Track This: The Jam-Down in the Tube Station at Midnight

The Jam's "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" has been one of my favorite Jam tracks since I first purchased Greatest Hits in 1995. Long before I listened to all their records, and just when I was beginning to dip my toe, into Paul Weller's increasingly lengthy catalog, I would play the track on my beatdown boom box. Sequestered among rock posters and stacks of comic books, I marveled at Weller's detailed songwriting that told of another side of British culture different from what I got from The Clash, my favorite British band at the time.

While I loved early Jam tracks like "Eton Rifles" and "The Modern World" and later got heavily into the later soulful tracks, especially "Town Called Malice" and the ballad "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)," "Down in the Tube Station" grabbed hold of my teenage imagination and would not let go. The imagery and story-telling alone sucked me in, but the music sealed the deal. Weller's guitar flourishes mesh well with the tight drumming of Rick Buckler and the bouncy, propulsive bass lines of Foxton. His bass playing sets The Jam apart on the song by providing a catchy backdrop for Weller's subtle guitar playing and Buckler's understated drumming. Their sound is unmistakable, even as it borrows heavily from early Kinks. Check out their cover of "David Watts" from All Mod Cons, where they make it their own. In fact, all the Jam records are worth a listen, but All Mod Cons is a good place to start.

"Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" starts with sounds of the London Underground station before the band kicks in to set the mood for a song about a man getting mugged in the subway. The lyrics juxtapose Mr. Jones' journey as he heads home to have dinner with his wife. Weller provides details of the dirtiness of the underground: The glazed, dirty steps, repeat my own and reflect my thoughts / Cold and uninviting, partially naked / Except for toffee wrappers and this morning's paper. He discusses newspaper headlines replete with violence before thugs attack the man who matter-of-factly explains "I've a little money and a takeaway curry / I'm on my way home to my wife / She'll be lining up the cutlery, you know she's expecting me / Polishing the glasses and pulling out the cork." These niceties are also juxtaposed with violence: "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." Weller makes the story come to life and shows how quickly violence can enter one's life. His details make the song a compelling cautionary tale, yet, just like Ray Davies, he grounds it in very British terms.

Check it out:

Track This is a recurring feature of Snobbin' that turns the music appreciation dial up and rips it off of your stereo. It attempts to introduce a new track, allow readers to rediscover an underappreciated track, or just serve as a forum to flat out discuss a track that falls into the ear candy category and should be listened to unabashedly and without reservation for years to come.


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