The Eton Rifles
|"The Eton Rifles"|
|Single by The Jam|
|from the album Setting Sons|
|Released||26 October 1979|
|Producer(s)||Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and The Jam|
|The Jam singles chronology|
"The Eton Rifles" was the only single to be released from the album Setting Sons by The Jam. Recorded at Townhouse Studios and released on 26 October 1979, it became the band's first top ten hit in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 3. It is also the only official Jam single for which a video was not recorded.
Eton College is a famous English public school located in Berkshire, which is regarded as the epitome of Britain's privileged elite. Their cadet corps is the Eton College Combined Cadet Force, which was founded in 1860 as the Eton College Rifle Corps.
The lyrics of the song recount the difficulties faced by the unemployed and lower-paid working class, in protesting against a system stacked against them.
The song recounts a street battle Paul Weller had read about in the newspapers, concerning elements of a right-to-work march through Slough in 1978, breaking off to attack pupils from Eton who had been jeering the lunchtime marchers (hence "Hello, Hooray, an extremist scrape with the Eton Rifles").
The song's lyrics, in common with many Jam tracks, contain colloquial references to life in Britain, including:
"Sup up your beer and collect your fags,
There's a row going on down near Slough"
Literally, the first part of the line means "drink up your beer and collect your cigarettes", though in this case it is likely a double entendre referring both to a group of friends hurriedly leaving a pub, and to the British boarding school practice of fagging; a hierarchical authority structure in which younger students acted as personal servants to older pupils.
With regard to the latter part, Slough is a town near Eton. The two districts have a history of class conflict, with Slough in particular as a result of it having been used for various sociology experiments by urban planners and politicians, from the 1960s to the 1990s (a common target in Paul Weller's lyrics in The Jam).
"What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?" is a reference to school uniform and badges, particularly the influence of the "old school tie".
"There was a lot of class hatred in my songs at the time," said Weller. "'Eton Rifles' would be the obvious example of that. We used to go on Sunday drives with my uncle and we'd drive through Eton, and I remember seeing the young chaps."
In May 2008, Conservative leader and Old Etonian David Cameron named "The Eton Rifles" as one of his favourite songs. Cameron is reported to have said: "I was one, in the corps. It meant a lot, some of those early Jam albums we used to listen to. I don't see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs."
Cameron's praise for the song earned a scathing rejection from Paul Weller, who said, "Which part of it didn't he get? It wasn't intended as a fucking jolly drinking song for the cadet corps."
In 1977, Weller had stated in the New Musical Express that people should vote for the Conservatives, a comment intended to shock and which later came to haunt him during his long involvement with the Labour Party initiative Red Wedge.
He added, "I think I have pretty much nailed where I was at to the mast. But people come to gigs for different reasons: it isn't necessarily about what the person on stage is singing. But at the same time, you do think, 'Well, maybe this'll change their minds.'"
In November 2011, The Guardian music critic, Alexis Petridis, questioned Cameron further; "You said the Jam's song Eton Rifles was important to you when you were at Eton. Paul Weller, who wrote the song, was pretty incredulous to hear this, and claimed you couldn't have understood the lyrics. What did you think that song was about at the time? Be honest.' To which Cameron replied; "I went to Eton in 1979, which was the time when the Jam, the Clash, the Sex Pistols were producing some amazing music and everyone liked the song because of the title. But of course I understood what it was about. It was taking the mick out of people running around the cadet force. And he was poking a stick at us. But it was a great song with brilliant lyrics. I've always thought that if you can only like music if you agree with the political views of the person who wrote it, well, it'd be rather limiting."
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 277. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Dan Bell (5 January 2017). "Eton: a Common Perception". BBC. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
- "CCF". Etoncollege.com. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
- "The Eton Rifles by The Jam". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
- The Guardian, 16 March 2009
- John Wilson. "Chasing the blues away". New Statesman. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
- Milmo, Cahal; McSmith, Andy (16 May 2008). "Musical fallout: politics and pop just don't mix". The Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
- John Harris. "David Cameron's Tories are trying to claim anti-Thatcherite rockers such as The Smiths and Paul Weller as their own". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
- "David Cameron, we have a few questions for you…". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
- "Albums and Tracks of the Year". NME. 2016. Retrieved 9 November 2016.