This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #270: Town Called Malice by The Jam.
Just prior to the start of the pandemic, I read a book by a lady named Sarah Broom entitled, “The Yellow House”, which was about growing up black in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans. Essentially, the book examined the concept of “home” and what it meant to live in certain neighbourhoods; what external and internal factors were at play that contributed to or detracted from that sense of community that sits as the bedrock of the towns and cities that we all call “home”. At one point, Ms. Broom was able to secure a job in the Mayor’s office as part of his Communications team and, as such, was finally earning enough money to afford a “decent” home. She found, what she thought, was a character-filled, primo apartment in the heart of New Orleans French Quarter and happily, joyfully moved in. In the book, she described life in The French Quarter as being akin to living in the middle of a staged play; all of the people either actors, working to maintain the myth of what The French Quarter once was or else, a never-ending audience of tourists streaming in for the show and off to other places when they had had their fill. Broom said it was impossible to exist in search of roots in a place as transient and ever-shifting as The French Quarter in New Orleans. So, after barely a year, she had moved again….this time, all the way to New York City, in search of somewhere to call “home”.
Now, for the purposes of today’s post, let’s shift our attention to England. If you travel due south from London for about two hours or so, you will arrive at the southern tip of the island at the bustling seaport of Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a large seaport that once served as home port for much of The Royal Navy at a time when the British Empire stretched to all corners of the globe. In recent times, Portsmouth gained notoriety as being the location from which the final known photograph of the Titanic was taken. In that grainy photo, the Titanic can be seen sailing toward the distant horizon; its’ passengers excited to be taking part, in what they all deemed to be, a grand and glorious adventure. Portsmouth remains a busy seaport today. There is a constant flow of people and goods, back and forth, between Portsmouth and London, which helps to supply the whole of England with goods which, in turn, helps prop up the national economy. At the mid-point of that trade and travel route, there exists town called Woking. The lead singer of The Jam, Paul Weller, grew up in Woking. The song, “Town Called Malice” is his take on growing up in a place that is, essentially, just a rest-stop for those going to other places they would rather be.
“Town Called Malice” describes the constant movement of trains through the town, the smell of the large dairy plant that packaged milk and other dairy products for sale in other parts of the country and, of course, the constant stream of people, coming and going and never staying longer than they had to. Weller wrote the song without bitterness, using more of an observational, “it-was-what-it-was” kind of tone. The title of the song is based on a novel called, “A Town Called Alice” and was not intended by Weller to say that Woking was a terrible place in which to have grown up.
However, a funny thing happened to the band when this song was released. “Town Called Malice” actually sounds like a happy, energy-filled song because of the use of back-up singers, brass instruments and the like. As The Jam grew as a band, each album of theirs grew in creativity and confidence. Eventually, tensions arose within the band as to the musical direction they should follow; should they stay true to their roots and continue creating a songs that “sounded like Jam songs” or else, expand their musical repertoire and try to take their music in new directions? “Town Called Malice” was seen as indicating that Weller’s vision of new growth had won the day. However, behind the scenes, the other band members (who had wanted to stick, more to their original sound) rebelled and as The Jam’s biggest hit was released and tour planned, the band broke up. Not long after, Weller continued on with a new band called, Style Council and then, after that, a solo career that remains active to this day.
But, the hit song, “Town Called Malice” provides a lot of insight into the mindset of someone whose formative years were sent in a town built upon the idea that greener pastures lay elsewhere and that the search for “home” was going to have to be somewhere other than where you were. Without further delay, I am proud to present an absolutely awesome song by “The Jam” that helped define the 80s sound as well as any song ever did. Here is “Town Called Malice”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Town Called Malice” by The Jam, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Jam, can be found here.
The link to the website for the Town of Woking, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for always knowing where the best songs come from and where they are headed. The link to their website can be found here.