THE JAM – “Strange Town” / “Butterfly Collector” (Polydor POSP 34) March 1979
The Jam were never strictly an albums band, often bridging the gap between their annual LPs with stray singles. Here, on top of a stomping Northern Soul beat and that clipped rhythm guitar style of Sixties Motown records. Weller returned to a familiar theme: the ‘Strange Town’ in question represented his continued fascination with London.
Lyrical reference to A-Z Guide Books and Oxford Street and the city’s impersonal impenetrable nature. But it’s description of a visitor’s sense of alienation and anonymity – “I’m really a spaceman from those UFOs” – may also have reflected Weller’s experiences of being away from home while touring especially his dislike of America.
Both ‘Strange Town’ and it’s B-side ‘The Butterfly Collector’, were linked by one of Paul’s poems, reproduced on the rear sleeve. Weller’s interest in prose soon manifested itself as the first of many extra-musical ventures, a publishing company, Riot Stories.
The Jam must have been in their prime if Weller could afford to tuck away this mature classic away on a B-side. ‘The Butterfly Collector’ became one of The Jam’s most popular songs but maybe Weller felt unsure about issuing quieter, more contemplative tunes as A-sides. – at least, until ‘The Bitterest Pill’.
Based loosely on The Kinks ‘Shangri-La’, the song had a subtle, low-key atmosphere, particularly on the verses, which built to a rousing chorus. This only emphasised its vicious lyrical snipe at the rock groupie, inspired by a liaison with Sex Pistols cohort, Sue Catwoman.
Still grappling with the pressures of urban street life, Paul Weller has written a sharp song about trying to find your feet in an unfamiliar town – but the overall impact of the record isn’t as immediately strong as some of the group’s past hits. Quickly grows on you though.
The other side, ‘The Butterfly Collector’, is well worth checking out too. (Smash Hits)