“No one told Miles Davis or BB King to pack it in. John Lee Hooker played literally up to the day he died. Why should pop musicians be any different?” — Paul Weller
The above quote tells you all you need to know about Paul Weller. Raised in the typically British town of Woking, Weller became fascinated with music and its transformative power from an early age, indulging his intrigue in a cornucopia of different sounds before eventually excelling as one of the punk scene’s most potent members. “When I told my mum I was going to play my first gig when I was 14, she couldn’t believe it,” Weller once said, “Cause I was painfully shy at that time. But I just done it, put my head down and got through it. And I suppose there’s still a little bit of that, even though it’s many years later and I’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Weller’s is a career that most musicians would kill for. Not only did he create one of Britain’s favourite bands in The Jam, a group packed full of gut-punch power-pop brilliance as well as tunes that still shine today, but he also successfully started a new group in The Style Council and achieved a stunning solo career, all while pushing forward creatively at every opportunity.
That last bit may sound like a given. After all, shouldn’t that be what all musicians are trying to do? Evolve? However, the truth is, look through most of rock’s legacy acts and you’ll find a hefty dose of repetition. Stars may speak of their desire to push the envelope and not re-tread on the paths they had already worn down, but the reality is that so many find themselves stranded on the same islands they had anchored on years prior. Not so for Weller.
Look through his albums, and you will find a consistent pattern of Weller pushing his artistic integrity to the very edge whenever he can. It has given him not only the due respect he deserves but also some killer tunes. Below, we’ve picked out ten of our favourites from Paul Weller’s long career.
Paul Weller 10 best songs:
10. ‘Eton Rifles’
Released in 1979, ‘The Eton Rifles’ is one song that will always live long in the memory of those who witnessed its birth. The track is a power-pop gut punch and refuses to yield at any point in the arrangement. It’s a fitting sonic structure given the lyrical content.
The song was written about a street fight Weller had read about in the newspapers as trouble brewed following a “right-to-work” protest in Slough the prior year. Naturally, Weller aims at the privileged titular school: “There was a lot of class hatred in my songs at the time,” said Weller. “‘Eton Rifles’ would be the obvious example of that. We used to go on Sunday drives with my uncle, and we’d drive through Eton, and I remember seeing the young chaps.”
9. ‘The Changingman’
Though many would argue it happened long before 1995’s Stanley Road, there’s a good case to say that this was the album in which Weller became The Modfather. Having always been affiliated with the British subculture, Weller introduced a new era of Britpop fans to the same swells of soulful sounds that captured his imagination as a young man.
Taken from that album is ‘The Changingman’, a song co-written by Brendan Lynch and using samples from Jeff Lynne’s ELO hit ‘10538 Overture’. The song directly references Weller’s determination always to smash the system he finds himself most comfortable in. Classic Weller that deserves revisiting.
8. ‘My Ever Changing Moods’
Breaking up The Jam was a perilous move. Weller had found such success with the group and was so well-positioned to continue to do so that breaking up the group was seen by many as a disastrous move. Little did they know that Weller had big plans for his solo expansion and began his widely-adored new band, The Style Council.
Positioned towards the pop charts a little more obviously, Weller leaned on his love of soul music for much of the band’s undercurrent. The song may well be another reference to Weller’s desire always to be moving forward and take a reflective moment to contemplate the world around the singer, including nuclear disarmament.
7. ‘From The Floorboards Up’
Weller rarely ventured back to the power-pop thrash of The Jam after he disbanded the group. But on this ditty from 2005’s As Is Now, a little older and a little wiser, Weller delivers a throwback track to get your feet stomping and your hips moving.
Drenched in rhythm and blues, the song is a vibrant and vivacious piece. ‘From The Floorboards Up’ sees Weller in his pocket of creativity and providing the kind of unrelenting jams that made him a star in the first place. The fact that it came nearly 30 years after he first started is a testament to his desire always to be pushing forward.
6. ‘That’s Entertainment’
Rarely did The Jam strip things back to an acoustic performance, but that’s how they start out on this bonafide classic. The song, destined to be a part of commercials and films forevermore, will always hold a special place in Britain’s heart. As ever, Weller captures the world around him and its growing dependency on entertainment to save us from the lack of human endeavour anywhere else in society.
While The Jam may have been providing the working classes with an indirect hit of poetry in their punk songs for some years now on ‘That’s Entertainment’, Weller is more explicit with his deliberately evocative imagery.
5. ‘You’re The Best Thing’
Forming The Style Council alongside Mod revivalist Mick Talbot of The Merton Parkas and esteemed singer Dee C Lee may well have been a risk, but Weller soon found his reward on this soulful pop gem, ‘You’re The Best Thing’ — it’s a classic piece of neo-soul that Weller is likely still proud of to this day.
The band’s sixth single became a huge seller and helped propel their album Cafe Bleu, later renamed, My Ever Changing Moods in the US, to brand new heights. This track has since become a mainstay of Weller’s ‘best of’ lists and should rightly be played on any given sunny afternoon.
4. ‘Town Called Malice’
Okay, so we may be approaching the dad-rock levels of cringe with this track, but if you happen to be in a pub and this song comes on the jukebox and fills the dancefloor with beer bellies and shuffling loafers, then don’t discriminate, and, instead, think about why this song can elicit such reactions. No matter when you put on ‘A Town Called Malice’, you’re bound to get the dancefloor moving.
Flecked with the bouncing rhythm that would cement itself in the Style Council, Weller is at his effervescent best, delicately straddling the line between his punk roots and the vision of his future he was beginning to render. It is one of the final bursts of brilliance from The Jam on their last record, The Gift.
3. ‘Going Underground’
The iconic song ‘Going Underground’, originally released in 1980, shot to the top of the charts and propelled The Jam to new levels of fame. As the first of three chart-topping hits for the group, ‘Going Underground’ signified core elements of who The Jam and Weller were, tackling important social issues with an uncompromising attitude.
Discussing themes of social and political corruption, Thatcherism and more, The Jam were shouting their message from the rooftops for anybody who would listen. It was a firecracker song that demanded attention and refused to back down; capturing the world around him was fast becoming a classic trope of Weller’s writing.
The Jam‘s ability to turn a venue into a recreation of a Beatles gig with fans simply losing their shit was best seen in the fury this song would garner. But while it showed the potency of The Jam, it also showed the career trajectory of Weller rolling out in front of him. “Everyone gets frustrated and aggressive, and I’d sooner take my aggression out on a guitar than on a person,” the lead singer once said…and that is exactly how he earned his trade.
Few songs can light the furnace eyes of your average British rocker better than this song. It’s pure poetry in motion.
2. ‘You Do Something to Me’
If there’s one solo album from Weller that best summed up his importance to British music, it has to be Stanley Road. Shared as part of the Britpop scene, the LP launched Weller’s career for a brand new generation and confirmed him as a legend to those who had heard him before. Perhaps the finest single on that record was ‘You Do Something To Me’.
It’s the third single from the record, and it is one of his most obviously emotional pieces. Of course, paying homage to the British invasion bands of old, the track is steeped in rock history and allows Weller’s now smoke-laden vocal performance to truly shine.
Many of Britpop’s favourite sons, namely Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, were already talking about the huge impact Weller had on their careers. By the time this record arrived, it had confirmed every word they had said, like when you tell your mates how funny your friend is only for him to arrive at the pub with two pints and pocketfuls of jokes.
1. ‘In The City’
The Jam became overnight sensations when they began touring the toilet circuit in their suits, sweating profusely and delivering raucous and electric performances. ‘In The City’ perhaps typifies that movement as the band arrived not only on the punk scene but in the charts too, finding itself on the top 40.
Paul Weller was just 18-years-old when he penned the anthem, dreaming of leaving his small town behind. The singer recalled writing the track in a reflective interview with Q Magazine 2011: “It was the sound of young Woking, if not London, a song about trying to break out of suburbia,” he said.
“As far as we were concerned, the city was where it was all happening; the clubs, the gigs, the music, the music. I was probably 18, so it was a young man’s song, a suburbanite dreaming of the delights of London and the excitement of the city.” The Modfather continued: “It was an exciting time to be alive. London was coming out of its post-hippy days and there was a new generation taking over. The song captured that wide-eyed innocence of coming out of a very small community and entering a wider world, seeing all the bands, meeting people, going to the clubs, and the freedom that it held.”
The track was inspired by living life as a teenager who, in search of more culture, headed into the big smoke to see the great and the good of punk rock of the late 1970s—the same scene that shaped Weller during his adolescence: “I wrote this after I’d seen the Pistols and The Clash and I was obviously into my Who phrase. I just wanted to capture some of that excitement,” he added.
He most certainly did.