Various - Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1989
The toner was barely dry on punk rock's fanzine manifestos before some began to look for a new kind of kick. The short, sharp sting of 1976 had, by the following spring, already begun to fade and the release of The Jam's 'In The City' single in April signalled a revival of the mod sound of the 1960s, albeit filtered through the year zero of punk. While Paul Weller's band stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of ripped shirts and safety pins, they found a willing audience, especially among the punks' younger siblings who wanted a music to call their own.
The Who may have back in fashion (again), but few had the musical chops of a John Entwhistle or Keith Moon, meaning most of nu-mod's early bands rarely strayed far from Weller's tightly wound three minute clarion calls, sharing territory with the tie-too-tight new wave of Elvis Costello and the Stiff Records scene. As with punk, forming a mod band was within the reach of ordinary kids - The Cigarettes sounded like they'd borrowed Buzzcocks' cheap Woolworths guitars - with the emphasis on energy, positivity and escaping the daily grind. Tracks like Purple Hearts' 'Millions Like Us' sought to build a sense of unity in the face of critical and public hostility (The Exploited's 'Fuck A Mod' wasn't a call for a cross-tribal love-in), so what may seem like herd-like behaviour from today's vantage, was actually about shared experience and commonality at a time when the problems of youth were high on the political agenda.
Although there have been several books on the subject, Cherry Red's new four CD collection is - perhaps surprisingly - the first attempt to provide a proper overview of the phenomenon. Although The Jam are the only obvious absentees from the tracklisting, Secret Affair and The Lambrettas (subtlety was never the genre's strong point) eventually followed them into the charts and onto Top of the Pops, inspiring a truly national cult, peaking when the scooter-and-parkas porn of Quadrophenia hit the cinemas in late 1979. With time, and as the bands became more proficient, soul and r'n'b sounds had become more prominent (to the point where there was little delineation between those bands who self-identified as mods and the likes of Dexy's Midnight Runners or some of the 2-Tone acts), as did an eventual wider 60s influence, both in the choice of stage name (Eleanor Rigby) or in the chiming Rickenbackers of bands like The Moment. Much of the material is naive and unabashedly retro, but most has an entertaining teenage charm if you leave your critics' hat on the sideboard.
By the time Weller pulled the plug on The Jam in 1982 the scene was already on the wane. A mod underground continued throughout the decade - supported by a raft of fanzines - and there were minor resurgences via the Medway bands (led by The Prisoners) and Los Angeles' The Untouchables. As the eighties came to a close, the wearied took the aesthetic into new areas (the Acid Jazz label was run by a couple of ex-mods) while the musical influences and fashion would be absorbed into the nascent Madchester and Britpop scenes (The Charlatans' Martin Blunt had learned his trade in mod pin-ups Makin' Time).
Today, you still find the modernist rump at Jake Bugg gigs or at the still-thriving northern soul clubs - anywhere where you see a Fred Perry logo. It's the kind of backward-glancing retro-ism that makes ex-scenesters like Sleaford Mods's Jason Williamson spit with disdain, but which was ingrained, contradictorily, in the movement's DNA. Although the market for Millions Like Us ... is by its nature nostalgic, this is still a fascinating and thorough document of a much maligned music which will stir happy memories for many. Exemplary.