Paul Weller’s 30 best songs

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

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4 ENGLISH ROSE
From The Jam album, All Mod Cons (released November 1978)

The first punk ballad, this self-conscious ode to Albion retains a fragile beauty of its very own. The sound of seagulls, incredibly, were added to spare the teenage Wellers’ blushes.

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Phill Jupitus, comedian: Of all the great early songs Weller wrote for The Jam, this is the one that elevated him up to a level of songcraft to match The Beatles. It’s effortlessly beautiful in exactly the same way as “Blackbird” or “In My Life”. Arriving in the jagged splendour of all the other tracks on All Mod Cons, its tranquility is all the more affecting. For many Jam fans, it was the song that proved he was no one-trick pony. It was proof there was some frailty behind all that wonderful anger. Those sound effects, the lapping water and then the ships horn before the first notes are essential parts of the track.

As a teenager, it became the serial theme song for every girl I got a crush on. Another appealing fact about it is it’s also one of the very few songs that Paul has written that I can play on the guitar myself. When I was on tour a few years ago I started playing it in the encore at Guilford Civic Hall, the scene of The Jam’s legendary homecoming gig. Blame it on the occasion, but I totally blanked on the lyrics in the second verse, so I cranked up the guitar and did “In The City” instead!

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3 THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
The Jam single (January 1981). Highest chart position: 21
Written – so legend has it – in 10 minutes flat during a lager-fuelled burst of creativity at Weller’s Pimlico flat, “That’s Entertainment” provides a beautifully desolate, scrapbook of surburban lives played out “feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were far away” to rival Ray Davies at his peak.

Bruce Foxton, The Jam: It’s such a simple song. Lyrically it’s great observation from Paul. He lived in Pimlico at the time, and he wrote it after a bit of a session in a pub. It took 10 minutes. A lot of great songs like that come straight away. It’s an opinion on a society that he was part of at the time and felt bored with. He had a sense of frustration, and thought, ‘There must be more to life than this’. Now me and Rick [Buckler] are playing The Jam’s songs again, it’s one of the most popular at gigs, because people still relate to it, 26 years on. Bands like The Streets have taken that subject of ordinary life and Saturday-night drinking and turned it into careers.

It was quite experimental, because it’s mostly acoustic guitar, which we’d dabbled with a bit on “This Is The Modern World”. Initially my reaction was, well, what do you want me and Rick to do? It was so fantastic and succinct. We crept in with a bit of bass and a snare drum, but it didn’t need anything else. It’s a very tensed-up sort of record, a clenched rhythm, because it’s a very frustrated lyric. The snare drum is like a punch in the gut.

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I compare Paul to Ray Davies. He seems to be able to take in everything that’s going on around him, and turn it into a great song. I don’t think his antennae ever go down, even now. Maybe he’s on Viagra…

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2 TOWN CALLED MALICE
The Jam single (February 1982). Highest chart position: 1
A joyous Motown bounce-beat with a career-best lyric that exposes the minutiae of life under Thatcherism. As a placard in the video put it: if they weren’t getting through, you obviously weren’t listening.

Ray Davies, The Kinks: The first time I saw Paul, on Marylebone High Street, he was wearing the same scarf as I was, and we were both wearing crombies. So he always had style. When The Jam emerged, I realised that they weren’t in it to get on the telly, it was going to be a steady job. I liked their London edge, and subject-matter drawn from their experience, without being overly aggressive or hateful, combined with acute observation. The Kinks when we started were insular, and I was always an introvert. There’s an element of that detachment and alienation in Weller’s work.

I love “Town Called Malice” because it’s got a great snare-drum sound. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Also the production values, the Tamla Motown riff. It’s Detroit meeting London, a blue-collar combination. I didn’t really pick up on its commentary about unemployment, and collapsing communities. But I think any artist of Paul’s calibre, living in Britain in 1982, would not have failed to notice what was going on. You could say it’s a working-class resistance song. It’s a song that says don’t be crushed. It’s a great record, irrespective of the lyrics and whatever inspired them. But if that’s what it takes to produce art of that sort, it paid off. A lot of good writers tap into the common consciousness. And the young Paul had that.

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