Paul Weller’s 30 best songs

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

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13 START!
The Jam single (August 1980). Highest chart position: 1

Originally entitled “Two Minutes”, The Jam’s second successive No 1 was a pithy treatise on the pop process. The Jam had entered their minimalist phase, audience intact.

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Chas Smash, Madness: We were in America for the first time, in Tower Records, collecting Beatles and Kinks vinyl you couldn’t get here, when “Start!” came on. It fitted so well. They nicked The Beatles’ “Taxman” bassline so brilliantly that they got away with it. The phased guitars are almost Hendrix. It was unusual in 1980 to pay tribute to the ’60s so nakedly. I like the track’s energy, and that it’s about deep-level communication.

There was no competition between The Jam and us then, there was a sense of unity between the Mod and skinhead bands, because 2-Tone and The Jam were both retro, but the energy was contemporary. We both tipped a wink to the Small Faces. Paul sings with a natural accent, and he’s a great advocate for the English language: the memories of no cars on the street, of that old, black-and-white, post-war England is in his early songs. In an almost obsessive way he glorified the youth culture. There’s a working-class directness to his use of English, too, a compactness of expression. He’s so succinct on “Start!” about communication – “If we communicate for two minutes only, that will be enough”. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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12 MY EVER CHANGING MOODS
Style Council single (February 1984). Highest chart position: 5
A much needed breather after the claustrophobic funk of “Money Go Round”. In its place, a Smokey Robinson-inspired vocal, ersatz latin percussion and the arrival of the cycling shirt as the item du jour for the discerning Wellerphile.

Steve White, Style Council/ Paul Weller band: Originally, it had a completely different feel. Paul and Mick had recorded an early version just with the piano. It was very melancholy. Then they performed it with Elvis Costello on a TV show, and had the idea to make it more lively. I suggested we make it feel more like War or Curtis Mayfield. Suddenly this song – very dark, lyrically – became very positive sounding and upbeat, more like an old soul record. In those days we did everything quickly – it didn’t matter if there were a few fluffed notes – it was all about the feel. Oddly, it was one of our few successes in America . Number 29, I believe! The cycling shirts? We were doing a lot of work in Italy at the time, and Paul saw these kids riding scooters wearing cycling shirts with jeans, and he thought he’d use it. A great look when you’re 18. As you get a little older, not so great!

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11 BEAT SURRENDER
The Jam single (November 1982). Highest chart placing: 1
The Jam’s grand farewell, a brass-soaked, driving adrenaline rush…

Gary Crowley, broadcaster “Beat Surrender” was a great way to sign off – it did encapsulate what The Jam were about, with that celebration of youth and music within it. I remember going to see The Jam at Brighton Conference Centre, their last-ever gig. They’d become a bloke’s band by then. It was like being at a football match. There wasn’t exactly an air of menace, but there was a lot of testosterone flying about. Paul wanted the band to stand for youth and not to get depressing and old. It was a very brave decision to call it quits and go out on such a high. That’s why they’re still held in such high esteem.

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