Extract from Sounds From the Street
Going Underground (Weller)
Recorded in January 1980 at The Townhouse Studios, Shepherd’s Bush, London
Produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven
Double A-side released 7 March 1980; Polydor POSPJ 113; reached no 1 in UK chart
Double A-side: ‘The Dreams Of Children’
B-side: ‘Away From The Numbers’, ‘The Modern World’, ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’
In February 1980 The Jam played four low-key warm-up gigs in Cambridge, Canterbury, Malvern and finally at The Woking YMCA (the latter a benefit gig for that organisation). As most of their equipment had been shipped off to America for the tour that was due to begin a week later, The Jam turned to original band member Steve Brookes, who happily agreed to supply a free PA for their YMCA appearance.
All three band members still lived around the town and would still frequently appear in local pubs or make unpaid appearances at school fetes and other local functions. The previous summer, Paul, Bruce and Rick had even turned up bleary-eyed one Saturday morning to present the prizes at the Old Woking Primary School, later retiring to The Kingfield Arms pub outside the gates, where they discussed their in-production album, Setting Sons, with a gathering of schoolboys. The band at that point were still describing it as a concept album and explained the theme in the public bar while the landlord turned a blind eye to the underage drinkers that made up their audience.
The following week the band set out on their fourth tour of America and, buoyed by the commercial success of ‘The Eton Rifles’ and Setting Sons in the UK, they found their American fan base also increasing to the point where they were now able to sell out the 3000-capacity New York Palladium. Despite a positive start, the trip once again proved a sour one as Polydor’s US arm clashed with the band by releasing the unsuitable ‘Heatwave’ as a single in an attempt to win over an even larger American audience.
After yet another arduous month travelling around the States, the band had just finished a gig in Austin, Texas on 22 March when they received a late-night Trans-Atlantic phone call during the after-show drinks party at their hotel. By then it was already Sunday morning in England and the UK charts had been published. The message was that ‘Going Underground’ had entered at number one, and the party accordingly switched into high gear. The following morning, through a haze of hangovers, the band were facing a week off before picking up the tour for the final leg starting in New Jersey the following Friday.
But the band members had other ideas. Collectively the decision was taken (in under a minute, apparently) that The Jam would pack their bags and return home to England in order to perform ‘Going Underground’ on Top Of The Pops, which was recorded on Wednesday afternoons. They could have gone back to America in time to complete the tour but they had already had enough. Their fourth US tour was over and Britain’s biggest band were staying at home.
When The Jam performed ‘Going Underground’ on Top Of The Pops they were sans Rickenbacker, probably because their kit was still in the process of being shipped home. Foxton, in any case, was now creating his sound by using a Fender Precision Bass. Weller decided to demonstrate his growing interest in pop art by wearing a kitchen apron bearing a Heinz Tomato Soup logo (which he later referred to in the sleeve notes of Dig The New Breed, the band’s final album), although this move unnerved the BBC, who were very strict about product endorsement.
Weller had only been using it as a reference to the pop art cover of The Who album The Who Sell Out, which features Roger Daltry holding a giant can of Heinz baked beans. But Weller was only joking and mocking what he expected the reaction in some parts of the music press would be to his band’s long awaited success. ‘Number One single – The Jam have now sold out?’
In the event The BBC refused to allow Paul to wear the apron, although Weller characteristically agreed only to turn it round and wear it back to front. But with the studio lights blazing the apron became virtually transparent and viewers could clearly see the logo, which meant Weller had effectively got his way. But he wasn’t happy with what he perceived as establishment bullies laying the law down so when the time came for the performance (which was mimed), Weller minced about and deliberately got his words wrong.
Another typically humorous gesture from a man publicly becoming known as ‘Old Misery Guts’, after being labelled that by Smash Hits magazine. But, personally, Paul was largely unaffected by this tag, even playing up to it by introducing a flexi disc, given away by Smash Hits, with the words, ‘Hello, this is Paul Weller speaking, but don’t let that stop you enjoying yourselves.’
Driven once again by Foxton’s bass line, lyrically ‘Going Underground’ tackles the growing nuclear threat, referring to the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia in December 1979. Again written in the first person, Weller portrays himself as the proletariat instructed by the establishment to support their wishes (presumably by increasing taxes) and meekly towing the line.
In 2002, 22 years after The Jam released ‘Going Underground’, Paul Weller gave Virgin Radio’s breakfast DJ Daryl Denham permission to rewrite the lyrics to his number one hit. The song was released as ‘Go England’ just prior to the 2002 World Cup campaign.
Sounds from the Street is available at these links.