Thursday, October 18, 2012

Growing Up With Paul Weller's Solo Career

Well, well, well... looks like ol' Paul Weller is returning to play in California. And it looks like he'll be skipping the Bay Area... yet again. (What, he doesn't like sourdough bread?) Normally, we wouldn't really consider driving down to catch one of his shows in Los Angeles. He just doesn't have the same pull with us that he used to. But this year, things are a little different. For one thing, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are opening up! But, more importantly, we get to hang out with my best pal who scored some amazing tickets so that we'll get to re-live the memories together of when we once hero-worshipped the guy!

Yes, there was a time when I tried to collect anything with a Paul Weller picture on it.  I've already discussed how I got into The Jam and why I think The Style Council should be re-evaluated. But it was actually Paul Weller's solo career that I grew up with. By the time the Jam broke up, I was still having battles in the backyard between my Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures. And by the time The Style Council broke up, I was just starting to trade in my Transformers toys for Smiths records.

But by the time Paul Weller got back to celebrating his Mod roots again, I was strutting around my high school campus in a pair of loafers and a parka! His solo career started at just the right time for me to appreciate real-time. Ahh... it feels just like yesterday when I walked into that Barnes & Noble bookshop in my local Puente Hills Mall and grabbed a copy of The Face magazine. In there was a timeline of some sort... I can't really remember the theme of the timeline, but on one of the timeline nodes was mention of something called The Paul Weller Movement. No real description on what that was, but it was proof that Paul Weller was still floating around out there in the music world.

A few months later, I picked up that first Paul Weller Movement 12", 'Into Tomorrow' with the Mod-approved multi-colored target on the cover! The A-side of this record was okay, but it was the B-side that made me take notice. 'Here's a New Thing' contained a total '60s soul beat (to my ears) and reminded me of J.J. Jackson's 'It's Alright'. And 'That Spiritual Feeling' was just a beautiful, rollicking funk workout that helped set my music tastes from that point forward (despite my non-Mod friends calling it porn music).

Shortly after this record, I was lucky enough to catch him live, in person at the Variety Arts Theatre in Los Angeles in 1991! I went there with my buddies Juan G. and Dan (Electro) and felt excited to see other Mods walking around... there was even some yahoo in a Union Jack jacket, and yes, for a 17-year-old, that was a cool thing to see! While we were standing outside, taking it all in, some woman approached us with a couple of free front row tickets she wasn't going to be needing. I made the sacrifice and let my pals use those tickets. I'd be okay sitting toward the back. But when we walked in, the attendent looked at my friends' front-row tickets, walked us up to the front, and then pulled a seat out for me assuming I was front row too! Yes, friends, we were front row to Paul Weller's FIRST show in Los Angeles in who-knows-how-many years! He performed Jam songs, Style Council songs, new songs we didn't know... and it was perfect all night long! Paul Weller was back!

Later that year, a friend invited me over to watch his new purchase: a videotape of the Paul Weller Movement's Brixton Academy show.  Not only was he doing old Jam and Style Council songs, but he was also covering The Small Faces (a cover of 'Tin Soldier' that raised the hairs on the back of my neck)! He looked so into it on stage and was rockin' a slick casual look! Oh yeah, I was taking style notes, digging on his narrow jeans hemmed just above a pair of sharp loafers, a white mock-turtle neck sweater, and short hairstyle. Eventually, I would get my own copy of this tape and would watch it as often as I once watched Quadrophenia.

Paul Weller's debut LP coincided with my move up to the Bay Area. Surprisingly, most of the Mod folks I met when I first moved up north weren't huge into The Jam or The Style Council. They were all a bit older than I was and were already exploring deeper sounds from older acts like The Outsiders, Junior Wells, and Paul Butterfield. But Paul Weller still did retain a few fans in our little scene, including my soon-to-be lifelong pal, S.C., and the Sacramento Mods.

S.C. was my age and an even bigger Paul Weller fan than I was. She walked around in a parka, dyed purple, with Paul Weller's actual signature along the back. If any of you have seen the Highlights and Hangups video, she's the one jumping up on stage to give him a kiss during one of the live segments. While most of our crew were more excited talking about Little Walter, we were content to sit around watching old Jam and Style Council videos and playing that debut solo album over and over again. I think a big part of this had to do with the fact that we were closest in age amongst our friends and younger than everyone else around us. We were getting into the Mod thing on our own terms, yet still highly influenced by our older friends.

We were so into Paul Weller that one day we all decided to take a last-minute trip down to Los Angeles to catch him play on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. AND we got in! (My pal, Steven Levano, reminded me that we almost didn't make it in due to the show giving away more tickets than seats in order to ensure a full house! According to him, we were almost ushered in to the Vicki Lawrence Show, instead!) Now, I don't think Jay was a big of a fan of Paul Weller as we were... he called him Peter Weller.

As much as we liked that solo album, I don't think it opened up our eyes as much as Wild Wood did. Not only did we fall in love with the whole LP, but it really turned us on to sounds we probably would have ignored otherwise.

It was filled with songs that were more folky and mature. It even brought some of our older Mod pals around! Around this time, I had let go some of my prejudices against music made past 1967. I was already digging on Vanilla Fudge and The Zombies, but now Paul Weller was turning my ears toward Traffic and Tim Hardin. And it was great. It helped me move on from my parka/Jam shoe Mod period.

Stanley Road continued to excite us and watching that video of 'The Changing Man' for the first time solidified our allegiance to the guy. He was blasting that Mod imagery while stepping up his style! But he was also releasing interesting music that continued to mature. Around this time, Paul Weller started gaining more local fans, mainly thanks to the explosion of Oasis and Blur fans in our area. Although we were a little turned off by the Paul Weller/Oasis connection, it did bring in some new people who eventually became good friends.

Then, the first disappointment hit. When I heard about the upcoming Heavy Soul LP, I couldn't contain myself. This was it... Paul Weller was going to release a full-on super soul album! I was sure it was going to be something like the first album, but more 'sixties' sounding. Unfortunately, Heavy Soul was anything but. Now, it was a great album with a beautiful country-psych graphic design look and fantastic songs like 'Driving Nowhere' and 'Friday Street', but it just didn't deliver on the soul front. And, many other songs did sound a little like filler to me. As much as I still liked Paul Weller, I was starting to get over my super fan phase.
By the time Heliocentric was released, a few years later, I had already gotten turned on to too much good music. Friends had hipped me to the greatness of things like The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow, Nick Drake, The Flying Burritto Brothers, and Kaleidoscope. I was getting into music I used to ridicule my parents for listening to... dreaded 'hippie' music. I was walking around in longer hair, flared trousers, and paisley scarves. So, when Heliocentric was announced, what got me most excited was news about Paul Weller using Robert Kirby, the man behind Nick Drake's strings.

And Heliocentric was a really good album. It contained some fantastic songs, but at that time, I was too busy with other music. In fact, the CD that got most play around this time was my Fairfield Parlour CD, released that same year. I hate to say it, but I had moved on from Paul Weller. Many of his songs were starting to sound the same to me and his voice was losing its strength to my ears. Plus, by this point, I think I replaced a following for Paul Weller with a following for Beck. Beck's records were sounding much more interesting to me, especially when he delved into oddball soul styles! He was delivering new music that sounded innovative and fresh.

Illumination was released next and although I did pick up the first single, 'It's Written in the Stars', and felt it to be a return to the sounds from his first release, I didn't bother picking up the entire album. I just wasn't that interested anymore. In fact, if you wanna know the truth, I just heard it for the very first time over this past weekend. And y'know... it was pretty good!

Studio 150 was another album I passed up, probably after reading some mediocre reviews. In fact, other than 'The Bottle', I can't say I've really heard the rest of the album. Eh... I'll survive.

My future wife and I started dating around this time. And I knew SHE was a big Paul Weller fan! That is an understatement, actually. Heck, I'm surprised she didn't start re-decorating the apartment with life-size Paul Weller posters the day she moved in! But as big a fan as she is, she was equally as moved with Weller's next album, As Is Now, as I was. We played it once. Frankly, I couldn't tell you the name of the hit song off that one.

Personally, I think we were both over Paul Weller's output. That was okay though as he left us with a large back catalogue we could still enjoy. But then, 22 Dreams was released.
We had no real interest in picking it up, but my old pal, S.C., thought we might like it. So, we bought it and decided we'd play it once just to get it out of the way and then move on to something else. The first song reminded me of The Incredible String Band for some reason. The second song had a '60s guitar thing going on. But the third song is the one that really hooked us! By the middle of the CD, we were sold. And by the end of it, we were jumping to hit the PLAY button again. It became our driving CD for months afterward. We absolutely LOVED the hell out of 22 Dreams! Each song had something different to offer, but each one was just as good to us. We were back in Paul Weller's camp...

...until Wake Up the Nation. Yes, we were super into 'No Tears to Cry', but after playing the entire CD once in the car, we put it away and never touched it again. We haven't even bought Sonik Kicks. All across Facebook, people kept posting the hit song was off that album (I don't even know the name), but not once did it hit me in the right spot. A few days ago, I was listening to samples of Sonik Kicks songs off the internet when my wife walked by and gave me a perplexed look. "Are you listening to P.I.L.?" That pretty much summed it up.

So, there you have it. Hey, I still like Paul Weller and all, but I just don't hero-worship him anymore. He's done some great stuff and he's done some not-so-great stuff. Years ago at one of the first Mod parties I went to in Berkeley, my new friend (Major) Sean C. started discussing Paul Weller with me and he said something that really stuck with me. "Man, some people like Paul Weller no matter what he does. If he put out a heavy metal album, I bet you some Mods would start getting into heavy metal." And I think he had a point.

Look, Paul Weller has had a long solo career by now and most of it has been fantastic. But not everything has been a hit with me. I don't want to spend this post getting too down on the guy. After all, as you probably noticed while reading this post, he had a big effect on me growing up. His music helped open me up to other types of music I probably would have ignored as an uptight younger 'hard-core' Modnick. And despite my disinterest in his most recent releases, he has still put out a lot of amazing songs. I'd like to touch on some of those songs now, picking out my fave from each album, songs that still bring me back to different periods of my life whenever I hear them.

You're probably expecting me to post all the rockin' hits like 'Changing Man', 'Friday Street', 'The Weaver', etc. But hey... I'm an old man and I dig the slow burnin' songs. I like to just groove along with a glass of wine in my hand and my lady by my side. And seeing how these songs made me feel again after all these years, I guess I've always been an old man. So, the following are my Top 10 Retrospective Paul Weller Songs album by album.

1. Bitterness Rising - So many great songs on Paul Weller's debut solo LP (probably my favorite album, still), but this song is the one that always made me stand up! Here, Paul Weller is doing it live from the previously mentioned 1991 Brixton Academy show. Paul Weller seemed to be going through his mid-life crisis a little early leading up to this period, but damn! He sure came up with great songs like this one. (See, guys, sometimes a mid-life crisis can help bring out your creative energy... leave your high school parkas in the closet and work on developing some of your creative skills instead!)

2. Has My Fire Really Gone Out? - Another mid-life crisis song, this time off his second LP, Wild Wood. The whole album, from start to finish, was perfect. But when I heard this song again over the weekend, it was the one that made me stop what I was doing to just enjoy it.  I have no idea why I was so attracted to these songs dealing with self-doubt. Maybe it was because I was listening to these at a time when I was morphing from angsty teenager to slightly less angsty young adult, worrying more about what lay ahead in my future.
3. Wings of Speed - I had a hard time choosing between this song and 'Time Passes...', both off the Stanley Road album. YouTube made it easier by not making a good version of 'Time Passes...' available. But 'Wings of Speed' was the one that always hit my sweet spot. Pretty much just Paul Weller on piano with a nice vocal backing, featuring Carleen Anderson. Beautiful soul music and probably why I had such high hopes for the following Heavy Soul album.

4. I Should Have Been There To Inspire You - Probably the most soulful song off of Heavy Soul. A mellow groove but with a sparse yet strong backing beat. Really too bad the rest of the album didn't have this much soul.

7. Brand New Start - Alright, this one's a little special. I took it from Paul Weller's Modern Classics and made this the second track on the very first CD I made for this girl I had a huge crush on (the first song being a combo of The Kinks' 'Morning Song'/'Daylight'). I figured it was the perfect song to capture the idea of a new beginning. Must have worked because she ended up marrying me.

6. Frightened - By the time Heliocentric was released, he had already lost too much ground to other artists I was delving into, like the previously mentioned Beck. Plus, I was getting more and more into late '60s/early '70s psych/folk/country/rock'n'soul sounds. But this Paul Weller album still grabbed me right, with a great string section and music dedicated to Ronnie Lane. This song, 'Frightened', is one that still sounds ageless to me.

6. It's Written In the Stars - The last Paul Weller song I got into before a long hiatus. That sample totally brought me back to the feel of his first album! I ended up not buying Illuminations though. I think I read a review... actually, no, I KNOW I read a review that persuaded me to save my money for something else. And there was a lot to spend my money on, record-wise, at the time! After listening to the album over the weekend, I gotta say... not bad! I may have to put it on again after writing this.

After buying this single, I lost interest in Paul Weller for the most part. I skipped out on Studio 150 and listened to As Is Now once. There's not one song from this period I can talk about. But six years after 'It's Written in the Stars', we picked up 22 Dreams. Oh boy!

7. Empty Ring - Yeah, 22 Dreams brought us back into the Paul Weller fold. Each song had its own thing going on, but each of those things was right on. '22 Dreams', 'All I Wanna Do', 'Song for Alice', 'Lullaby for Kinder', 'Sea Spray' (my wife's favorite), 'Where'er Ye Go'... sorry but if an album has this many good songs, you've got a great album. But my absolute fave is this one right here. Now why wasn't this a James Bond theme song?

8. No Tears to Cry - Unfortunately, we were turned off, yet again, by Wake Up the Nation. The songs all fell flat for us, delving into dull guitar rock. But THIS song was totally amazing! Soul beat plus orchestral backing add up to a great mix.

And, quite honestly, that's the last new Paul Weller song I've actually liked. What we've heard from Sonik Kicks just hasn't done it for us. Yes, it's new-sounding, but so what? New does not mean I need to like it. A lot of people out there do, though, and that's good for ol' PW. I'll wait to see what he comes up with next, because no matter what, over the years he's always shown that he's deserved a chance. He's still got several good years left in him.

But I promised you guys 10 Paul Weller songs! So, I'm going back early into his career to talk about my two favorite Paul Weller tracks.

9. Feeling Alright - This B-side track to 'Above the Clouds' was a fantastic cover of Traffic's 'Feeling Alright'! When I first heard this, I recognized the song but didn't know the source. Despite that, I loved it to death! I played it almost daily while spending the summer back home in La Puente after my first year in college. This is the song that led me to Traffic and a love of Dave Mason's songwriting. Even today, it still sounds fresh!

10. Here's A New Thing - And here's the first Paul Weller solo song that really blew my mind. DJs... if you haven't already, go out and find the 'Into Tomorrow' single version and play it at your next club. You will get that dancefloor smokin'!

Alright, enough about Paul Weller already. Let me open this up to you guys. What was your take on his solo career? What were some of your favorite tunes or memories associated with his records? Are you still a Weller-phile or do you see his career a bit more objectively?

And I'll end this post with a cover of my fave Paul Weller track ever. Daryl Hall and the Bacon Brothers covering 'Above the Clouds'! Yes, you read that right.


  1. A great article. I ignored Weller during the 90's. I discovered him by a friend. He knew i was into sixties stuff like Who/Kinks/Small Faces and told me about the Mods. I must admit i didn't know anything about them! For me, it was like a sect. Three years later, i was in a bad time in my life and Weller was a revelation. Maybe a bit naive, but it gave me a sense of self-respect and pride. I can't explain why modernism touched me this way, but it was a real "different way of life". my friends were into nü metal or rap and i was listening to the Jam. From the Jam to the mod revival and Soul Music, then obscure (or not so!) sixties mod bands, then 60's garage and 80's paisley scene, and the GREAT Style endless journey thanks to Mister Weller. What i like the most in his work is that he never stopped to be touched by new kinds of music, he's never "blasé". I discovered Big Star two years ago and i was like a kid with his new toy. He's still looking for some new territories. So, a big Hooray for Paul Weller. Sometimes it's awful, sometimes it's just decent, but it's often brillant!

    If i can give you my own fav' track from each album: 1.Above The Clouds 2.All the Pictures on the Wall 3.Wings of Speed 4.Brushed 5.Hung Up 6.Back in the Fire 7.Shoot the Dove(from the boxset Fly on the Wall) 8.It's written in the stars 9. Come on let's Go 10.Cold moments.
    (Sorry for the faults, i'm french!)

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Karl! And don't worry... your English is fine and much better than my French!

      And I understand how it would have touched you, that idea of a 'different way of life'. I went through that same revelation as well when I was younger. And it's stayed with me since! Your comment about discovering Big Star and feeling like you had a new toy is how I still feel sometimes about music new to me! That's how I felt when I discovered Karen Dalton.

      (And I forgot about 'Shoot the Dove'! Great song!)

  2. Great Article! Also a great primer for those who don't know!


    1. Thanks Leonardo! Oh, and great interview in Sussed! Finally read that over the weekend.

  3. Great article, and I couldn't agree more! I started working in a record store in 1991, and the first solo album just blew me away. When "Wildwood" was released, it was all over! I think I played it every day for months when my turn at the in store music rotation came along. I love how Weller, as a true modernist, is not afraid to keep one foot in his roots but also move FORWARD thru his life and experience. And a s bandleader, it's been a MASSIVE influence in that he does not pick people based on style (Weller IS the style)- he simply picks the best musician for the job. He was also INCREDIBLY cool and friendly when I met him (same festival bill in Sweden w/ The Stooges), making me feel at ease immediately when I was at first nervous as hell to meet one of my lifelong heroes.

  4. He's been the poster boy for John Vavartos lately. I crack up when I see those posters of him outside every bus shelter in NYC. I bet Weller is probably more well-known by the general American public as a style icon than for his songs. Like a British Serge Gainsbourg.

  5. Carlos great article as ever, hope you got my comments, my iPad playing up or is it my technical skills. If you ever for mins would love you to write something for my modshoes website. You write better than me. Hope life is good and you are ok, with Paul Weller not being god anymore.

  6. Agree with your blog, like you I have grown more with the solo Paul Weller than the jam or style council. His first live shows and those first 3 lps were such a great period. He was getting better and better and everything was building so well. Particular favs, the 1st lp, bitterness rising, above the clouds cd single, the way it segways from one song to another. Wildwood and Stanley Road, all killer no filler. Broken stones the song the small faces never wrote.

    Heavy soul and so on, all the lps had a couple of good ones, but mainly it was stuff we had heard before. 'it's written in the stars' was blinding and the first 3 tracks on illumination I was thinking here we go, but no.

    Paul has developed nicely and makes a lot of people very happy. I have been to see him play recently and had a great time. But and this is a big but, he didn't take me anywhere I hadn't been before. By that I don't want a heavy metal lp. But i suppose I am over my fascination with him.

    Also I play guitar and write stuff. I am not saying I am as good as him, or even better, it is that I kinda know how he does what he does, and i can replicate that myself. So for me now, it is about me and my creativity and no relying on someone else's. At the moment I am trying write tunes you can dance to, but are as angry or weird as the pixies !

    I think it was Paul Mccarteny said, once you suss how to do something you move on and I think that's what's happened here. I needed an older brother to show me the way but now I don't.

    I am very thankful to him, because I think I would have got to appreciate 60's soul eventually, but the jam doing Move On Up got me there a lot quicker. But like you I don't worship him every day, I don't need to anymore.

  7. Great article. I've bought them all as they've come out despite not really liking them all that much. It's like still going to watch my football team when they're been rubbish for years out of loyalty.

    Liked the first one but not mad about any up until 22 Dreams which I think is his absolute peak. It works as a complete beginning-to-end record better than almost any other record I know. Individually the tracks don't make sense/don't mean much but's it AN ALBUM. Wake Up The Nation I really like too.

  8. I just heard Paul on the radio discussing the 30th anniversary of "The Gift". It's not my favorite Jam album, but listening to him analyze the songs piece by piece and play sections on his acoustic (as well as sing the old songs with his modern soulful voice) is really an eye-opener!

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