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Random Jukebox: The Jam’s Town Called Malice

Toward the end of The Jam’s spectacular run, Paul Weller expanded the band’s angsty post-punk by incorporating Motown and northern soul influences, which is particularly evident in the anthemic Town Called Malice, the primary single from the Woking wonders’ final album, The Gift. It swiftly became The Jam’s 15th UK hit, crashing straight into No. 1 in time for Valentine’s Day, February 1982, and dethroning Düsseldorf’s finest Kraftwerk in the process. Let’s take a ride.

Paul Weller was still a boy wonder when he wrote Town Called Malice, a foot-stomping, finger-snapping portrait of English working-class life, inspired by his home town. The phrase southern suburbs meets northern soul has never felt more apt. 

The soon to depart triumvirate are tight as nails on the recording, a sassy, soulful rocker built around Bruce Foxton’s thumping Motown-inspired bass, Rick Buckler’s explosive drum work, and Weller’s choppy vocal delivery. A lively whirling Hammond organ completes the song’s retro vibe.

The resiliently upbeat vibe of the song belies the harsh realities described in the lyrics: “Struggle after struggle, year after year / the atmosphere’s a fine blend of ice / I’m almost stone cold dead / in a town called Malice.” 

It’s almost as if the band is determined to keep the party going no matter how bleak life may be.

Ooh, yea-ah.

As Weller told the Guardian, “It was the start of the hardline Margaret Thatcher years, and places — up north, especially — were being decimated.” But it’s also full of affectionate almost wartime evoking touches like the moment when “A hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts.” 

Not only did Town Called Malice give the spunky trio their third and penultimate chart-topper in Britain, but the song also became wildly popular for American kids, who couldn’t figure out a word Weller was singing, yet felt his suburban rage and the band’s mod sweat. It’s bloody great in Billy Elliot, too.

The Jam were arguably the best-loved band in Britannia — yet its frontman decided that meant it was time to call quits. Weller would take his interest in sophisti-pop soul and cocktail jazz to the next level with the Style Council, then launched a solo career that’s still thriving today.

As for Town Called Malice, it‘s as brutally apt as ever, and includes a line well worth remembering: “Stop apologising for the things you’ve never done / ’cause time is short and life is cruel.” 

Indeed it is. Yeah-eh-er-ah.

Steve Pafford

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