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Features

The Ever-Changingman: 20 Of The Best Paul Weller Songs

We celebrate one of the most consistently creative singer-songwriters and frontmen of the past four decades.

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Photo courtesy of Polydor Records

We’re celebrating one of the UK’s most consistently creative singer-songwriters and frontmen of the past four decades, with 20 of the best songs in the extraordinary catalogue of Paul Weller.

Weller, born on 25 May 1958, had already achieved more than most musicians ever do with his two previous bands, The Jam and the Style Council. But when he put his own name on an album for the first time with an eponymous 1992 release, he set off down a new path on which his inexhaustible musical curiosity has led to surely one of the most fascinating catalogues in all modern music.

Our collection begins before Paul was even sure he wanted to release music under his own name rather than a band set-up, with the staging-post 1991 single by the Paul Weller Movement, ‘Into Tomorrow.’

The albeit modest top 40 appearance of that track in the UK reassured Weller to follow his instincts. That in turn led that impressive first solo album the following year, which also included ‘Above The Clouds.’

From the hugely successful 1990s period in which he was embraced again by old fans, discovered by new ones and ultimately crowned the Modfather — whether he liked it or not — there’s the title hit from Wild Wood. It was another courageous departure into acoustic, folk-influenced territory.

We also single out the subsequent Live Wood version, at the Paradiso in Holland, of the same album’s ‘Has My Fire Really Gone Out?’ He answered that question with huge sales for the landmark Stanley Road album, from which we feature three songs.

The first of these was the infectious rocky ‘The Changingman,’ which gave Weller a new UK top ten single, his first as a solo artist. It was an exciting encapsulation of his own creative restlessness.

‘You Do Something To Me’ is perhaps one of Weller’s most universal compositions. With its open-hearted lyric and winning melody, it became another top ten hit and continues to be a signature of his solo catalogue.

Stanley Road was named after the street in Woking, Surrey, where Paul grew up. He continues to regard the album, which featured such guests as Steve Winwood and Noel Gallagher, as a particular high point of his career.

Weller’s album output has always reflected his love of 1960s-influenced rock, as on ‘Peacock Suit’ from Heavy Soul. The single became his highest-placed solo hit in the UK, reaching No. 5, and wooed fans with its typically gritty update of the mod sound of his earliest musical recollection.

The seasoned singer-songwriter was in more acoustic, troubadour mood for ‘Friday Street’ from the same album. The set was again produced by confidant Brendan Lynch, also known for his work with Primal Scream and Ocean Colour Scene.

Jumping ahead to 2002, during Weller’s spell with Independiente Records, the Illumination album was co-produced with Simon Dine. Its highlights included the soul-jazz-inflected‘It’s Written In The Stars.’

2004’s Studio 150 was named after the small studio where it was recorded in Amsterdam. This time, one of the most prolific writers in rock devoted his time to a collection of covers. He paid tribute to everyone from Bacharach & David to Rodgers & Edwards, also reworking songs by Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin and Gil Scott-Heron, the latter with a version of the influential ‘The Bottle.’

Weller was back with his own new material for 2005’s As Is Now, which had him rocking as hard as ever on the exhilarating first single ‘From The Floorboards Up.'”The fortysomething sharp-dressed man is still mod for it,” wrote The Observer.

As the 2000s have progressed, Weller has always stayed one step ahead of the chasing pack with a combination of the experimental and traditional. In 2008, solo album number nine was 22 Dreams, which became his third solo No. 1 set in the UK.

22 Dreams also included ‘All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You),’ one of several singles to be released from the album and a top 30 entry in Weller’s home country.

Weller marched into the 2010s with Wake Up The Nation, dedicated to several absent friends including his father John. For the first time among his solo catalogue, it featured his former Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton. “We just slipped back into it,” said Paul. The title song featured another of Paul’s favourite musicians, former Move and ELO drummer Bev Bevan.

Wake Up The Nation, recorded at Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Woking, carried a solo production credit for Simon Dine. Also among its contributors were My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and much-travelled British session drummer Clem Catini. ‘Fast Car/Slow Traffic’ was another frenetic highlight.

The 2012 release Sonik Kicks lived up to its name and became yet another No. 1 for Weller in the UK. It concluded with the uplifting ‘Be Happy Children.’ Pitchfork said the album “wears its search for new textures in its title.”

‘Going My Way’ comes from the 2015 album Saturns Pattern, which had Weller playing a wide array of instruments including bass, mellotron, Moog and harmonica. He produced it largely with Jan “Stan” Kybert.

After 2017’s A Kind Revolution, Weller remains as productive as ever in the studio and as tireless on the road. True Meanings, his 14th solo studio record, came out in September 2018, led by the preview track, the attractive and acoustic-based ‘Aspects.’

Paul’s prodigious output continued in the later 2010s with the 2017 release A Kind Revolution, which featured ten new songs, two of which were co-written with Kybert. Contributors included Robert Wyatt, Madeline Bell, P.P. Arnold and Boy George, and ‘The Cranes Are Back’ was among the highlights.

In 2020, he arrived at his 15th solo album, On Sunset, which he introduced with two singles including ‘Village.’ “It’s a response to being told that we’ve all got to explore the Amazon and climb Everest to make our lives complete,” he said. If anyone has satisfied himself with the more down-to-earth pleasures of making brilliant music for more than 40 years, it’s Paul Weller.

Listen to the best of Paul Weller on Apple Music and Spotify.

 

Format: UK English
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