Certain Songs #694: The Jam – “Bricks And Mortar”

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

The thrilling last track of In The City, “Bricks and Mortar” might have collapsed underneath its own heavy-handed social commentary if 1) the music hadn’t been so powerful and 2) If I could actually understand what Paul Weller was actually singing.

In 1978, it was still weird to hear people singing about British things in British accents — remember that all of the original British Invasion bands made their bones by learning American R&B songs, and so grew up singing in their approximations of American accents.

But one of the more formal innovations of U.K. punk rock was to do away with all that: Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Pete Shelley and most of all, Paul Weller sang with impenetrable voices about things I had never experienced. “Council tenancy?” “Car parks?” “The Westway?” I could probably figure out what these things were in context, but I wasn’t even sure what the words were.

And for the most part, there weren’t any lyric sheets — In The City had key lines from the songs displayed as typewritten paper slips — and even Google was no help, since it wouldn’t even be invented for nearly two decades.

Nowadays, I of course know that the opening verse of “Bricks and Mortar” is this:

Bricks and mortar, reflecting social change,
Cracks in the pavement, reveal cravings for success
Why do we try to hide our past
By pulling down houses and build car parks
Windows and mirrors like a two-way glass
This is progress, nothing stands in its path

In other words, a rant about tearing down low-income housing for commercial purposes.

Which I probably grokked even back in 1978, but — I’ll be honest — didn’t care as much about as I probably should have. Not when I was clocking how Paul Weller & Rick Buckler spent the entire song battling for supremacy: Weller would rip out a series of guitar chords, and Buckler would respond with a drum roll in danger of falling right out of the kit.

So I might catch “Bricks and mortar” or “While hundreds are homeless,” and then focus right back on the music.

And, of course, I lived for the part where the entire song stopped and Weller yelled “Knock ’em down!” and “Bricks and Mortar” exploded into a cacophony of feedbacky guitars, aerodynamic drums and utter chaos.

You know, like the sound of a house being torn down to be turned into a car park. So, in a way, “Bricks and Mortar” totally got its point across.

“Bricks and Mortar”

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