1001 Songs Challenge #503: The Eton Rifles (1979)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
The Jam – The Eton Rifles (1979)
We’re leaving the US today, dear reader, as we must anxiously make our way back to the UK for a song or two. Formed in 1972, The Jam were made up of Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler and during a five year period (1977-1982), they were one of the UK’s most successful bands. Concerned with similar themes to punk rock outfits, The Jam seemed out of place in appearance to their contemporaries, more mods than punks, but they gained a loyal following. We join the group in 1979 with the release of their fourth album, Setting Sons, and from there 1001 Songs have gone with the single – The Eton Rifles.
The Eton Rifles explores class division and struggle in the UK. The song was inspired by an article Paul Weller read about working class people from Slough marching in protest at their unfair treatment by the government. The marchers passed Eton College, a privileged education centre where many Conservative MPs, including our current Prime Minister, were educated. A clash takes place between the marchers and the Eton students who mock the people they perceive to be inferior to them as they march by. The “rifles” of the title refers to a cadet part of the college where students were trained in using guns, potentially as a precursor to going into the military. Weller does not hold back in the song by describing the seemingly hopeless cause of the working class. They will continue to be at the mercy of Eton College’s carefully furnished students, primed for the higher echelons of society.
I love Paul Weller’s work and he has had a rich and varied career as a member of The Jam, Style Council and finally as a solo artist. I know a fair few tracks by The Jam but don’t recall hearing The Eton Rifles before. Like many of their songs it is fast-paced but insightful, adding to the group’s already enduring appeal. This was The Jam’s first UK Top 10 hit and they would go on to score 4 chart toppers. It seemed the group could do no wrong but in 1982 Paul Weller stunned everyone, his bandmates especially, by disbanding The Jam. He felt they had achieved all they could and wanted to go out at the top. A difficult but wise choice.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Roxanne (1978)