‘Beat Surrender’: the story of The Jam’s “final statement”

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If you have lived in the UK for an extended period of time or have ever met a middle-aged man, you have probably found that the influence of The Jam is largely unavoidable. The three-piece mod revivalists rose to prominence among the sticky floors of the punk rock scene. Yet, they never really fit in with the safety pins and bondage trousers, favouring old-school Italian suits and a healthy diet of soul and R&B. But alas, all things must come to an end, and in 1982, Paul Weller wanted The Jam to go out with a bang.

Although the group had first formed in Woking in 1972, it was not until the advent of punk rock that they began to make a name for themselves. Through the release of early singles like ‘In the City’ and ‘All Around the World’, the group soon found a dedicated following, even though their tracks tended to be much less abrasive and politically charged than their contemporaries at The Roxy Club.

Frontman Paul Weller didn’t appear to have much interest in punk, finding himself at odds with many of the prevailing attitudes of the time. While bands like The Clash and Buzzcocks sought to smash down the musical establishment and start again, Weller wanted to celebrate the groups that had first inspired him. 

Throughout their tenure, The Jam regularly paid tribute to the revolutionary sounds of the 1960s – groups like The Who, Small Faces and The Kinks. In fact, one of The Jam’s most popular tracks, ‘David Watts’ was a cover of an early Kinks classic. In addition to Weller’s love of obscure soul and dancefloor jazz, The Jam helped to inspire a renaissance of the mod subculture in direct opposition to the complacency of punk rock.

With legions of mod revivalists worshipping the three-piece and a seemingly endless ability to craft uncompromising, chart-pleasing hits, The Jam were among the coolest groups of the early 1980s. Such was the success of the group that Weller grew a reputation as ‘the voice of a generation’, though he didn’t find that title particularly comforting. As 1982 arrived and they geared up for the release of, arguably, their greatest record, The Gift, there seemed very little room for improvement when it came to The Jam. They had reached their peak.

Although many bands would be content to live off their early successes, recreating their usual sound for an endless deluge of forgettable records, that prospect did not fit with the artistic manifesto of Paul Weller. So, shortly after the release of The Gift, Weller’s mind was made up; the days of The Jam were numbered. Before finalising the divorce, the trio had one more trick up their sleeve, coming in the form of ‘Beat Surrender’. Topping the singles charts, the song provided The Jam with their second number one of 1982, following ‘Town Called Malice’.

‘Beat Surrender’ was heavily inspired by the worlds of soul and disco. According to the songwriter, the track’s title was based upon Anita Ward’s disco anthem ‘Sweet Surrender’. The euphoric, horn-filled sounds of the track predicted the vibrant musical direction Weller would adopt during his post-Jam work with The Style Council. Its euphoric atmosphere was deliberate, as Weller wanted the song to be a triumphant finale for the unforgettable reign of The Jam. “I wanted it to be a final statement on The Jam.” He told Mojo in 2015, “A sort of clarion call. It was like, ‘Right, we’re stopping it – you take it on now.’”

The track achieved what it set out to do, providing a fitting end for Weller’s groundbreaking band. However, the other two members of the group – Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler – were fairly confused about the idea of splitting up at the peak of their career. “We were thinking ‘Why are we going to split up?’” Foxton told MusicRadar, “We were Number One in the single and album chart at the time.” Admittedly, ‘Beat Surrender’ would be Weller’s last number one single – though he came close with ‘Long Hot Summer’ – but, alas, some things are more important than commercial success.

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