Musical Diary 03 – ‘Time To Go Down In The Tube Station’

It’s October and time for this month’s ‘Musical Diary’, where we dip back in time, in this case October 1978. 34 years ago saw the release of my favourite song by The Jam – ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ on Polydor Records.


The great lyrics were misinterpreted by some radio DJs and it suffered an airplay ban on some shows. It was a great sleeve too, taken I believe, in London’s Bond Street Tube Station. A bold move to have a black and white image, but the feel of the sleeve reinforced the lyrics and feel of the song, which despite comments from some Radio 1 DJs was not pro-violence. It was in fact the opposite and more social comment and lyrical storytelling than anything else. Urban poetry really.

Down In The Tube Station At Midnight

The distant echo
Of faraway voices boarding faraway trains
To take them home to
The ones that they love and who love them forever
The glazed, dirty steps, repeat my own and reflect my thoughts
Cold and uninviting, partially naked
Except for toffee wrappers and this morning’s paper
Mr. Jones got run down
Headlines of death and sorrow, they tell of tomorrow
Madmen on the rampage
And I’m down in the tube station at midnight
I fumble for change, and pull out the Queen
Smiling, beguiling
I put in the money and pull out a plum
Behind me
Whispers in the shadows, gruff blazing voices
Hating, waiting
“hey boy” they shout, “have you got any money?”
And I said, “I’ve a little money and a take away curry,
I’m on my way home to my wife.
She’ll be lining up the cutlery,
You know she’s expecting me
Polishing the glasses and pulling out the cork”
And I’m down in the tube station at midnight

I first felt a fist, and then a kick
I could now smell their breath
They smelt of pubs and wormwood scrubs
And too many right wing meetings
My life swam around me
It took a look and drowned me in its own existence
The smell of brown leather
It blended in with the weather
It filled my eyes, ears, nose and mouth
It blocked all my senses
Couldn’t see, hear, speak any longer
And I’m down in the tube station at midnight
I said I was down in the tube station at midnight

The last thing that I saw
As I lay there on the floor
Was “Jesus saves” painted by an atheist nutter
And a British rail poster read “have an away day, a cheap holiday
Do it today!”
I glanced back on my life
And thought about my wife
Cause they took the keys, and she’ll think it’s me
And I’m down in the tube station at midnight
The wine will be flat and the curry’s gone cold
I’m down in the tube station at midnight
Don’t want to go down in a tube station at midnight

Lyrics © Paul Weller 1978

It was quite ground breaking in that there was no obvious chorus, with the title occasionally sung as a refrain at points through the story. At over four minutes long, it went against the grain of both pop singles of the time and Punk/New Wave releases generally. The song also started and finished with sound fx of a tube train entering and leaving the station.

The B-side/flipside of the 7-inch single included a cover of The Who song ‘So Sad About Us’. Along with the back cover image, it was a tribute to The Who drummer, Keith Moon, who had died a month before the release of the record.


It was a taster for The Jam’s third album ‘All Mod Cons’, which would appear the following month.

I still remember going out and buying it on the day of release from FL Moore Records (sadly long-since defunct) in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, UK. A great shop that I got a lot of my, now rare, punk/new wave singles and EPs. I knew every word and would recite the words as I sang along (badly and out of tune) in my bedroom, on my homemade record player. Happy days when singles were king and the music charts meant something.

On tour, playing live back in October 1978 were:

The Ramones – Edinburgh University
Stiff Little Fingers – Empire, Liverpool
Wire/The Cure – London Polytechnic
XTC – The Pound, Belfast

Great gigs, that I’m sure were at affordable prices, unlike some of the prices of concerts today; but that’s a subject/rant for another day…

Cheers, the MoL


About themanofletters

Love poetry, love Marmite, Alright?
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