The Jam: Absolute Beginners US EP 
- Absolute Beginners
- Tales From The Riverbank
- Funeral Pyre
- Liza Radley
This morning at the gym I chanced to hear “A Town Called Malice” and it served to remind me that from some time in 1980 to almost the end of The Jam’s career in 1982, I was keeping up with their career with avid interest. True, I never bought the live album [“Dig The New Breed”], and the final EP, “Beat Surrender” was not a purchase, but I did latch on to the excellent “Sound Affects” and kept up with the band in America via the handy EPs that US Polydor issued in a vain, but appreciated attempt to break this most English of bands in the land of Yanks.
During this time, the band were issuing many non-LP singles featuring some of their hottest songs, so in retrospect, the idea of compiling two of these on a low-cost EP for sale in America was a great idea. This retailed for $4.98 and it saved me a dollar of the cost of buying “Absolute Beginners” and “Funeral Pyre” on import 7″ singles. The fact that they threw in the non-LP B-side to “Start!” [“Liza Radley”] was icing on the cake. Polydor did a fine job of packaging the EP with both single covers on the back of the 12″ with the lyrics to the A-sides printed as well. It didn’t hurt that the 12″ probably had better fidelity than the notoriously poor French MPO silver injection label pressings that the original UK singles had either.
“Absolute Beginners” was a tune that was built upon a staccato horn hook that spoke to Paul Weller’s interest in 60s soul and R+B influences. The skittering drum pattern that Rick Buckler brought to the song lent it a nimble, jazzy distinction. The A-side made for a memorable pop tune but given that it’s been nearly 30 years since I had a copy of this in the Record Cell, I have to admit that I can’t remember anything about the single’s B-Side, “Tales From The Riverbank.”
While “Going Underground” will always remain my favorite Jam song, a close runner up will always be the explosive “Funeral Pyre.” The song was propelled at a breakneck pace by the savage pummeling that Buckler gave his drum kit for that one, and is there a more thrilling cold ending to any song than the one that follows Buckler’s incendiary solo at the song’s end? Now that was exciting rock music of the kind that doesn’t get made any more.
The Jam were introduced to my American ears as the band following in the footsteps of the early Who sound, so it made perfect sense for them to cover an obscure, early Who song such as “Disguises,” from the band’s cool “Ready Steady Who” EP of 1966. It’s a sterling early Townsend number from the band’s vibrant Mod period, with the sort of lyrics that probably attracted Weller to The Who as an influence to begin with. The Jam cut a great version of it here, that for many years was the only one I’d ever heard!
Finally, the haunting ballad “Liza Radley” was unreleased in America from the band’s hit single “Start!” from the previous year, so its inclusion here was appreciated. Although I had the import pressing of “Sound Affects” I didn’t have any of its singles on 7.” I never crossed the line in my mind that made me start collecting The Jam, so even though I was into their last two studio albums, and various US compilation EPs, I never worked my way backwards to their early material.
When Weller broke up the band in 1983, I bought the first Style Council UK 7″ and was seriously nonplussed by the “Speak Like A Child” single and dropped the Weller issue right then and there. In 1985 The Jam material in my collection got amortized in the Great Vinyl Purge that saw my PCV exchanged for shiny polycarbonate discs instead via the lovely network of used record stores at my disposal. I’ve not had any Jam music to listen to in almost 30 years, and one day I need to rectify that.
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