“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 3 November 1979, it became the band’s first top ten hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at No. 3. It is also the only official Jam single for which a video was not recorded.
The song was produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven and The Jam, and was backed by the B-side “See-Saw”.
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 jolly drinking song for the cadet corps.”
In November 2011 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.”