Certain Songs #710: The Jam – “Town Called Malice”

the-jam-town-called Album: The Gift
Year: 1982

Entering the U.K. charts at #1 the week it was released, “Town Called Malice” was yet another totally and utterly undeniable single that somehow never gained traction here in the U.S., though I do remember occasionally seeing the video on MTV, so that was something.

Out of all of their singles, I always thought that “Town Called Malice” was the one with the best opportunity to break in the U.S., as it was a great example of Brits taking American R&B and rocking it up a bit. I mean, if “Rock The Casbah” could do it, then why not “A Town Called Malice?”

Though alas, it was not to be, though I think that this might be the one Jam song that even non-Jam fans might have heard, though I don’t really have anything to base that on.

Anyways, like “Start!,” the key to “Town Called Malice” is a great Bruce Foxton bassline theft/homage, in this case, the one that powers “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes. And also, like “Start,” that bassline is just one part of the overall magic, as Paul Weller & Rick Buckler play around it and — aided by a melancholy organ and handclaps — create an irresistibly bouncy groove for Weller to sing over.

Better stop dreaming of the quiet life
Cause it’s the one we’ll never know
And quit running for that runaway bus
Cause those rosy days are few
And, stop apologizing for the things you’ve never done,
Cause time is short and life is cruel
But it’s up to us to change
This town called malice

In other words: stop complaining about things and start changing them. Which, as I’m writing these words in the early afternoon on Election Day, seems to have an extra resonance, especially since I know that it’s going to be after Thanksgiving before anybody actually reads them. Who knows what’s going to happen?

The other great message of “Town Called Malice” is, of course this:


Because when Weller’s guitar started angling towards the end of each verse as Buckler’s drums caught the excitement and fell into spontaneous rolls, “Town Called Malice” became yet another one of those songs that epitomizes the Pete Townshend maxim that rock n roll won’t solve your problems, but it will let you sort of dance all over them.

So when in the middle of the “ba-ba-ba” part, Paul Weller & Bruce Foxton harmonize that “oooooooooh” that splits it in half every bit of trouble that was on my mind went away. For that one second, there was nothing wrong with the world, only the pure and utter joy that emanated from that vocal harmony.

Which, of course, was needed in 1982. And today, as well.

“Town Called Malice” official video (bad sound)

“Town Called Malice” performed live in 1982

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