My friends call it The Red Monstrosity, but I lovingly refer to it as Heaven.  It’s a large black & burnt-red pine cabinet I liberated from a neighbor many years ago and proceeded to stuff with my favorite substance: 7-inch vinyl.  Decades of being a rock & pop music fan, not to mention working in record stores and for record labels, landed thousands of these sexy little platters in my lap over the years.  Yet I’ve never really considered myself a collector;  more like an accumulator, I suppose.  I’ve never concerned myself with “the first-pressing of this” or “the rare picture disc of that.”  Fact is, this overstuffed termite festival is probably worthless to anyone but myself, which leads me to a conundrum:  in this hyper-digitized age, what do I do with all this antediluvian stuff??  The answer, of course, is enjoy it.  So each week in this column, I am going to grab a slab of plastic at random out of The Red Monstrosity, spin it, and talk about it.  Like rummaging through old photographs, it might bring up some funny anecdotes.  Or embarrassing moments.  First up…

THE JAM  “Absolute Beginners” b/w “Tales From The Riverbank”(Polydor UK POSP 350 Oct. 1981)

While The Clash looked out from England onto the rest of the world, Paul Weller and The Jam seemed to be peering backwards into English suburban life, not unlike The Kinks before them.  And also like Davies & Co., they came across as way too English for the rest of the world, or at least America.  But nevermind that.  The fact is that when young Paul Weller was on, he was ON.  And in the very early 1980s he was one of the few rock artists who could be counted on to relelase a great single, whether it scraped the top of any noteable charts or not.  So I was not exactly “rolling the dice” when I plunked down (probably somewhere around) $2.00 US for this lovely little imported single with a strange title that I didn’t understand.  The 16-year-old version of myself was not yet aware of Colin MacInnes’ 1959 novel titled “Absolute Beginners,” and Julian Temple’s musical film adaptation was five years away.  Regardless, when I got this disc home to my bedroom and slapped it on my little stereo, there was one thing I knew for sure:  it was EXPLOSIVE.  And I do mean literally.  The Jam always prided in mastering their records very hot, with Bruce Foxton’s bass EQ’ed round, crisp and BIG to fill the bottom end, while Weller’s brittle, often distorted guitar and Rick Buckler’s bright, splashy cymbals rang out in the top register.  I was aware of this from spending time with their previous albums, most notably Sound Affects, whose one-two opening punch (on the US LP version) of “Start!” and “Pretty Green” often sent my speakers dancing across the floor.  But my system was not prepared for the triple-forte bass/drums/horns blast of the opening notes of “Absolute Beginners.”  By the time the song swung down into the main D-major to B-minor verse progression, the damage was done:  the woofer in my left-channel speaker had popped outward, looking like the shell of a washed-up sandcrab.  And sounding like one, too.  Speaker blown, stereo ruined, I did not turn off the music.  In fact, I turned it UP.  “Absolute Beginners” turned out to be The Jam at their highest power, at their most captivating and thrilling, and no blown speaker was going to stand between me and my enjoyment of this moment.  I played this disc over & over again, all through the afternoon and night, woofer rattling away like hell, with not a care in the world.

And that’s just the A-side.  On the flip, “Tales From The Riverbank” turned out to be a great track too, once I got around to it.  A minor-key ballad that swings upward to Bowie-esqe heights then back down again, “Tales” makes great use of Foxton’s rich bass-tone, opening with the kind of snaky, haunting line that would inspire a million lifts (The Smithereens’ “Blood And Roses” comes to mind).  This B-side could easily have been an A-side, and I recall reading somewhere that it almost was.  But I think things worked out OK as is.

“Absolute Beginners” reached #4 on the UK charts.  Here’s a link to the video, which some “early MTV-o-philes”, and those of you who remember the USA Network or Twiggy’s Juke Box, may remember.

The Jam Absolute Beginners

NEXT WEEK:  A band that got their name from Pynchon, their lyrics from Yeats, and their sound from across the Atlantic.