Mar 12, 2011
One of the advantages¹ of having an early bird wife is that for half an hour each day I get to listen to Alex Lester on BBC Radio 2, who combines amusing repartee with a sound knowledge and clear enjoyment of the records he plays (and he doesn’t talk over the records, avoiding quite the most annoying, narcissistic practice in radio broadcasting).
The highlight of my half hour is Lester’s Library, when he plays a record from his own collection that I’ve almost certainly not heard before. But occasionally he swaps his Library for a Listener’s generally better known selection.
And so it transpired on Friday, when Paul Gill from Leicester picked one of the greatest songs of all time and my karaoke/air guitar tour de force, The Jam’s Down in the Tube Station at Midnight.
A bleak and startling account of one man’s journey home with a curry for his wife, only to be assaulted by a bunch of nazis, the song contains one of Paul Weller’s finest lyrics at a time in the late 70s and early 80s when he seemed incapable of writing a mis-placed word or note.
I first felt a fist and then a kick,
I could now smell their breath.
They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs
And too many right wing meetings.
My life swam around me,
It took a look and drowned me in its own existence.
The smell of brown leather,
It blended in with the weather,
It filled my eyes, ears, nose and mouth,
It blocked all my senses,
Couldn’t see, hear, speak any longer.
And I’m down in the tube station at midnight
DitTaM, as it was never known, appeared initially in 1978 on The Jam’s third LP, All Mod Cons before getting a single release in a slightly different version in 1979, charting at number 15.
Within a year The Jam were confirmed as the “biggest band in the UK”, when Going Underground went straight into the singles chart at number one, a common enough event these days but so rare then that it was the first time it had happened since the sixties.
“Tube Station” charted again in 1981 when a live version backed That’s Entertainment on a single released in Germany. But such was the band’s popularity, that import sales took it to number 21 in the UK. It t remains one of the two all-time biggest selling import singles, alongside another Jam release, Just Who Is the 5 O’Clock Hero?, which reached number eight in 1982.
Listen and download
The Jam :: Down in the Tube Station at Midnight [live version]
Two singles later and Weller dissolved the Jam, heading for pastures new with The Style Council before embarking on an increasingly successful, but to these ears, largely underwhelming solo career. However it does have its moments, not least the 1994 live recording, Live Wood, and a part in the greatest TV series ever made. Weller’s cover of Dr John’s I Walk on Gilded Splinters is played over the closing montage of season 4 of The Wire and the heartbreaking moment when Carver sees Randy’s name amidst the graffiti on a derelict building.