Two and a half years after they made their chart debut, and with no fewer than eight Top 40 singles to their name, The Jam upped the ante on November 3, 1979, as Paul Weller delivered one of his most incisive lyrics to date. “The Eton Rifles” entered the UK charts, and within a week had become their first UK Top 10 hit.
The song was written by Weller about the cadet corps of Eton College, the English public school, and was an example of the working-class rage that his songs often expressed against the British social system. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron was at the school at the time the song was released, and was asked about it by The Guardian newspaper in 2011.
Weller pokes a stick
“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,” Cameron replied. “But of course I understood what it was about. It was taking the mick [making fun] 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.”
“The Eton Rifles” entered the chart at No.29, the second highest new entry of the week behind the Specials’ “A Message To You Rudy.” Seven days later, it raced to No.7, then to No.4, peaking at No.3 on the November 24 chart. The song was on The Jam’s fourth studio album Setting Sons, which arrived in mid-November and debuted, and peaked, at No.4, their best ranking to that point.
Buy or stream “The Eton Rifles” on Setting Sons.