC-TV’s Top of the Pops can be seen below:

Song: “Absolute Beginners”
Non-album single (1981)
Inspired by the 1959 Colin MacInnes novel of the same name, “Absolute Beginners” kicks off with the memorable lyrics “In echoed steps I walked across an empty dream.” The song concerns time wasted while daydreaming when the narrator knows that he should be making moves to improve his lot in life. (“As I hesitated, time rushed onwards without me.”) The horns on the track are a nice addition as they add some extra punch to The Jam’s three-man lineup.

The music video for “Absolute Beginners” can be seen below:

Song: “Carnation:”
Album:
The Gift (1982)
“Carnation” is a blistering takedown of a demagogue (very liked aimed at Margaret Thatcher). The lyrics are searing and include the following: “I trample down all life in my wake / I eat it up and take the cake / I just avert my eyes to the pain / Of someone’s loss helping my gain.” And Weller also takes aim at the too-willing supporters of the demagogue and how they identify with that individual because they feel that the demagogue’s poisonous rhetoric justifies their prejudices: “And if you’re wondering by now who I am / Look no further than the mirror - / Because I am the Greed and Fear / And every ounce of Hate in you.”

A live March 1982 performance of “Carnation” at Bingley Hall in Birmingham, England can be seen below:

An acoustic performance of “Carnation” that Weller did in 2012 for BBC Radio 4’s Mastertapes show can be viewed below:

  

THE STYLE COUNCIL
Song:
“Speak Like A Child”
It was released as a standalone single in the U.K. In the USA, it was one of the tracks on the Introducing The Style Council mini-LP. (1983)
The Style Council was initially a partnership between Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot, which later grew to also include drummer Steve White and vocalist Dee C. Lee. Weller and Lee would later marry and have two children together.

In March 1983, three months after the last concert by The Jam, The Style Council released “Speak Like A Child” as their debut single. It could be considered a soul tune, and it is decidedly different than Weller’s material with The Jam.

The vocalist Tracie Young, who did backing vocals on the song, also appeared on The Jam’s final single “Beat Surrender.”

The music video for “Speak Like A Child” can be seen below:

Song: “A Solid Bond In Your Heart”
Album: It was released as a standalone single in the U.K. in 1983. In the USA, it appeared on the 1984 album My Ever Changing Moods, which was the US version of the U.K.’s Café Bleu album with a slightly different track list.
Written by Weller in 1982 when he was still with The Jam, “A Solid Bond In Your Heart” was originally intended to be The Jam’s final single. However, the decision was taken to give that designation to “Beat Surrender.” “A Solid Bond In Your Heart” was released as a single by The Style Council in November 1983.

The upbeat soul stylings of the song stand in contract to the cynicism of lyrics such as “I am fueled by the idea / That the world was made to share / But it never seems to work out / All we seem to share is doubt and misery.”

A live performance of the song that aired on the TV show Switch on the U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 in 1983 can be seen below:

Song: “My Ever Changing Moods”
Album:
Café Bleu in the U.K., My Ever Changing Moods in the USA (1984)
There are two different versions of the song, the single version with the full band and the Café Bleu recording that only features piano and vocal. Another terrific soul tune with somewhat cynical lyrics (“I wish we’d wake up one day, and everyone feel moved / Oh, but we’re caught up in the dailies and an ever changing mood”), “My Ever Changing Moods” is probably The Style Council’s best-known song. It has a timeless feel to it that sets it apart from other 1980s songs that appear to be quite dated now.

The music video for the full-band version of “My Ever Changing Moods” can be seen below:

The Café Bleu version featuring Talbot’s piano and Weller’s vocal can be heard below:

Song: “Walls Come Tumbling Down”
Album: Our Favourite Shop in the U.K., Internationalists in the USA (1985)
A song about the necessity of unity to fight back against oppressive forces (“You don’t have to take this crap / You don’t have to sit back and relax / You can actually try changing it”), “Walls Come Tumbling Down” was one of The Style Council’s most political songs. It rails against “The public enemies No. 10,” which is a criticism of the policies of Margaret Thatcher.

The performance of “Walls Come Tumbling Down” from the July 13, 1985 Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium can be seen below:

Song: “It’s A Very Deep Sea”
Album:
Confessions of a Pop Group (1988)
“It’s A Very Deep Sea” is one of the tracks on 1988’s Confessions of a Pop Group, the last album by The Style Council to be released while the band was still active. Polydor, the band’s label, refused to release the following album, 1989’s Modernism: A New Decade, because the label did not consider it to be commercial enough. Polydor’s refusal to release the album led to the breakup of The Style Council. The Modernism album was not released until 1998 when it was included in the box set The Complete Adventures of The Style Council.

Weller was already having issues with Polydor prior to the release of Confessions of a Pop Group. While the album received mixed reviews at the time of its release, it has been critically reassessed over the years and is now looked upon more favorably.

The narrator of “It’s A Very Deep Sea” has lost his way and is trying to get back to a happier place: “Something inside takes me down again / Diving not for goblets but tin cans / Dredging up the past for reasons so rife / Passing bits of wrecks that once passed for life.” It’s one of Weller’s most beautiful and moving compositions.

Weller, Talbot, White and Lee reunited in 2019 to do a live-in-the-studio performance of “It’s A Very Deep Sea” at Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Surrey, England that was filmed for inclusion at the end of the documentary Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council, which aired on Sky Arts in the U.K. in October 2020 and on Showtime in the USA in December 2020.

The music video for “It’s A Very Deep Sea” can be seen below:

  

PAUL WELLER SOLO
Song:
“Uh Huh Oh Yeh”
Album:
Paul Weller (1992)
The song is about going back to his roots. He had visited his hometown Woking, England for the first time in a while, and it made him think about the past. This was evidenced in the lyrics: “And in my mind I saw the place / As each memory returned to trace / Dear reminders of who I am / The very roots upon which I stand.”

It's got something of a funk groove to it as well as nice saxophone work by Jacko Peake. And it is it’s own thing, quite different from Weller’s work with The Style Council.

The music video for “Uh Huh Oh Yeh” can be seen below:

Song: “Sunflower”
Album: Wild Wood (1993)
The narrator is telling of a cherished lover that he once had who is no longer with him: “Along winding streets, we walked hand in hand / And how I long for that sharp wind / To take my breath away again / I’d run my fingers through your hair / Hair like a wheat field, I’d run though.”

It's a terrific song and one of his standout solo tracks, powered by Steve White’s crisp drumming and Weller’s guitar and vocal.

The music video for “Sunflower” can be viewed below:

Song: “Peacock Suit”
Album: Heavy Soul (1997)
A biting, rocking song, it was written by Weller in response to a journalist that had criticized Mod clothing in a newspaper piece. The lyrics declare: “I don’t need you to ruffle my feathers – on my Peacock Suit / I’m Narcissus in a puddle / In shop windows I gloat.”

A snarling, rip-roaring 1997 live outdoor performance at London’s South Bank of “Peacock Suit” can be seen below:

Song: “From The Floorboards Up”
Album: As Is Now (2005)
In an interview with London alt-rock radio station XFM in 2005, Weller said the following about the song: “On a good night, the music and the vibe comes from underneath us. Almost comes from underneath our feet. and seems travel up our bodies and outwards like this. And it’s just something that me and Whitey (Steve White), who’s our drummer, always talk about. That when we really feel it on a good night, it just comes from underneath us, really. We don’t know where that is, but that’s where it comes from, anyway.”

The music video for “From The Floorboards Up” can be viewed below:

Song: “Shades of Blue”
Album: Fat Pop (Volume 1) (2021)

Weller wrote the song with his daughter, the singer-songwriter Leah Weller, who also provided backing vocals on the track. A jaunty and somewhat sentimental song, “Shades of Blue” reflects on the past and how that past informs the present: “The people you know / The things that you’re shown / That shape our views / The places you’ve been / To follow a dream / In shades of blue.”

A live performance of “Shades of Blue” from a May 2021 broadcast of The Jonathan Ross Show on Britain’s ITV can be seen below. Leah Weller, singing the backing vocal, is front and center for the performance.

Leah Weller recently did a headline show at London’s 100 Club. Her younger brother Mac played keyboards in her backing band that night. So, the Weller musical legacy continues.