Picture sleeve for The Jam's "A Town Called Malice".
The Jam formed in Woking, Surrey, U.K. in 1972 with a fluid lineup that consisted of Paul Weller on guitar and vocals together with various friends at the Sheerwater Secondary School. They played their first gigs at Michael’s, a local club. The lineup began to solidify in the mid 1970s with Weller (bass), Bruce Foxton (rhythm guitar), Steve Brookes (guitar) and Rick Buckler (drums). In their early years, their sets consisted of covers of early American rock and roll songs by such artists as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They continued in this vein until Weller discovered The Who’s “My Generation” and became fascinated by Mod music and lifestyle. Eventually Brookes left the band and was not replaced. Weller persuaded Foxton to take over as bass guitarist, and Weller became the band’s sole guitarist. The Jam soon gained a following around London playing minor gigs. Although they were considered a punk band, in many ways they stood out from their punk peers, wearing neatly-tailored suits and playing professionally. Indeed, they were labeled by many as “revivalists”. They were signed to Polydor Records by Chris Parry in early 1977. In April of that year, Polydor released The Jam’s debut single, “In the City”. In early May, the band released its debut album, also called “In the City”. After their non-album single, “All Around the World”, reached the U.K. Top Ten, the band was pressed by Polydor to record more material. Thus their second album, “This Is the Modern World”, was released in November 1977. The album got mixed reviews; while some critics were not impressed, many hailed it as a progression from the first album, praising the stylistic variety. They followed this up with a non-album single: “News of the World”, released in March 1978. Around this time, Weller was listening to old Kinks albums and the band recorded a cover version of “David Watts” for their next single, which they followed up with “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”. Their third album, “All Mod Cons”, was released in November 1978. This was followed by two more non-album singles (“Strange Town” and “When You’re Young”), and eventually the “Setting Sons” LP, which became their first album to chart in the U.S. (peaking at #137). The Jam kicked off the 1980s with a double-A side single “Going Underground” b/w “Dreams of Children”. “Sound Affects”, their fourth album, was released later that year, which contained psychedelic pop. The Jam abandoned the psychedelic pop of “Sound Affects” for their next two singles, “Funeral Pyre” and “Absolute Beginners”. Their fifth (and final) album, “The Gift”, contained songs influenced by soul, R&B and funk, including the #1 hit “A Town Called Malice” b/w “Precious”. This is today’s featured single.
“A Town Called Malice” was the beginning of Paul Weller’s obsession with Northern soul, one which would continue when he launched the Style Council in 1983. The song starts off with a Motown-type bass line, soon joined by an thumping percussion, and an organ somewhat reminiscent of the Spencer Davis Group. The instrumentation is soon joined by Weller singing a typical Jam-type working class drama, with a hint of optimism: “Better stop dreaming of the quiet life cos it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus cos those rosey days are few/And stop apologising for the things you never done/Time is short and life is cruel but it’s up to us to change this town called malice.” The track chugs along with the economy of a typical pop song, clocking in at a mere 2 minutes and 57 seconds, but even so, there’s a very brief instrumental break about 2 minutes into the song; the organ is featured prominently throughout the track. The result is a song that is derivative, yet bouncy and entertaining, and arguably one of the best singles of 1982. It is certainly one of The Jam’s best singles.
"A Town Called Malice" single without the picture sleeve.
The B-side, “Precious”, is a funky song that epitomizes the move away from the simple three-chord music of the band’s first two albums. Funk bass lines and wah-wah guitar effects featured prominently on “The Gift”, along with jazzy influences such as brass sections and saxophones, and nowhere is this more noticeable than on “Precious”. Weller forgoes the typical social commentary on this track, which is essentially a love song: “Your precious love – that means so much/Will it ever stop or will I just lose touch/What I want to say – but my words just fail/Is that I need it so I can’t help myself/Like a hungry child – I just help myself/And when I’m all full up – I go out to play”. “Precious” is the longest song on “The Gift”, clocking in at 4 minutes and 13 seconds, and this provides an opportunity for an extended (by the standards of early 1980s British pop) instrumental break, which gives the horn section a chance to shine, as the funky-sounding bass chugs along. Then we get one last lyric before the song ends abruptly with Weller’s concluding grunt. Overall it is not as notable a track as “A Town Called Malice” but is definitely better than the typical B-side. The 12-inch version of the single contained an extended version of the track.
The single (catalog #: 2059456) was released on Polydor Records on January 29, 1982. It was issued with a picture sleeve (shown above). It was the band’s third number one single in the U.K., and was number one for three weeks, keeping “Golden Brown” from The Stranglers out of the top spot. EMI, The Stranglers’ record company, objected to the sales of both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of “A Town Called Malice” being aggregated to calculate sales, claiming that The Jam’s fans were buying both formats. Following a farewell tour of the U.K., Weller disbanded The Jam and went on to form the Style Council. Bruce Foxton released a solo album and joined Stiff Little Fingers in 1990, and remained with them until 2006. Rick Buckler formed a band called Time U.K. and in 1986, he and Foxton released a single under the name Sharp. To date there has been no reunion of The Jam, and Weller has publicly expressed his lack of interest in any kind of reunion. Foxton and Buckler, however, have played together in a band called From The Jam, which plays Jam material.