We have the Radcliffe and Maconie radio show to thank (again) for my next Track of the Week. There was the usual stuff coming over the air waves a few days ago: some news from “Alcopops”; snippets of amusing banter; an eclectic mix of music. Not all to my taste but generally speaking very entertaining. I guess I was doing this and that (I don’t remember what) when a few acoustic guitar chords leapt out at me from the speakers. Immediately my internal Music Appreciation Detector triggered a cascade of thoughts: that’s great, that’s familiar, that’s The Jam, and That’s Entertainment. “Stop what you’re doing”, it commanded, “and listen”.
The Jam formed when the sounds of rebellious youth were being provided by the punk bands, but Paul Weller’s outfit never went down the punk road. Instead, they married the earlier beat and mod styles of The Beatles and The Who to mainstream rock, pop and soul, creating a style of their own. Where the early punks deliberately crashed and thrashed tunelessly The Jam took that raucous, raw energy, tempered it, refined it and delivered it in a polished, professional way. Where the punks were openly contemptuous of the Establishment and wanted to destroy it The Jam incorporated astute observations and political commentary into their lyrics, like a columnist for a respectable, but left-of-centre newspaper. They even wore smart suits.
That’s Entertainment is the simplest of songs. Wikipedia says there is very light percussion and, for one verse, electric guitar played backwards, but all I can hear is the strumming of acoustic guitars, Paul Weller’s voice and backing vocals. It could almost have been recorded in one take by a dissatisfied teenager in his bedroom. He’d be a Londoner steeped in the music of the Kinks. But, where Ray Davies sang about the beauty of a Waterloo Sunset, our teen is focused on the less attractive side of his metropolis home: the maddening sound of a pneumatic drill, the mindlessness of a vandalised phone booth, the all-pervading smell of petrol.
That’s Entertainment‘s simple, haunting tune and gently rocking beat appeal to the heart but the lyrics stimulate the intellect with their irony and insightful observation. Each verse paints a picture of run-down streets, a humdrum life or impending violence, then the chorus tells us that this is what passes for entertainment in inner London and adds a mocking chuckle.
… and a kick in the balls.
I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.
La, La, La …
I’ve searched the internet for the lyrics of That’s Entertainment and found them on several sites. Most of the words are clear from listening to the song but one or two lines don’t quite make sense to me and there are a couple of discrepancies in the listings. For example, the first line of the last verse is given as either “Two lovers kissing masks a scream of midnight” or “Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight”. Do either of those make sense? That line is followed by the evocative, but mysterious: “Two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude”, which doesn’t enlighten me at all.
Then there’s the last line of the last verse. It is consistently quoted in all the versions I’ve found as “Reading the grafitti about slashed-seat affairs”, which I’m convinced is wrong. I was living in London in the late seventies, commuting to work by train from the southern suburbs. One day I noticed a new piece of graffiti in large white letters on a dark, smoke-stained brick wall by the track. It said, “Slash seats or fares”. I puzzled over its meaning for some time. In the end I decided it was a protest at high train fares coupled with a demand for price cuts and a threat of vandalism if those cuts were not made. Cut the prices or we’ll slash the seats.
Over the following months and years that same text appeared as graffiti in several other places as I travelled around London. It’s meaning remained somewhat obscure to me but as it spread like a viral YouTube video it became firmly embedded in my memory. So I think the last line of That’s Entertainment has to be “Reading the grafitti about slash seats or fares”. I’d like to set the record straight and correct the published lyrics but, first, I’d like to be sure I’m right. There should be a definitive record of those lyrics somewhere but, so far, I haven’t been able to find it.
If you can help me pin down the words of the song do, please, get in touch. A quick comment on this post would do the trick. Any opinions on The Jam, That’s Entertainment or London around 1980 would be welcome, too. And, finally, if you’re looking for some light relief from the daily grind, I highly recommend one of The Jam‘s best loved singles, That’s Entertainment.