Setting Sons

Setting Sons is a 1979 album by British band The Jam, their fourth since their debut in 1977. It reached No. 4 in the UK Albums Chart upon the first week of release,[2] continuing the commercial (and critical) favour that had begun with their previous album All Mod Cons.[3]

Setting Sons
The Jam - Setting Sons.jpg
Studio album by
Released16 November 1979
Recorded15 August – 10 October 1979
StudioTownhouse Studios, Shepherds Bush, London
ProducerVic Coppersmith-Heaven
The Jam chronology
All Mod Cons
Setting Sons
Sound Affects
Singles from Setting Sons
  1. "The Eton Rifles"
    Released: 26 October 1979

The sole single from Setting Sons, "The Eton Rifles", became the group's first top 10 UK hit, peaking at No. 3.[3]

Recording and contentEdit

In contrast to its pop-oriented predecessor, Setting Sons features a much harder, tougher production, albeit with the emphasis on melody common throughout The Jam's discography. Arguably, this is the Jam's most thematically ambitious LP. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Paul Weller originally conceived Setting Sons as a concept album detailing the lives of three boyhood friends who later reunite as adults after an unspecified war, only to discover they have grown both up and apart.[4] This concept was never fully developed and it remains unclear which tracks were originally intended as part of the story, although it is commonly agreed that "Thick As Thieves", "Little Boy Soldiers", "Wasteland" and "Burning Sky" are likely constituents; extant Jam bootlegs feature a version of "Little Boy Soldiers" split into three separate recordings, possible evidence that the song was intended to serve as a recurring motif, with separate sections appearing between other songs on the album.

The album was musically ambitious as well. "Little Boy Soldiers" consists of several movements, reminiscent of compositions by The Kinks. "Wasteland" unconventionally features a recorder. Even more striking is Bruce Foxton's "Smithers-Jones". The song was originally released as the B-side of the non-LP single "When You're Young" three months before the album's release; on Setting Sons it is re-recorded in an all-strings arrangement, save a little electric guitar in the coda.[5] According to the liner notes of the Direction Reaction Creation box set, the revamping of "Smithers-Jones" was suggested by drummer Rick Buckler.[6]

The liner notes also imply that the album was a somewhat rushed effort, which may explain why the original underlying concept was not fully developed, as well as the inclusion of one cover song and two prior releases: "Smithers-Jones" had already been released; "Heat Wave" is a cover of the Martha and the Vandellas' Motown hit. Since "The Eton Rifles" was released in advance of the LP for promotional purposes,[3] this leaves only seven entirely new original songs on the album.[7]

Album coverEdit

The album cover art features a photograph of Benjamin Clemens' bronze sculpture The St John's Ambulance Bearers. Cast in 1919, it depicts a wounded soldier being carried by two ambulance workers. The sculpture is currently in the possession of the Imperial War Museum in London.[8]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [9]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [10]
The Irish Times     [11]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [12]
Smash Hits9/10[13]
Spin Alternative Record Guide5/10[14]
The Village VoiceB+[16]

The album remains one of The Jam's most critically favoured works, alongside All Mod Cons and Sound Affects. The only song particularly singled out for negative criticism is the cover of "Heat Wave", which clearly owes more to The Who's arrangement than the original. As AllMusic put it, "Setting Sons often reaches brilliance and stands among The Jam's best albums, but the inclusion of a number of throwaways and knockoffs (especially the out-of-place cover of "Heat Wave" which closes the album) mars an otherwise perfect album."[9] Nonetheless, AllMusic gave the album the full five stars.

It was ranked at number four among the top "Albums of the Year" for 1979 by NME, with "The Eton Rifles" and "Strange Town" ranked at numbers one and five among the year's top tracks.[17]

Chart performanceEdit

Setting Sons spent 19 weeks on the UK album charts, rising to No. 4.[18] In the U.S., the album spent 8 weeks on the Billboard 200 album charts and reached its peak position of No. 137 in March 1980.[19]

Chart (1980) Peak
Australian (Kent Music Report) 70[20]

The 2014 re-release also charted in the UK, reaching No. 97 in November of that year.[18]

International releasesEdit

The Polydor Canada LP release of Setting Sons is substantially different from the original UK version, and contains 12 tracks.

The Polydor US LP release in 1979 reversed the sides and inserted the single "Strange Town" as the second song on side two, between "Girl on the Phone" and "Thick As Thieves".[21]

UK track listingEdit

All songs by Paul Weller except as noted.

Side one
  1. "Girl on the Phone"
  2. "Thick as Thieves"
  3. "Private Hell"
  4. "Little Boy Soldiers"
  5. "Wasteland"
Side two
  1. "Burning Sky"
  2. "Smithers-Jones" (Bruce Foxton)
  3. "Saturday's Kids"
  4. "The Eton Rifles"
  5. "Heat Wave" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)

Polydor Canada track listingEdit

All songs by Paul Weller except as noted.

Side one
  1. "Strange Town"
  2. "Saturday's Kids"
  3. "Little Boy Soldiers"
  4. "The Eton Rifles"
  5. "Girl on the Phone"
  6. "Heat Wave" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)
Side two
  1. "Smithers-Jones" (Bruce Foxton)
  2. "Private Hell"
  3. "The Butterfly Collector"
  4. "Burning Sky"
  5. "Thick as Thieves"
  6. "Wasteland"

Polydor US track listingEdit

All songs by Paul Weller except as noted.

Side one
  1. "Burning Sky"
  2. "Smithers Jones" (Bruce Foxton)
  3. "Saturday's Kids"
  4. "The Eton Rifles"
  5. "(Love Is Like A) Heatwave" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)
Side two
  1. "Girl On The Phone"
  2. "Strange Town"
  3. "Thick As Thieves"
  4. "Private Hell"
  5. "Little Boy Soldiers"
  6. "Wasteland"

2001 re-release track listingEdit

  1. "Girl on the Phone"
  2. "Thick As Thieves"
  3. "Private Hell"
  4. "Little Boy Soldiers"
  5. "Wasteland"
  6. "Burning Sky"
  7. "Smithers-Jones" (Bruce Foxton)
  8. "Saturday's Kids"
  9. "The Eton Rifles"
  10. "Heat Wave" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)
  11. "Strange Town"
  12. "When You're Young"
  13. "Smithers-Jones (single version)" (Bruce Foxton)
  14. "See-Saw"
  15. "Going Underground"
  16. "The Dreams of Children"
  17. "So Sad About Us" (Pete Townshend)
  18. "Hey Mister"
  19. "Start"


The Jam
Additional musicians
  • "Merton" Mick – piano
  • Rudi – saxophone
  • The Jam Philharmonic Orchestra – cello, timpani, recorder
  • Pete Solley – score for strings
  • Vic Coppersmith-Heaven - Producer
  • Alan Douglas - Engineer
  • George Chambers - Assistant Engineer
  • Bill Smith - art direction, design
  • Andrew Douglas - front cover photography


  1. ^ a b Crockford, C.M. "The Jam - Setting Sons". Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  2. ^ 18 - 24 November 1979
  3. ^ a b c Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 277. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  4. ^ The New Rolling Stone Album Guide ISBN 978-0-394-72107-1 p. 416
  5. ^ That's Entertainment: My Life in The Jam p. 130
  6. ^ That's Entertainment: My Life in The Jam p. 130
  7. ^ The Jam & Paul Weller: Shout to the Top ISBN 978-0-857-12016-8 pp. 49-51
  8. ^ Martin, Gavin (13 January 2009). "Bring the Jam's Setting Sons sculpture back on display". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  9. ^ a b Woodstra, Chris. "Setting Sons – The Jam". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  10. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  11. ^ Clayton-Lea, Tony (18 December 2014). "The Jam: Setting Sons (Super Deluxe Edition)". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  12. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "The Jam". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 416–17. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  13. ^ Starr, Red (29 November – 12 December 1979). "Albums". Smash Hits: 31.
  14. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  15. ^ Mulholland, Garry (12 December 2014). "The Jam – Setting Sons (Deluxe and Super Deluxe Editions)". Uncut. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  16. ^ Christgau, Robert (31 March 1980). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  17. ^ "Albums and Tracks of the Year". NME. 2016. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  18. ^ a b "UK Official Charts: Setting Sons". Official Charts Company. 2017. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  19. ^ "Billboard 200: The Jam". Billboard. 2017. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  20. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 153. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  21. ^ "The Jam – Setting Sons (Vinyl, LP, Album)". 1 November 1979. Retrieved 14 January 2016.