The punk rock movement of the late ’70s was a firestorm of amped up rock ’n’ roll like nothing before it. While London, England was the music’s ground zero, over here it caught on simultaneously in far apart cities like NYC, Los Angeles, etc. For those of us who lived in the suburbs – I grew up in Garden Grove, California (“the OC,” for those keeping score at home) – the news was disseminated via occasional blurbs in the rock magazines (primarily Creem and Circus), and hype-loaded stories on the daily TV news. I’m not sure when I first figured out something of actual importance was happening. It probably dawned on me one day when I noticed all of these different bands, like the Sex Pistols, The Clash and THE JAM were being described in similar ways. And that it was actually music, not just a bunch of idiots causing riots in safety pins and mohawks. And this music, whatever it was, was not Boston, Journey or Styx!
In their first calendar year alone, a young threesome called The Jam released their first two albums and a few singles. 1977 collects those two LPs – In the City and This Is the Modern World – two discs of demos and live tracks and a DVD of TV appearances and promo videos in one handy little box set. The champion Jam fan will have most of what is on offer here, as a majority of it is available from disparate sources like previous album reissues, box sets and the like. But if you’re interested in collecting most of their, ahem, 1977 output in one place, this succinctly titled compendium is for you. In the City and the band’s next single (“All Around the World” b/w “Carnaby Street”) make up the first disc, so there’s the title single and other firestarters like “I’ve Changed My Address” and “Away from the Numbers.” An insanely massive debut, that. On another disc, This Is the Modern World (weaker but it’s all relative) appears by itself, without any non-LP B-sides. I don’t know why; there’s plenty of room for the live tracks that supported “The Modern World” 45 and they were recorded in ’77. Sure, they have appeared in other places since then, but so has a lot of what’s in this box set. In fact, five of the eleven demos on the second disc have been previously released. Perhaps The Jam’s main songwriter (and head honcho) Paul Weller vetoed their inclusion. Dumb. For The Jam did some killer covers back then (“Slow Down” was on their debut album; “In the Midnight Hour” was on elpee number two), so live takes of “Sweet Soul Music” and “Back in My Arms Again” completely suit the all-inclusive MO of this release.
Those demos on disc two are pretty fun to listen to but ultimately not all that different from what appeared on In the City. Still, you do get an early version of their eventual cover of The Who’s “So Sad About Us” and an early shot at Larry Williams’ aforementioned “Slow Down,” along with nine other tracks that were properly recorded for their debut long player. Disc Four, dubbed “Live 1977,” includes two sessions recorded for the John Peel show on the BBC (eight songs, all previously released on The Jam at the BBC) and a previously unreleased September 1977 concert recorded at The Nashville in London. Here’s where you can hear a pummeling version of “Sweet Soul Music,” the Arthur Conley R&B classic The Jam covered frequently (the one on the single was recorded that same month at The 100 Club). Even your canniest Jam fan would probably not discern there’s any difference. Still.
A pair of promo videos and nine tracks filmed for TV make up the DVD, and these are always fun from an historic standpoint. The Jam is shown to be very determined, focused and unflagging on multiple appearances on Top of the Pops, a show called So It Goes, and a single song slot on Marc Bolan’s program, Marc. Seeing Bolan introduce the band is a treat.
In all, 1977 is reasonably priced, what with five discs of aural and visual entertainment, a clipping ’n’ photo filled book and five prints of the cover and other shots. What The Jam accomplished in their short lifetime is something special, and this box set puts their nascent beginnings on compelling audio and video display. They were three guys, barely twenty years old, delivering their youthful views on life (politics, culture, etc.) to a willing-to-listen audience of their peers. With the support of their growing fanbase they went on to achieve much more than what their 1977 output hinted at, ushering in a musically exciting, modern world.
3.5/5 (Polydor/UMC 5771550, 2017)