THE JAM – “The Eton Rifles” / “See-Saw” (Polydor POSP 83) October 1979
The Jam ‘Eton Rifles’ – For their naivety, their occasional errors of judgement and the periods of confusion and self-doubt they seem to suffer, The Jam’s determination to push against the barriers of style and against the limited outlook of the cult they have more or less unwittingly spawned is a blessed relief.
If any British group is likely to forge a body of work with sufficient self-contained strength to survive the era then they are most probably that group.
“Eton Rifles” takes a cold look at some especially insidious British institutions, like letting little boys play with guns in Combined Cadet Corps, nationalism and class and other things that haven’t figured strongly in the charts since Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army”. Except unlike “Oliver’s Army” it doesn’t soft-pedal the point. Its tone matches its ire.
The Jam made the first nouveau mod single last year when they cut “David Watts”. They’re not exactly hanging around waiting for the chance to make the last. And that’s what it’s all about. (NME)
Strong, an obvious hit and more adventurous than “When You’re Young” (if only in subject matter), but I’m sure all Jam fans are still waiting for another gem like “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight”. (Smash Hits)
venomous but melodic
The Jam’s breakthrough hit was introduced by a barrage of dissonant guitar and thundering bass, before settling down into one of their accepted classics – anthemic, aggressive and venomous but also melodic.
The song was based around a repetitive, quickfire bass line, allowing Weller to rip atonal chords out of his guitar (especially on the album version, which is noticeably longer than the single), though the aggressive mood was lightened in the middle by an organ solo.
“I saw this TV programme and thought it was a good title,” said Paul. “But the actual song is just a piss-take of the class system. I’m a very class conscious person. I realise it’s a joke and it shouldn’t really exist in the 1980s but it still does. It’s also a piss-take of these trendy socialists and fascists.
The song’s message was later underlined by the behaviour of some Eton schoolboys, who taunted demonstrators on one of the numerous ‘Right To Work’ marches against rising unemployment.” (John Reed)