An all-star cast pick the Modfather's greatest work

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Paul Weller: “The 30 Greatest Paul Weller Songs? You’ve got more than 300 to choose from, stuff I wrote with The Jam, the Style Council and all the solo stuff. I used to have a problem playing some of the older songs, but I’m much more comfortable with my whole back catalogue now. I’ve grown to respect that, for 30 years, people have been dancing or singing or snogging or fighting or fucking to these songs. When I play gigs I find thousands of people singing along to songs that were written before they were even born. That’s kind of humbling. And it makes me feel fucking old, too!

“I’m obsessed with the craftsmanship of songwriting. I grew up listening to stuff like The Beatles and Motown: songs with a verse, a bridge that led into the chorus, a little middle eight just to change things up, then maybe a little solo or a key change. Those structures have stuck with me ever since.

“We used to have a knackered old piano under the stairs of our house in Woking, and I used to bash away on that. That’s basically what I’ve done ever since then. I bash away on an instrument – in the early days a guitar, increasingly a piano – and I come up with a random chord sequence, or a riff that I like, and I work from there. And before you know it, a song has started to take shape. It takes on a life of its own.

“It’s almost like these aren’t my songs any more. It’s kind of a magical process. I love that. And I’m genuinely happy that these songs mean so much to so many people.”

Originally published in Uncut’s September 2007 issue (Take 124). Interviews by Michael Bonner, Carol Clerk, Nick Hasted, Paolo Hewitt, Rob Hughes, John Lewis, John Mulvey and Paul Stokes.

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30 MR CLEAN
From The Jam album, All Mod Cons (released November 1978)

I hate you and your wife/And if I get the chance I’ll fuck up your life,” spits Weller, raging against the bland suburban denizens in their smart blue suits who “went to Cambridge too… And Mum and Dad are very proud of you.

Pete Townshend: The song that always gives me the willies is “Mr Clean”, because it’s like, “Don’t come near me, don’t contaminate me.” There’s something about that thinking about people in that position: like politicians, as though they’re another kind of human being. I think The Jam are really important in the role they’re playing and I think that it’s so good that Paul is solid about it. The thing is that if you’ve got something you passionately believe in, then you’ve got to stick to it. I think we [The Who and The Jam] stood for similar things. Apart from the fact that superficially the bands look similar. They seem more of a part of what British youth is about. They seem much closer to the normal… without being condescending, but I think that if you went out and looked about Britain you’d find a hell of a lot of people like Paul. And that’s amazing to me, that he manages to hang on to just being him and not be affected by the fact that there was probably a great urge by his fans to make him a little bit different, to put him over there and say: “Paul’s our figurehead.”

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29 GIRL ON THE PHONE
From The Jam album, Setting Sons (released November 1979)
Often dismissed by Weller, “Girl On the Phone” is his take on the pressures of stardom, inspired by an incident when he was forced to spend the afternoon hiding on the floor of his Pimlico flat having been spotted by schoolgirl fans.

Jarvis Cocker: I love that lyric: “Says she knows everything about me/My leg measurements and the size of my cock!” Up until that point, punk had been about tower blocks and rioting, but this was different. It was the first time I realised you could sing about quite normal things. “Girl On The Phone” seemed the funniest, and the most accessible. He was singing about his own life, and how the band becoming successful meant he was getting hassled. From that point, I felt a lot more freedom to write about the things going on in my own life, however inconsequential. We’ve never moved in the same circles, but I bumped into him about a year ago in a children’s playground, of all places. I was there with my son and he was there with his kid. We said hello and had a chat. I was impressed that he was so smartly dressed, even standing in a kids playground! I hate it when you see pop stars off stage and they’re wearing a hooded top. But he’s Paul Weller 24 hours a day. I admire that attention to detail.

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  • Robert Loughran

    Hahaha! You’re a fool.

  • Scott Davis

    Paul Weller,

    The Jam and the Style Council is how I came to know your work. I’ve seen you live. Thanks for all the Soul! 🙂

  • Simon

    My personal fave is ‘Shopping’, which sadly hasn’t been chosen. I’d love to see a limited-edition ep with ‘Shopping’, ‘The Butterfly Collector’, ‘Liza Radley’, and ‘Tales From The Riverbank’. I’d even design the sleeve myself!

  • The 30 best songs? Can’t argue or one-up anything on here. How few bands have 30 good songs, let alone “best” songs.

  • GEAH

    The long-running problem with Weller doing soul and R&B is that his voice is nowhere near up to the job. However, he was a great shouter in The Jam.

  • Mark

    Agreement and disagreement. At the point of Going Underground hitting number one, and non-fans saying, “Oooh that’s one of their best,” had me tearing my hair out that they hadn’t bothered with anything previously, and it wasn’t a “best.” So I don’t know what it’s doing at number one here. While “In the City” and “Modern World” were songs of their time, they wouldn’t be in my list. Funeral Pyre would have got nowhere near. Beat Surrender sounded good on hearing it live before the studio version was released, which seemed to dispense with a good guitar sound and spolit it all.

    “You do Something to Me” I wouldn’t have in the list. I always though “My Ever Changing Moods” was weak.

    I can’t go back through the lists, so excuse if something is there.

    I would have included “Into Tomorrow,” because not only did it herald Weller picking up a guitar again, it had the jangly beat he’d left behind, and it still stands the test of time.

    Was “The Butterfly Collector” in the list? If not, why not !?
    A few from Stanley Road, and “Spin’ Drifting” would be in, and most controvesrsially, “Non Stop Dancing” from the first album is a toe-tapper now and it mentions James Brown……