The Roots Of Paul Weller

The Roots Of Paul Weller

paul weller
Paul Weller on the roof of Air Studios, Oxford Street, London during recording sessions for the band's final album 'The Gift', 1982. (Photo by Erica Echenberg/Redferns/Getty Images)

Next Friday, September 14, is the release of the new album True Meanings from prolific and revered UK singer/songwriter and former member of The Jam and The Style Council,  Paul Weller.

We take a look at some of the music that has influenced an artist about whom London’s Daily Telegraph has said, "Apart from David Bowie, it's hard to think of any British solo artist who's had as varied, long-lasting and determinedly forward-looking a career."

Given Weller’s lack of profile outside of the UK since his Style Council days, it may surprise some, the reverence with which he is regarded at home. But this is a man whose albums routinely land in the Top 5, who is considered nearly as big an influence by Britpop stalwarts - including Oasis – as the 60s artists who inspired him, and who has always preferred to maintain a distinct Englishness rather than chasing an international audience. 

Let's dive into some of the musicians – both English and American - who have inspired Weller to become the iconic music that he is today.

The Who “Batman”  

When The Jam first appeared, at the height of punk, on the London scene in 1976, they were compared frequently to The Who. Weller and The Jam could hardly complain – they modeled themselves on the early Who, and Weller, in particular, was obsessed with the 60s mod scene which The Who had been inexorably connected with. It wasn’t a passing obsession either – The Jam’s third album, from late 1978, was called All Mod Cons, and that same year the NME featured Weller and Pete Townsend together in a cover story entitled “The Punk and The Godfather”, after a song on the Who’s Quadrophenia album. The Jam recorded a few Who songs early on, including the power pop classic “So Sad About Us”, and, on their first album In The City,  The Who’s 1966 pop art recording of the Neil Hefti-composed theme from then-current Batman TV show. 

Wilson Pickett – “In The Midnight Hour”  

A major mod influence was soul music, and The Jam recorded this Atlantic soul classic by the wicked Wilson Pickett on their second album This Is The Modern World (which was also their second album for 1977; it came out a mere 6 months after In The City).

The Kinks “David Watts”  

Whilst they were not as nearly aligned with the mod scene as The Who were, The Kinks were obviously a prime source of inspiration for any student of 60s British rock. And they were the most British of British groups, which suited Weller fine. The Jam revived this 1967 Kinks track, which had originally appeared on the classic 1967 album Something Else, on their third album All Mod Cons.

Dr. John “I Walk On Gilded Splinters”  

Thousands of miles away from London – literally and figurately – New Orleans was a melting pot of music, and one of its key figures Mac Rebennack aka Dr. John was finding new directions in 1967 that few in rock or soul could fathom until years later. Weller recorded his own version of Dr. John’s oft-covered “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” on his classic Wild Wood solo album in 1993, with Noel Gallagher guesting on guitar. 

Terry Reid “Bang Bang”  

Paul’s love of British ‘60s music of course ultimately extended well beyond the mod movement, and a man whose own path from R&B and soul into jazz and folk and beyond was one of the great English iconoclasts Terry Reid. Reid was the man that Jimmy Page had famously wanted as singer for Led Zeppelin when he first started putting the band together. He made some great records and indeed continues to perform. Curiously a recording of his that found favour with Paul and which was also later covered by Jack White with the Raconteurs was first recorded in 1966 by none other than Cher, and written by her then husband Sonny Bono. Terry Reid’s version appeared on his debut solo album Bang Bang You’re Terry Reid album in 1968, and Weller included his version as a B-side to his “He’s A Keeper” single in 2000. 

The Zombies “Time Of The Season”  

One of the more enigmatic and certainly most musical British bands of the 60s, the Zombies had a certain jazziness that would relate to places that Weller started going with the Style Council, and, on their final album Odyssey & Oracle, a rich and harmonious melodicism. Odyssey & Oracle is one of Weller’s favourite albums - he has cited in particular its "autumnal" sound - and Zombies frontman Rod Argent guests on Weller’s new album True Meanings.

Nick Drake “River Man”  

Virtually ignored when he was alive, English folk singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who died at the age of  26 in 1974, made quintessentially English music rooted in folk traditions but with jazz inflections and the sort of string arrangements that Weller favors on True Meanings. Weller has cited “River Man” as his favorite Drake song.

Terry Callier “You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman”  

Chicagoan Terry Callier was the kind of artist whose musical explorations Weller clearly admired. One of the first to approach a folk repertoire from a jazz perspective – he most certainly would have influenced Nick Drake in that regard – he was African American and he developed an expansive style that would eventually find favour with the Acid Jazz movement in the early 90s. Of course, Weller, whose own music with the Style Council led the push towards Acid Jazz was hip to him, and in 2002, he collaborated with Callier on the track “Brother to Brother”, which featured on Callier’s album Speak Your Peace. “You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman” is a Callier classic from his wonderful 1973 album What Color is Love.

Read more: The Modfather By The Modcasters

Martin Carthy “John Barleycorn”  

One of a handful of notable guests on  Paul Weller’s new album True Meanings, Martin Carthy has been a giant figure on the British folk stage since the early 60s. He introduced Paul Simon to the song “Scarborough Fair”, and a new generation to many classic traditional songs. One such song, which he didn’t actually record his own version of until 1974, was “John Barleycorn”, which Weller favourites Traffic – Stevie Winwood’s ground-breaking band - recorded for their 1970 album John Barleycorn Must Die. Paul himself recorded a version of it with Martin and his daughter Eliza Carthy in 2007.

PP Arnold “Medicated Goo”  

PP, who toured here in May with Australia’s own modfather Tim Rogers and other members of You Am I, and who is set to return soon, is perhaps best known for her associations with Weller heroes the Small Faces, but in 1970 she recorded with Eric Clapton, and one of the results was this brilliant version of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo”. As mentioned, Traffic are longtime Weller favourites and a band noted for moving from psychedelic rock towards jazz-inflected pastoral sounds, inspiring Weller to do something similar. PP Arnold is a long time friend of Paul’s and has worked extensively with Paul’s long time guitarist Steve Craddock of Ocean Colour Scene. She guested on his track “Woo Se Mama” that featured on his 2017 album  A Kind Of Revolution, and Paul has written a couple of songs for her next album.

Read more: Who Is PP Arnold?

Curtis Mayfield “Move On Up”  

In the mid-60s, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions led the charge to socially aware and politicised soul music, passing the baton in the 70s to the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. With his smooth falsetto and willingness to experiment, Mayfield’s music was a late-Jam and Style Council inspiration (The Jam covered “Move On Up” on their Beat Surrender EP in 1982. 

Faces “Ooh La La”  

The Small Faces were, alongside The Who, mod heroes and early Jam favourites. When Steve Marriot left and Rod Stewart joined, the band became simply the Faces, and developed a soulful and primarily acoustic thread to their music that has provided ongoing inspiration for Weller. He found a particular appeal in the songs and singing of bass player Ronnie Lane whose classic song “Ooh La La”, with its earworm refrain of “I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now, When I Was Younger” has been over-exposed on Australian TV of late thanks to APIA Insurance. Paul Weller and Ronnie Wood performed "Ooh La La" with Ronnie Lane’s post Faces outfit Slim Chance at the Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert in 2004 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Read more: The Songs The Shaped Paul Weller 


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