Friday, February 23, 2007

"David Watts" / The Jam

I read that the Jam are reuniting for a tour and album, which got me very excited until I read in the next paragraph that it would be most of the Jam -- everyone except Paul Weller. Now, that leaves just Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton . . . and Weller's the one who wrote most of their songs and did the lead vocals. Pardon me, Rick and Bruce, but no matter how talented your newly-recuited bandmates may be, I just don't see how you can call this The Jam.

There is at least one Jam song Paul Weller didn't write -- it's called "David Watts" and it was written by Ray Davies for the 1967 album Something Else By The Kinks. Thanks in large part to this cover by the Jam (1978 -- it's on their superb album All Mod Cons), Ray Davies began to be called "the godfather of BritPop," which I find nearly as funny as calling Nick Lowe the "godfather of punk". But that's a whole other discussion.

The main thing is, Paul Weller was influenced by the Kinks (so who wasn't?) and had the good grace to pay public tribute to them by recording this track. Most of the Kinks fans I know agree that this is a great Kinks cover, possibly even better than the Kinks' original recording. The Jam didn't just reproduce the song as the Kinks sang it, they added flavor of their own, giving it a smart slap of punk aggression. They take it just a tick faster, introduce some dissonance to the harmonies here and there, lay down a thrumming guitar line, and punch out the last line of the verse with a loud shouted "Oy!" (the Kinks merely shouted "hey!"). I love that "Oy!" The class division that was implicit in the original comes out so much stronger with the Jam's yob accents.

This song is the ultimate expression of adolescent male envy. The singer -- who describes himself right up front, "I am a dull and simple lad," almost painfully insecure -- recites a litany of all the advantages his schoolmate David Watts possesses: He's met the Queen, has tasted champagne, leads the school team to victory, passes all his exams, is the head boy at the school -- and of course, all the girls compete for him, which is probably the cruelest and most inevitable advantage of all.

The singer watches wistfully from afar, and isn't there a flicker of homoerotic attraction mingled with the envy ("And when I lie on my pillow at night / I dream I could fight like David Watts")? He doesn't hate David Watts, mind you -- it's just that (as he tells us over and over, at the end of every verse) "I wish I could be like David Watts." He says David Watt's name eight times in the course of this song, almost obsessively, like a mantra, and winds up saying admiringly, "For he is a pure and noble breed," the kind of phrase you'd use to describe some Shakespearean prince.

The tune I could easily imagine as a prep school anthem, with those madrigal-like "fa-fa-fa fa fa fa-fa-fa's" at the beginning of every verse. (Although I suspect it's also a sneaky allusion to Roger Daltrey's stuttered line, "Why don't you just f-f-f-f-fade away?" in "My Generation" -- the f's seem so ready to morph into words that are a little less polite).

This song doesn't go anywhere, doesn't reach any conclusion. It's just an expression of the dull agony of being an ordinary kid, continually taking a back seat to the golden boy. But as we have all learned in life, those golden boys tend to peak early -- while the teenage misfits like Ray Davies and Paul Weller end up scoring the real successes in life.
Anyway, that's who I'm pulling for.

Check out a sample: http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,108340,00.html

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What can I say? I love this song. I love these bands. I love your article.

Take care
Mr L

Jeff said...

As I'm typing this I'm in a funky little East Side coffee shop / restaurant in Milwaukee. It's called The Comet. Strong coffee, vegan brunches, lots of cigarette smoke in the adjoining bar.

Among other reasons, I enjoy it for the eclectic music playing over the restaurant speakers. And they didn't disappoint just now, when this very song kicked in, followed by Eaton Rifles. It's great to know this music is still relevant, and beloved.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ally said...

flippin 'eck - i just came by via 'i like' and i'm ever so glad i did. fancy being able to write so well about such marvelous records (apart from the kaiser chiefs, obviuosly, but we all have our differences blah blah...). i shall be gradually plowing through these gems whenever i get a minute.

x

Julie said...

I love this song, I love this band, and, as much as I love The Kinks, I do think this is the definitive version. Such drive, verve and tension.

The Jam without Weller? Heresy!