The Jam - All Mod Cons (1978)


If the only Jam song you've ever heard is Absolute Beginners on the Grosse Point Blank Soundtrack, then you are a twenty-year-old version of me and have somehow found this blog from another dimension or reality. And my life is, as I have expected, simply an episode of Lost or Fringe, but has unquestionably been executive produced by J. J. Abrams.

But, in the more likely scenario that you are a different person who heard that song, liked it, but ended up exploring the back catalogs of The Clash, The English Beat, and The Specials rather than delving into the Jam, then thank me later...

All Mod Cons is widely considered their classic, the quintessential Jam record. If I were twenty years old in 1978, this would have been my favorite album of the year; incredibly catchy, intelligent lyrics, and a healthy spoonful of youthful cynicism (is that a thing?). It would have sounded great blasting from the tiny, tinny speakers of a brand new dodge omni. Imagine blasting the opening riff from To Be Someone out your windows, drowning out the car playing the Grease  soundtrack next to you.

[ mp3 ]: The Jam - To Be Someone (Didn't We Have a Nice Time)

To Be Someone is a great intro to the Jam. It's two - two - two songs in one; welding together a catchy, rollicking verse with a heavy chorus that doesn't arrive until more than halfway through the record. One of the great cuts is David Watts, a Kinks cover that reminds you this band is English, if you've forgotten that over the first three tracks. Perhaps its the timing of this post, but I can't stop thinking about LCD Soundsystem when I hear the beginning of this track.

[ mp3 ]: The Jam - David Watts

The Jam lump their anglo-centric tracks together, as David Watts is followed immediately by the almost too sweet English Rose. In what has quickly become my favorite track on the record, we are treated to a stripped down Jam, with Paul Weller's voice highlighted against a finger-picked guitar and sound of waves lapping at the shore. It's an open mic on the HMS Endurance, circa 1914.

[ mp3 ]: The Jam - English Rose

Also, English Rose could have been an Oasis B-side.

What do you think? Let me know what your favorite Jam song is in the comments!

- N.W.


Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights (1975)

My dad's about as funky as a pair of khaki pants. But when it comes to music, he's always had this thing for the grooves and beats of motown, soul, and R&B. You know that scene in Animal House where all the college kids dance to Otis Day singing "Shout?" I like to think my dad had a few nights like that back in college. But then again, my dad went to college in Carlisle, PA, and I'm pretty sure Otis Day never made it out there. Otis Redding didn't either. They didn't even get Otis Spunkmeyer. (Although that would have been a delicious concert.)

So it was no surprise when my dad retrieved this classic from the stacks. I had of course heard of Allen Toussaint before. But I was hard-pressed to actually name a song of his. To me, he was a jazz enigma; a New Orleans artist that I was hearing a whole lot more about since Katrina. So when I threw this one on to transfer it, all I could think was, "I had no idea."

Allen Toussaint, you groovy old man. This album, right from the get go, is the perfect summer companion. The lead-off track, Last Train, has a got a funky bass line that would make even the most sedentary porch-sitter at least tap his toe.

[ mp3 ]: Allen Toussaint - Last Train

Worldwide continues that summertime funk; and by the time you hit Back in Baby's Arms, a grand, stately dedication with a chorus that could have been a Sam Cooke number, it's clear this album is full of tightly crafted songs that are catchy as hell. Country John is a damn good tune that I'm sorry I haven't known my whole life.

Detractors of this album claim that the excerpts of the titular track that are sprinkled throughout the record dilute the tightness of the songs. I disagree. The Southern Nights theme, which was later covered quite successfully by Glen Campbell, submerges the album smack dab in the middle of a hot New Orleans summer. When this theme breaks through, I swear I saw perspiration form on the spinning vinyl.

[ mp3 ]: Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights

Southern Nights is the one track I actually recognized, although I'm not sure if that's because of the Campbell single, which popularized the tune.  Toussaint's version, with it's vaguely Asian harp opening and shimmering vocals that sound as though they're emanating directly from a wet puddle in the bayou, is so palpably lazy I simply had to put my feet up. You Will Not Lose would have been a hit in the eighties, and When the Party's Over has done more to make me want to visit New Orleans than any other song I've ever heard. (and that includes live recordings of Trombone Shorty)

[ mp3 ]: Allen Toussaint - When the Party's Over

So if you can't afford the airfare, and it's still a bit chilly where you are, turn on the heat for an hour and mix yourself a sazerac. Throw on Southern Nights, and I guarantee you a relaxing summer evening.