Q Magazine

On This Day In Music… April 29, 1977: The Jam Release Debut Single, 'In the City'

'In the City' began a run of 18 hit singles for The Jam – and heralded the arrival of a brash new talent.

the jam in the city
Source: mega / polydor

Paul Weller wrote 'In the City' when he was just 18 years old.

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When Paul Weller wrote “In the City”, released as The Jam’s debut single on April 29, 1977, he was just 18 years old. Thirty-four years later, he told Q magazine what inspired it.

“It was the sound of young Woking, if not London, a song about trying to break out of suburbia,” he explained in a 2011 interview. “As far as we were concerned, the city was where it was all happening; the clubs, the gigs, the music, the music.

“It was a young man’s song, a suburbanite dreaming of the delights of London and the excitement of the city. It was an exciting time to be alive. London was coming out of its post-hippy days and there was a new generation taking over. The song captured that wide-eyed innocence of coming out of a very small community and entering a wider world, seeing all the bands, meeting people, going to the clubs, and the freedom that it held.”

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the jam
Source: mega

'In the city there's a thousand things I wanna say to you...'

Weller had been a regular traveler from his home in Woking to London to watch the emerging punk acts that were ripping up the music rule books and creating a new, thrilling, defiantly youthful sound.

“I wrote this after I’d seen the [Sex] Pistols and The Clash, and I was obviously into my Who phase. I just wanted to capture some of that excitement,” he said.

“In the City” would make No. 40 in the British charts, and announce The Jam as a major new force in British music. By the time Weller disbanded The Jam just five years after their explosive debut, they would be recognized as one of the most pivotal British bands of their age – and an influence on both contemporaries and future acts that continues today.

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That influence was immediate: the descending opening bassline for “In the City” was to reappear in October 1977 as the intro to the Sex Pistols’ fourth single, “Holidays in the Sun”. The apparent theft was to even lead to a confrontation between Weller and the Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious.

According to original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, “That song was a complete re-write of The Jam’s ‘In The City’. Apparently, Sid Vicious approached Paul Weller at the Speakeasy Club one night, shortly after its release, and was taking the p--s about having nicked one of his songs. Paul wasn’t too happy about it and ended up landing one on Sid, who finished the evening in the casualty department of the local hospital.”

It's a story that has since been corroborated in another Q interview with Weller. “He headbutted me,” Weller explained. “It ain’t much of a story, to be honest. It was in The Speakeasy, down Marlborough Street. He came up and nutted me, so I slapped him back. That was it, I got lobbed out the club or whatever. I’m never proud of getting involved in anything like that. But I wasn’t looking for it.”

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the jam studio
Source: mega

The Jam's musical influences were more sophisticated than many of their punk contemporaries.

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“In the City” may have been “borrowed” by the Jam’s punk contemporaries, but the song immediately stood out as being different from the sound of other young bands formed in the wake of the Sex Pistols and the Clash. As well as the thumping rhythm section, angry guitar and half-sung, half-shouted impassioned vocal (“We wanna say, we gonna tell you about the young idea…”), there were subtler influences too. When Weller talked of his “Who phase”, he was also channeling other mod bands of the 60s, including the Small Faces and the Kinks… meaning that The Jam managed to combine the anger and energy of punk with a tradition of British songwriting most of their contemporaries either weren’t aware of or chose to ignore.

That difference was not confined to the music. While every other new band were styling themselves on the rips, slogan prints, safety pins and bondage gear pioneered by the Sex Pistols, the Jam were different. They were sharp, clean cut, they wore suits… and, oddly, appeared altogether more menacing as a result.

the jam paul weller
Source: mega

Paul Weller is now recognized as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation.

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Speaking in 2016, Undertones bassist Michael Bradley explained how it was this combination that thrilled and inspired his own band.

“I’d never heard The Jam, but when I saw their photos – with their black and white bowling shoes and their suits – there was something I really liked about them,” he said. “My friend [original Undertones guitarist] Vinnie O’Neil bought this single – without hearing it first – and the first time I heard it was when Vinnie put it on the record player back at the house and I just loved it… It has an energy and a real pure spirit. ‘In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you…’ what a great line.”

“In the City” was followed by The Jam’s debut album of the same name, which reached No. 20 in May 1977, and the follow-up single “All Around the World”, which peaked at No. 13 in July. From that point on every one of The Jam’s 18 singles would make the Top 40. Nine of them would hit the Top 10, and four would top the British charts.

By the time Weller broke up the band in 1982, he was still just 23 years old, and had, according to Jam biographer Sean Egan, taken “social protest and cultural authenticity to the top of the charts.”


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