Certain Songs #693: The Jam – “Away From The Numbers”

the-jam-in-the-city-album Album: In The City
Year: 1977

Weirdly, “Away From The Numbers” is what passes for a slow one on In The City, because it’s not performed at supersonic speed and it’s over four minutes long!

Add to that the fact that Weller is singing it in his wistful voice instead of his angry voice, and you might conclude that it’s some kind of happy sappy song. Until you look at the lyrics, and realize that it’s really kind of an answer song to “The Kids Are Alright.”

Only in Weller’s case, he’s not exactly ecstatically lost in the middle of his community:

Things are getting just too cozy for me
And I see people as they see me
Gonna break away and gain control
You free your mind
You free your soul

And of course, since “numbers” is mod slang for “mods,” when Weller sings the chorus, you’re almost surprised that he didn’t call the song “The Kids Aren’t Alright.” But then again, I guess he didn’t have to.

Away from the numbers
(Away from the numbers)
Is where I’m gonna be
Away from the numbers
(Away from the numbers)
Is where I am free

Meanwhile, the band is firing on all cylinders, taking the opportunity to breathe between each of the verses and choruses, letting “Away From The Numbers” ebb and flow, build and crash across the big, distorted guitar chords and massive drum fills that just add to the overall tension of the song.

For the coda, they all crash together one last time, and Rick Buckler builds towards the heavens as Weller & Foxton harmonize on what might just be their mantra:

Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard
Reality’s so hard

Yes, this sound was definitely based upon what The Who had done in their pre-Tommy phase. But I loved — still love — those early Who songs as much as anything I’d ever heard, and just wanted to hear more.

Especially since all those Who songs were all the way back in the mid-1960, man. But The Jam were right now. The late 1970s. They were a band that didn’t have a history, but rather were making their own history, and I was making my history of loving what they were doing, and — best of all — I had no idea what they were going to do next.

“Away From The Numbers”

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