52. The Jam – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (1978)

Here’s a fantastic song from The Jam’s third (and probably best) album, All Mod Cons. The lyrics to this one are remarkable — there aren’t many songwriters who can tell a story this rich and evocative in three and a half minutes. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, I’d recommend opening the lyrics in another window and following along as you listen.

It’s subtle and assured the way that Weller conveys that this isn’t just a mugging, but a hate crime — the narrator is bringing “a take-away curry” home to his wife and his assailants smell of “too many right wing meetings,” and so we put it together ourselves that this is a racially-motivated assault. (The exact same thing, we might note, happens in Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” which never acknowledges that Hattie Carroll is black; somehow this makes the racism feel all the more pervasive and inevitable.) And I have to say, the twist in the final verse is totally chilling. In any case, it’s interesting to note that the BBC banned this track because they felt the song was too disturbing. You feel like asking: disturbing to whom?

The Tube — we should probably note — is really very safe, day and night, so don’t be put off by this song! All the same, I should emphasize that in your first few days in London, we’ll have a substantial talk about strategies for keeping safe in a big city.

The Jam (airborne again)

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