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.
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.”
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.