It was Friday night “down the Vic” — the pub we regarded as “our local” when I was going to school in Exeter in 1980. There was a buzz in the air because rumor had it that Mike, the owner, had done a deal with the guy who supplied the music for his jukebox, and we were going to be among the lucky few to hear the brand new single by The Jam one day before the rest of the country. I know, I know, it's hard to imagine how something as silly as that could possibly put a buzz of excitement in the air. But it did. And, quite frankly, Mike was our hero for it.
Before going to school in England I was already a big fan of The Jam. I had their first four LP's and I was totally into the short staccato songs sung with heavy cockney accents. “This is the modern world” came out sounding like “Dis is da mawwwdern wold.” It was foreign—almost exotic in some kind of working class sort of way—but I could understand it. They reminded me of all the older British invasion bands I loved so much. The Jam played with all the energy and excitement of their fellow 1977 “classmates”— but instead of spiky-haired leather clad punks with safety pins adorning their faces, The Jam were “new mods.” They wore black mohair suits, white shirts, and skinny black ties (although by 1980 they had traded most of that wardrobe for the kind of suave outfits worn by The Who on the cover of My Generation). Where The Clash absorbed and channeled dub in their own inimitable fashion, The Jam did the same with Motown — but only after channeling it first through bands like The Who and the Kinks. It was a complex distillation of musical influences that lead some to accuse them of being derivative. But it was all new to me — and lately I've come to embrace the cyclical nature of music: if you're patient, whatever is out of fashion today will soon return to being in fashion if not tomorrow, at least by next week… Furthermore, what is derivative anyway?
So, there we were, down the Vic, waiting with baited breath as the publican himself dropped the 50p coin in the slot of the glittering jukebox. We could hear the mechanics of the jukebox whirring away deep inside its guts and then the first fiery chords of… “Taxman” by The Beatles. Or was it? We all looked at each other in consternation. Somebody accused Mike of “taking the piss” while the rest of us strained to hear the rest of the song in order to determine if we had indeed been tricked. Nope. The new song just featured one of the most blatant riff rip-offs of all time. One that sent the pub spinning into spirited debate for the rest of the night and days afterwards whenever anybody would punch it up on the jukebox.
Today was our annual trip to the accountant — an outing which, you can well imagine, borders on adventure because one of us has always been self-employed. (That's not a swipe at anyone's book keeping — just my frustration with a system that claims to promote and encourage the spirit of self employment, only to crush it once a year at tax time). The trip always makes me think of The Beatles song “Taxman,” but only so I can do some channelling of my own to hum todays Happy Medium Song of the Day, “Start!” by The Jam.