With his biting lyrics and scathing intellect, Paul Weller was a pillar of the new wave era. As the frontman of The Jam, Weller captured the disenfranchisement of a society steeped in the austerity of Thatcherism. With tracks like ‘Eton Rifles’, ‘Town Called Malice’, and ‘In The City’, Weller interrogated the monotony and apathy of a country on its knees and, utilising his knack for infectious melodies, offered an escape.
Like so many of his generation, his musical education began with bands like The Faces, The Who and, of course, The Beatles. Listening to these artists convinced Weller to learn the guitar and, by eleven, he was already writing songs of his own. After watching Status Quo in 1972, Weller formed the first incarnation of The Jam.
With Weller’s father acting as manager, they began playing regularly in working men’s clubs, honing their musicianship and songwriting as they went. Weller gradually developed a style of writing which was at once poetic and aggressive – taking the accessible pop music pioneered by Merseybeat artists and blending it with angular, angst-ridden scorn.
What’s clear about Weller is that music was always essential. It was like having a roof over one’s head or food in one’s belly. Music, for him, was something which sustained and nourished you and, as a result, was coveted like a rare jewel. And there was no band more nourishing than The Beatles. In a recent interview, Weller recalled that the first album he ever bought was Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a colourful, kaleidoscopic album that likely exploded the tiny minds of countless children worldwide when it was released in 1967. It must have felt as though life had been in black and white until that moment, and suddenly the world was in full technicolour.
Weller remembered the moment with perfect clarity, describing how desperate he was to get a copy: “It came out in 1967, but it took me probably a year to save up for it so I bought it a year later in ‘68, so I would’ve been about ten I guess. It took me a long time to save up for it. I sold off all my toys. I had a bit of a sale in my bedroom and invited friends around just to raise the funds to get it, and I got a bit more money off my mum and dad,” Weller recalled.
In an age in which we have access to all the music we could ever want at the click of a button, it’s humbling to remember that there was once a time when music was hard-won. For children all across the world, those rows and rows of records sat in their colourful sleeves, were just ever so slightly out of reach. Those who could get hold of one and bring it into the school were treated with reverence — like little deities in scratchy jumpers and polished shoes. It’s no wonder Waller was so desperate to get hold of Sgt Peppers. It must almost have felt as though owning Beatles record was akin to being an adult.
“I think it was 30 bob at the time, I don’t know what that is in new money, around £1.50, something like that,” Weller continued, adding: “I just thought it’s amazing man. I mean I loved The Beatles anyway, but that was the first album I’d owned, and just to see the sleeve and the lyrics on the back and all that stuff, and the cut-out thing inside it, you know. So I just played the shit out of that for as long as I could.”
Arguably, Weller’s dedication to getting that album is the same which allowed him to sustain his phenomenal career. From The Jam, to The Style Council, to his solo work, Weller has always been one of the hardest-working artists in music — always pushing his music to new heights. It does make you wonder whether, in an age in which music is so disposable, people are missing out on the intoxicating obsession that it invokes in us. That obsession caused Weller to spend hours poring over lyrics, something which undoubtedly informed his own songwriting skill. Without that obsession, is the music of artists today less likely to endure? Or is it that the obsession has just changed shape?