Paul Weller’s 30 best songs

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

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19 CARNATION
From The Jam album, The Gift (released March 1982)

A scathing critique of Thatcherism. If the piano-heavy arrangement reflects a growing discomfort with the limitations of a three-piece, the lyric is Weller at his most withering: “Hold my hand and be doomed for ever.”

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Liam Gallagher: The Jam are all right, but I was too young for them. I like Weller now. Oasis were in Sweden, I think, with Ocean Colour Scene, and we were pissed. We were speaking about The Jam and Mods, so I went, “Oh, ‘Carnation’ is the best tune,” and Steve [Craddock] goes, “Oh, I’d love to do a cover of it one day.” So he went away and done this version and sent me a tape [it appeared on the Fire & Skill: The Songs Of The Jam album]. He goes, “Do you want to sing on it?” I was going, “Oh, fuck that,” so I kept ignoring his phone calls and Patsy [Kensit, Liam’s then wife] is going, “Ring him back.” I’m going, “No, I can’t sing with anyone else, I’ve never done it before.” I got my shit together and I went down to Primal Scream’s studio and we done it in the afternoon. I was gonna do Top Of The Pops and all that, ’cos I thought, “Why not?” And then I thought, “It’s a good song, I’m well happy with it, it’s better than anything else around at the moment.” If it had gone in at No 1, great, but I get No 1s with Oasis… I’d have been disappointed if it hadn’t got in the Top 10.

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18 LITTLE BOY SOLDIERS
From The Jam album, Setting Sons (released November 1979)
The centrepiece to Setting Sons’ concept about three friends torn apart by a modern day English Civil War. Weller delivers his most ambitious song to date, a harrowing anti-war epic where Bruce Foxton plays cello.

Ray Winstone, actor: I’ve always liked The Jam, but I first met Paul in Berlin about six years ago. We were both working in the same studio and we ended up on the lash together. We come from similar backgrounds; his old man was a boxer, and I used to box a bit, so we got along nicely. Since then, I’ve started listening to his music a lot more closely. I was in a play at the Donmar Warehouse called To The Green Fields And Beyond, about soldiers who’re part of a tank crew in WWI the night before they go into battle. While I was getting into the part I listened to “Little Boy Soldiers” over and over again. In three minutes he manages to both tell a story and conjure up the atmosphere of the times: “I’ll sing you a lullaby/And tell the tale/How goodness prevailed.” In the end, it’s about the needless waste of young lives. I sometimes think he should make movies, because he’s got that aspect to his work. He paints a picture. Paul’s a lovely geezer, too. No airs and graces. Most pop stars these days sell five records and think they’re Jack the Biscuit. Paul’s the opposite of that.

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17 STRANGE TOWN
The Jam single (March 1979). Highest chart position: 15
Written from the perspective of an alien teleported into Oxford Street, Weller allows countless time signature changes and a lyric namechecking Mr Sheen to climax in the musical equivalent of a street fight.

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Craig Finn, The Hold Steady: For Americans, The Jam’s music is very British. There were words you didn’t know, phrases and places that were like coded messages. They were speaking another language. And, for the American mainstream, they were too English.

“Strange Town” is about leaving the suburbs for the city, like so much of the rock’n’roll I was discovering then, but especially English rock’n’roll. It’s about the fearful side of that, while “Going Underground” and “In The City” expressed its excitement. Riding the bus from the suburbs into Minneapolis, I would get anxious to see what was going on, what records were going to be in. And listening to them, myself and all my friends felt like there were possibilities. We’re going to be in that big city someday. He made it seem a very romantic life. That’s the type of songwriting he’s so great at. He says things that you can’t explain, but you know what it feels like.

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