‘Going Underground’: The Jam’s Extraordinary Chart-Topping Single

The Jam’s ‘Going Underground’ was an instant No.1 single, a rare feat in the UK charts.

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The Jam
Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage

The Jam topped the UK Singles Chart for the first time in spectacular style on March 18, 1980, when the double A-side “Going Underground” and “Dreams Of Children” debuted at No. 1. It was the first instant chart-topper in more than six years and became only the ninth in total since the chart launched in 1952.

Its historic debut, the first since fellow Polydor act Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” in December 1973, prompted many myths and theories as to how the post-punk band had pulled off this rare feat. One suggestion was that Polydor had held back “Going Underground”’s release by a week to build up demand. However, in his book The Jam & Paul Weller: Shout To The Top, Dennis Munday, who was the band’s Product Manager at Polydor, dismissed this and said there had been a delay simply because The Jam’s singer, guitarist, and main songwriter Paul Weller had not finished writing “Dreams Of Children” in time for its original retail date.

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“When I went to see the band at The Townhouse [Studios], Paul hadn’t completed the lyrics and it was shy of two verses,” explained Munday. “It was clear we couldn’t hit this deadline and I gave them an extra week.”

Weller and his band colleagues, bass player Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler, duly delivered and the week after release it replaced Fern Kinney’s “Together We Are Beautiful” at No.1 where it stayed for three weeks. “Going Underground” did not appear on any of The Jam’s studio albums, but later featured on a number of compilations, including Snap! – released in 1983 just after they split – and 1997’s The Very Best Of.

The single’s initial sales demand had been boosted by the release of a limited-edition, double-pack single that additionally contained three live recordings. At the time, Weller said this was “to thank the fans for three years of loyal support.”

The Jam were on a North American tour when the news broke they had scored their first No.1, but after they played the Armadillo Works in Austin, Texas, the remaining dates were abandoned so they could fly back to London on Concorde and perform on BBC TV’s Top Of The Pops. The tour never resumed.

As a result of “Going Underground”’s success, Polydor reissued all The Jam’s previous singles and six of them re-entered the UK Chart, led by their introductory hit “In The City” at No.40.

Following “Going Underground”/“The Dreams Of Children,” the band’s next single “Start!” was released in August 1980 and just missed out on a No.1 debut when it entered the chart at No.3 before climbing to the top two weeks later. However, their next and final two chart-toppers, “Town Called Malice”/“Precious” and “Beat Surrender,” were both instant No.1s, making them the first act since Slade to have more than two singles debut at the top.

Listen to the best of The Jam on Apple Music or Spotify.

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