454. ‘Going Underground’ / ‘The Dreams of Children’, by The Jam

Well, isn’t this quite the shot of adrenaline! The line between new-wave and punk becomes very blurred as The Jam score their first number one single…

Going Underground / The Dreams of Children, by The Jam (their 1st of four #1s) 

3 weeks, 16th March – 6th April 1980

The guitars are tight, and fast. Lead-singer Paul Weller spits the opening lines out with venom: Some people might say my life is in a rut! But I’m quite happy with what I’ve got! It’s a record that grabs you by the lapels of your smart, modish suit and doesn’t let you go. These angry young men are not happy with modern life, with their leaders’ lies and atomic crimes, and are off underground.

The lyrics are not always easy to make out – delivered as if Weller just has to get them off his chest before their three minutes are up – but one line stands out: The public wants what the public gets, But I don’t get what this society wants… I’m going underground…! And then there’s the ‘braying sheep’ on his TV screen. They’re words that ring just as true today – you could probably apply them to any point since WWII, to be fair – but after an economically difficult seventies, and less than a year into Thatcher’s government, dissent is growing…

‘Going Underground’ really does sound very raw, and very punk. It could be a hit from 1977, and is much more primitive when compared to new-wave’s two other big guitar bands, Blondie and The Police. This is perhaps The Jam’s last moment as an ‘underground’, if you will, band. This hits number one, and their sound expands and progresses. Only in the break, before the final chorus, does it sound a little more of its time, drippy and echoey, but only for a second before the guitars chop right back in.

‘Going Underground’ was actually only listed as the double-‘A’ due to a printing error. ‘The Dreams of Children’ was intended to be the lead, and it does sound much more of the moment. It starts with a cool false-beginning, guitars and vocals played in reverse, and has a great, chiming riff. But, I’d say it lacks the urgency of the flip-side. I hope that whoever buggered things up at the printing plant wasn’t punished too harshly…

If you were hoping for a more positive take on modern life here… well, nope. Paul Weller is having sweet dreams – the innocent dreams of a child – but wakes sweating and paranoid to this modern nightmare… I was alone and no-one was there… Before long, the song has turned into a sort of horror movie theme, voiced by a sinister dream-catcher.

Something’s gonna crack on your dreams tonight, You will crack on your dreams tonight… he sings, as the twiddly backwards effects return and things get genuinely creepy. Sorry kids, your dreams are just that: dreams. Real-life will grind you down. I mean, it’s not your run-of-the-mill #1 single material, but everything can’t be all sweetness and light. Neither of these songs sounds like a chart-topper, but it’s great that they got there.

And they got there in some style. This was the first record to enter at #1 since Slade did it with ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ over six years ago. Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles and, er, Gary Glitter were the only other acts to have achieved this feat before 1980. It pretty much announces The Jam as one of, if not the, biggest band in the country (or at least the band with the most devoted fanbase, who ran out to buy the song as soon as it was released…)

However, can I just add before I go that it is a shame that The Jam’s previous single – their first Top 10 hit – wasn’t the big #1 debut. As great as this record I’ve reviewed today is, ‘The Eton Rifles’ stands as a brilliant commentary on the British class system: angry, and funny, and another one that still rings true today. We just don’t learn, do we?

8 thoughts on “454. ‘Going Underground’ / ‘The Dreams of Children’, by The Jam

  1. Cracking single Going Underground, venomous and angry which was very much the mood as I left Uni later in the year and off into 3 million mass unemployment and riots and 2 years on the dole. There were no jobs up north. Another big student band, I went to see them on tour in 1981 with my College mate who was a big fan, and they were pretty much as you’d expect them to be. Eton Rifles definitely set this one up to enter at the top, and yes they had the biggest loyal fanbase of the time – though they didn’t sell as bigly as The Police or Abba, but they weathered all the coming genre changes fairly easily. Have to admit, despite buying the single and it topping my personal charts, I never played The Dreams Of Children more than once and it got no airplay at all that I recall, so to all intents it was a B side as opposed to proper double A singles like, ooh, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, where each side was famous. Or 1979’s Voulez Vous/Angel Eyes where both Abba tracks got substantial airplay.

    1. Interesting… I wonder if its true then that ‘Dreams of Children’ was due to be the A-side until a printing error… ‘Going Underground’ immediately stands out as the lead track. I can’t imagine it not being!

      1. I find it hard to believe that Paul Weller wouldnt get exactly what he wanted. He has never been shy about expressing his opinion on something! I could believe dreams of children accidentally listed as a double A though…. 🙂

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  3. badfinger20 (Max)

    I do love the Jam….again we missed the boat on them. I had friends with imports…that is the only way I heard them.
    The British class system…is it still going on? The sitcom that parodied it that I remember is… Are You Being Served?

    1. They are very British-sounding, compared to, say, the Police. It’s another Slade, Kinks, Oasis situation…

      The class system is still a thing, perhaps less life-defining than it was 40 years ago. The govt is still full of private school boys though (the Prime Minister being a good example), just like the Jam were singing about…

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        Yes I agree…I’m so glad I got to hear them at the time through friends.

        Ok I had no clue that even part of it was going on.

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