Given that Paul Weller commenced his career in ‘spit n sawdust’ outfit The Jam, before carving out an impressive four-decade indie career, his decision to cover Joe Smooth‘s Promised Land (and make it a hit) in 1989 remains one of the mysteries of the great man’s career…
In February of that year, Weller’s band The Style Council unleashed Promised Land on an unsuspecting British public; a house track that had been published two years earlier by Smooth, a relatively-unknown Chicago producer.
As John Reed recalls in Paul Weller: My Ever Changing Moods, published in 1996 (buy it here), the late 80s saw The Style Council get influenced by “groups such as Blaze, Phase 2, and producers like Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles,” according to long time Weller compatriot Paolo Hewitt.
“Through their work, Weller had seen how contemporary R&B could be shorn of its increasingly slick nature and returned to its roots with a modern sound and feel. This was where he now wanted to take the Style Council.”
In the same book, Reed says that Weller himself told the Fresh Air fanzine later that year, “I just thought it was a good song,” adding that the original was “a bit under-developed.
“It always sounded like a gospel song to me, the chords and the way the voices were. We didn’t change it that much really, but we just made it more inspirational, more ‘up’.”
Incidentally, following the single’s release – it peaked at #27 in the charts – Smooth himself re-released the original, attaining his highest ever chart position of #56 in the process.
That Joe Smooth’s version is now included in just about every ‘dance classics’ mix is an indication that despite his rock roots, Weller knew a good thing when he saw it.
But just how different were the two versions? You be the judge.