Paul Weller’s 30 best songs

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

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28 SPEAK LIKE A CHILD
Style Council single (March 1983). Highest chart position: 4

With the shackles of The Jam removed – the band played their farewell gig in December 1982 – Weller delivers a swashbuckling soul-pop serenade based around Mick Talbot’s rinky-dink Hammond. “At least there’s no lecture!” quips Weller at those who would criticise such gorgeous pop froth.

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Steve Craddock, Ocean Colour Scene: I liked the black cover, it was kind of nondescript. The back cover picture with his mac and his glasses and his haircut and his brogues – I thought that was cool. And I liked the title, especially when I found out that it was the same as a song by Tim Hardin. It was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “bona fide” in a song. I had to look it up in the dictionary. There was a confidence to the way Paul used language and visual cues in the Style Council, but it never came off as pretentious because you could always feel his love for people shining through. The Style Council’s single output for the first year was phenomenal, and I think those songs got girls into Paul Weller for the first time. They showed a different side to him. It was unbelievable when I got the chance to play with him. I didn’t think I was talented enough, but he gave me a lot of confidence, and he’s a gentleman like that. It’s surprising what you find in yourself when you’re around someone like Paul.

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27 TALES FROM THE RIVERBANK
B-side to Jam single “Absolute Beginners” (October 1981). Highest chart position: 4
A psychedelic tour de force prompted by nostagia for childhood trips to Woking Woods, “Riverbank” remains one of its authors favourites – Weller even re-recording it in the ’90s for a TV version of Wind In The Willows.

Rick Buckler, The Jam I like it because it’s an underdog, it never got the attention it deserved. And because it’s never been played too much, it’s still got its edge. It was the peak of the direction the band was going in at that time. We were very much a live band, and previously we’d tried to record songs the way we’d play them, but songs like “Tales From The Riverbank” were studio creations. I loved the atmosphere of the song, which is difficult to create. The music feels like it’s grown out of something quite natural, rather than something manmade. When you capture something that sounds so right, you forget the mechanical processes of writing and recording that actually went into it. The music supports everything Paul’s lyrics are trying to say. He sets a scene really well. He sees things on an observational level, without taking sides. The lyrics are very much like poetry, they invoke things within yourself. I don’t know about nostalgic. But there is something about this record that’s comforting. Familiar. Things like “Wild Wood” are obviously a continuation of what he did then. But I never listened to a lot that Paul did afterwards.

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26 THE BITTEREST PILL (I EVER HAD TO SWALLOW)
The Jam single (September 1982). Highest chart position: 2
No wonder Jam bandmates Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler look so glum in the video to this orchestral ballad – Weller told them during recording that he was splitting up the band. Only denied the top spot by Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger”.

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Shane MacGowan I first saw The Jam Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s. They did a soul disco and played the best soul imports and the best plates from Jamaica, and every now and then they’d throw in something by Patti Smith or Television. I thought The Jam were great. I loved the suits! After that I saw them at The Roxy, The Vortex, The Red Cow in Hammersmith. When Paul gave me the nod, I’d get on stage during the encores with a cardboard guitar that’d been painted to look like Pete Townshend’s Rickenbacker in the Maximum R&B poster. I’d do windmills to “Heatwave”.

“The Bitterest Pill” is the sound of him challenging himself and his audience. It’s a rock group trying to do what the Style Council did. As far as I’m concerned The Style Council were ahead of their time. A two-man white soul band, dressed in Aquascutum – no one knew what the fuck he was up to! But this is where it started. We only run into each other these days when one of us is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at some place or other, which we’ll laugh about. “Right, now you’re done, fuck off and die!” That’s rock’n’roll.

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