Keith Moon, who died shortly before the single's release
"Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" was the second single taken from the album All Mod Cons by The Jam. Released on 21 October 1978, it charted at number 15 and was backed by a cover of the Who song "So Sad About Us", and "The Night", written by Bruce Foxton. The back of the record jacket displayed a photo of Keith Moon, former drummer of The Who, who had died the month prior to the single's release.
Originally Paul Weller had wanted to exclude the track from the All Mod Cons album, on the grounds that the arrangement hadn't developed during the recording sessions. He was persuaded to include the track by the band's producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven. The song suffered a BBC airplay ban.
The lyrics tell the story of an unnamed narrator, travelling home, who enters a London Underground station at midnight. He is carrying a take-away meal for himself and his wife. As he attempts to buy a ticket for his train, he is accosted by thugs (who smell 'of pubs, Wormwood Scrubs' and 'too many right-wing meetings'), asking him whether he is carrying any money. When he replies that he has 'a little money', the thugs attack him, stealing everything, including his keys. The song ends with the narrator lying wounded and either dying or losing consciousness ("And the last thing that I saw as I lay there on the floor") on the Tube Station floor, looking at graffiti and wall posters, reflecting on his life in contrast with the travel posters promising an enjoyable getaway, as he realises that the attackers now have the keys to his house and his wife may be in danger too ("I glanced back on my life and thought about my wife, 'cause they took the keys and she'll think it's me").
The song starts with the sounds of an Underground station then a tense, syncopated beat carried by the bass guitar. The lyrics are sentimental, contrasting the warmth of home and domestic life with the horror of urban decay and violence. The tension is heightened by a heartbeat being heard in the left stereo channel in certain sections of the song.