Throughout the history of rock music, where would we, the fans, be without ‘The Greatest Hits’ albums that nearly every artist releases? Maybe an artist was not very good at coming up with a whole album’s worth of good-to-great songs, so you didn’t want to purchase the album for only one hit. John Mellencamp’s first two albums were not worth owning, unless you are a completist. Then, between 1979’s John Cougar through 1982’s American Fool, Mellencamp had a handful of classic hit songs. So, those of you who did NOT grow up in Indiana did not purchase those albums. But, once he had enough hits, Mellencamp has released two compilations that are beginning-to-end stuffed of terrific songs. That is why the Eagles’ biggest selling album is not Hotel California, but the Eagles’ biggest selling album is Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), which continues to battle Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the biggest selling album of all time. Truthfully, I’d much rather have the Eagles’ compilation album than all of their regular albums from those years covered in Their Greatest Hits, but that’s just me.
Some of these compilations are simply a collection of hit songs. Then, there are those compilations that attempt to tell an overview history of the artist. My favorite kind of compilation is the one that is able to tell the history of the band with hits, key album cuts and the occasional B-side thrown in, all the while arranged chronologically. Those types of greatest hits albums appealed to the historian in me. So, imagine my surprise in the Spring of 1983 when I bought the double-album greatest hits of The Jam called Snap! This double-album contained 29 songs, 21 of which had been U.K. hits, along with 8 B-sides. Finally, I was getting to learn about a great English punk band that developed into a terrific power trio that specialized in 60s Mod music influenced punk. Although the Sex Pistols and the Clash got all of the recognition here in the States, The Jam WAS the band that should have been the bigger hit over here.
Most of their songs were written by Paul Weller, who must have grown up listening to The Kinks during their late-60s story-telling era, the early, mod-influenced Who music and the music of the Small Faces. You see, Mod music over in England incorporated American R&B into their rock, which is what The Who and Small Faces both did early on. When The Jam popped onto the punk scene, it was obvious that they were not letting go of the influence that Motown and Stax music had on them as musicians. So, you hear in the first song on Snap!, called “In the City”, wearing all of those influences in a musically and lyrically urgent call to arms. That little bit of R&B made The Jam instantly more exciting to me after I finally heard their music after they had broken up. You see, Snap! was released shortly after The Jam’s demise.
The greatest aspect of The Jam that you gain from Snap! is the increasing need of Weller to incorporate more and more R&B into The Jam’s music. By the time you reach Side Four, you hear the band being completely cast as a Motown artist in the mid-60s. You can hear the band reach their musical peak on Side Three as they created perhaps the greatest protest song of 1980 with “Going Underground”. All in all, The Jam is the most criminally overlooked band of their time. I find it hard to believe that they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while The Clash and Sex Pistols are. Don’t get me wrong! Those two bands SHOULD be in. But, The Jam may have had the longest lasting effect.
Perhaps, the biggest purveyor of The Jam’s sound is Green Day. Billie Joe Armstrong’s fake Cockney vocals, their R&B-based punk-pop sound and their distinctly American lyrics are all hallmarks of The Jam, with their lyrics being distinctly British. In another words, both bands are staying true to themselves. With The Jam, you know exactly where the band stands politically (on the left) and socially (they have not forgotten their blue collar roots), just like Green Day has done.
My favorite tracks on the album that have not been stated earlier in this post include “The Modern World”, their take on The Kinks’ “David Watts”, “That’s Entertainment”, “Absolute Beginners”, “Town Called Malice”, “Precious”, “The Bitterest Pill (I’ve Ever Had to Swallow)” and “Beat Surrender”. But, I still love the other songs as well. These are simply my personal favorites.
As far as the CD release is concerned, the company behind The Jam, Polydor, released an truncated version called Compact Snap! On that single disc, eight songs had been removed, all B-sides. This version is okay, but I still miss those other songs while listening to this version. However, in recent years, Polydor has given into pressure exerted by The Jam’s fans and released a double CD version that reinstated those original eight songs. Plus, in typical crass consumerism, Polydor included an extra bonus CD of The Jam’s last concert recorded in London.
I love this album called Snap! It was my entry-way into my fixation with The Jam, and more specifically Paul Weller. Weller spent the 80s creating R&B- and jazz-influenced pop with a band called The Style Council. Finally, from 1991 onward, Paul Weller has had a very successful career in Europe and the U.K. as a solo artist. Over there, Weller is known as the “Modfather”, the artist who kept Mod music alive and thriving, all the while influencing a whole mid-Nineties scene in the U.K. called Britpop. All of the major artists who emerged during the Britpop era, such as Oasis, Pulp and blur have recognized Weller’s influence on them. Additionally, post-Britpop artists like Libertines and Arctic Monkeys have all sung the praises to Weller and his bands as huge influences.
A year ago, I got to see Paul Weller in concert in Indianapolis at The Vogue. He was everything that I’d had always hoped he would be. He only played his solo stuff, but it rarely strays far from the sound of his original band, The Jam. Now that Cheap Trick has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I am going to turning my energy toward The Jam for induction. To me, Weller, along with Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, is the voice of the generation I want, and do, belong to.