"That's Entertainment" is probably The Jam's best known and most acclaimed song; it is the group's lone entry, at #306, on the list of the 500 greatest songs of all-time released by Rolling Stone in 2004. It consistently makes similar British lists of all-time great songs, such as BBC Radio 2's Sold on Song 2004 Top 100, at #43.
It was never released as a domestic single in the UK during the band's lifetime, but incredibly it made the charts as an import, backed by a live version of "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight," peaking at No. 21. It was given its first full UK release in 1983 and peaked at No. 60. A second reissue in 1991 also made the Top 50.
It remains one of the two all-time biggest selling import singles in the UK, alongside The Jam's own "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?," which would hit the charts at No. 8 as an import in 1982.
Though it remains perhaps The Jam's most famous effort, it is one of the least "distinctively Jam" songs of their career, venturing far from the driving rhythms and chiming electric guitars that dominate most of the group's work. The song uses an almost entirely acoustic arrangement with only very light percussion, not even using a snare drum, but using only a rimshot. Like much of Sound Affects, the song has strong undercurrents of pop-psychedelia. The only electric guitar part in the song is played backwards over one of the verses, a hallmark of psychedelia. Moreover, the entire song's swirling aesthetic is very evocative of 1960s British pop.
The minimalist, slice-of-life lyrics only list various conditions of British working class life. Consider the first verse:
- "A police car and a screaming siren"
- "Pneumatic drill and ripped-up concrete"
- "A baby wailing, stray dog howling"
- "The screech of brakes and lamp light blinking"
culminating in the laconic, ironic chorus of "That's entertainment, That's entertainment!"
"I was in London by the time I wrote 'That's Entertainment'," said Weller. "Writing it was easy in a sense because all those images were at hand, around me."
The most frequent interpretation is that the song is a rejection of the romanticism (typified by That's Entertainment!) often afforded the British working class lifestyle (such as in television programmes), although there are some other interpretations as well. Either way, it is The Jam's most frequently covered song.
There have been numerous subsequent renditions including British (Morrissey, Reef, The Wonder Stuff, Busted, Billy Bragg) and American (Face to Face, Velocity Girl). The song is frequently used in a more shallow sense ("That's entertainment!") by television companies (notably ITV, who launched their 2002 new look with it).
A demo version was first released on the Snap! compilation. This featured engineer Peter Wilson on drums and Paul Weller on all other instruments. A later demo version with Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler in their respective roles appeared on the Direction Reaction Creation boxed set. These versions feature a fuller arrangement, but lacked the flourishes of the final released version. The version which appears on The Sound of the Jam and Paul Weller's Hit Parade is the "Snap!" version with the bass and drums removed. The demo version of the song was used in the soundtrack to the film Stranger Than Fiction.