The Jam Generation

The last couple of weeks I’ve heard the closing few minutes of The Jam Generation Takes Power on Radio 4.  Finally, I searched out and listened to the final episode of the series.

The premise of the programme is a discussion of the impact on their youth of the crop of politicians currently leading the parties in Westminster.  Be it Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat they are products of the same cookie cutter: all of an age, from similar backgrounds and education.  They have more in common, it seems, with each other, than with any group of their constituents.

They have reached the leadership of their respective parties at a younger age than in any previous period, when typically a party leader would be one of the more experienced members, rather than the most fresh-faced and photogenic.  One of the consequences of this trend is that they have barely any experience outside of politics other than their youth.

To explore what impact growing up in Britain in the 1980s has had on them is possibly the only analysis it is possible to do.  They have been nicknamed ‘The Jam Generation’ because of the popularity of the group’s songs and Paul Weller’s politically inspired lyrics during that period.

I suppose it comes to us all that moment when we realise that the Prime Minister is younger than us; I must admit I had expected to be a bit older before it happened to me.  But there we are.  I’d thought I was part of the ‘Jam Generation’ myself, having been quite a fan in the early 1980s, but it seems I was a touch superannuated even then, being closer in age to the member of the band themselves than to what must have been a teenage fan base.

And in the appreciation of pop music those decades and half decades are important.

What first piqued my interest in the programme was a vivid memory of an argument between a friend, the same age as me, and a friend of his sister’s, some 5 or 6 years older than us.  It was probably 1982 or ’83, or at least not long after The Jam had broken up.  The point at dispute was which band would be remembered longer: The Beatles or The Jam.

It was one of those typically unresolvable arguments, fuelled by alcohol and righteous indignation on both sides.  The Beatles had broken up before we had reached record buying age, while The Jam was the soundtrack of our first years away from home, echoing the bleakness of the market that we faced when  first looking for jobs.  They felt so much more relevant than what felt like the old fashioned hippydippy ness of the Beatles.

The last fire-fight of the bout resolved into a call and repeat of :

”Smithers-Jones’ is better than ‘Eleanor Rigby’

‘No it’s not.’

‘Yes it is’

‘Eleanor Rigby sets the standard for social realism is pop songs’

‘No it doesn’t’

‘Yes it does.’

Punctuate with pointed fingers stabbing the air and pint glasses banging on the table at awkward angles on a table already swimming in beer.

I’m sure you all have an opinion on this.

Meanwhile, perhaps the best line in the radio programme was:

‘It’s not often you see Paul Weller’s words quoted in the Economist’.

In the meantime, I know it’s not conclusive, but I have frequently played Jam tracks on my iPod, but no Beatles.

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  1. brendan stallard

     /  May 21, 2011

    “old fashioned hippydippy ness of the Beatles.”


    LOL, get thee to a nunnery:)

    I was there for the Beatles, they only got with the stupid hippy stuff later in their time. They were accomplished musicians. The Stones were NOT.

    As to the Jam, I found them very hard to listen to. Three pounded out chords and a vile estuarine accent did not appeal to my musical ear.

    “Eleanor Rigby sets the standard for social realism in pop songs”

    What absolute wallop! Half drunk poseur party conversation.

    “I have frequently played Jam tracks on my iPod, but no Beatles. ”

    I can’t speak for the Jam, I didn’t like it, but most of the Beatles catalog did not age well.


    • Haha, Brendan – value judgements about popular music between generations and eras always guaranteed to provoke argument, which must, by its nature, be pretentious and preposterous poseur twaddle!


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