Setting Sons

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Setting Sons
The Jam - Setting Sons.jpg
Studio album by The Jam
Released 17 November 1979
Recorded 15 August 1979 – 10 October 1979, The Townhouse Studios, Shepherds Bush, London
Length 32:31
Label Polydor
Producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven
The Jam chronology
All Mod Cons
Setting Sons
Sound Affects
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau B+[2]
Smash Hits 9/10[3]

Setting Sons is the fourth studio album by British band The Jam. The group's critical and commercial favour, begun with their third album, All Mod Cons, continued through this album. "The Eton Rifles" became the group's first top 10 UK hit, peaking at No. 3.[4] The album itself reached No. 4 in the UK Albums Chart.[4]

In contrast to its pop-oriented predecessor, this album features a much harder, tougher production, albeit with the overarching melodicism 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 up and apart. This concept was never fully developed, and it remains unclear which tracks were originally intended as part of the story, though 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" features the unconventional instrument of the recorder. Even more striking is Bruce Foxton's "Smithers-Jones". The song was originally released as the B-side to the non-LP single "When You're Young" months before the album's release, and is here redone in an all-strings arrangement, save a bit of electric guitar in the coda. According to the liner notes of the Direction Reaction Creation box set, the revamping of "Smithers-Jones" was suggested by drummer Rick Buckler.

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 cover songs and 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, this leaves only seven entirely new original songs on the album.

Nonetheless, 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."[1] (Nonetheless, Allmusic gave the album the full five stars.)

The album cover of Setting Sons features a photograph of Benjamin Clemens' bronze sculpture, 'The St John's Ambulance Bearers'. Cast in 1919, this sculpture depicts a wounded soldier being carried by two ambulance workers. This sculpture is currently in the possession of the Imperial War Museum in London.[5]

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 2 between "Girl on the Phone" and "Thick As Thieves".[6]

UK track listing[edit]

All songs by Paul Weller except as noted.

Side one[edit]

  1. "Girl on the Phone"
  2. "Thick as Thieves"
  3. "Private Hell"
  4. "Little Boy Soldiers"
  5. "Wasteland"

Side two[edit]

  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 listing[edit]

All songs by Paul Weller except as noted.

Side one[edit]

  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[edit]

  1. "Smithers-Jones" (Bruce Foxton)
  2. "Private Hell"
  3. "The Butterfly Collector"
  4. "Burning Sky"
  5. "Thick as Thieves"
  6. "Wasteland"

2001 re-release track listing[edit]

  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"


  • Paul Weller
  • Bruce Foxton
  • Rick Buckler
  • "Merton" Mick - piano
  • Rudi - saxophone
  • The Jam Philharmonic Orchestra - cello, timpani, recorder
  • Pete Solley - score for strings


  1. ^ a b Chris Woodstra (1979-11-16). "Setting Sons - The Jam | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  2. ^ "CG: the jam". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  3. ^ Starr, Red. "Albums". Smash Hits (29 November – 12 December 1979): 31. 
  4. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 277. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  5. ^ Martin, Gavin (13 January 2009). "Bring the Jam's Setting Sons sculpture back on display". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "The Jam - Setting Sons (Vinyl, LP, Album)". 1979-11-01. Retrieved 2016-01-14.