This anti-racism song was a first-person narrative about a brutal mugging by jackbooted right-wing thugs in London. Despite having a BBC airplay ban due to its "disturbing nature," it became The Jam's second UK Top 20 hit. The then Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn complained that, "It's disgusting the way punks sing about violence. Why can't they sing about trees and flowers?"
In his teens Paul Weller idealized London. He would catch a train from Woking and carry a tape recorder around the capital just to be able to hear the streets again and again. However, after writing and recording two Jam albums in six months and endless touring he suffered premature burnout. Chastened by the experience, he emerged a more bitter, cynical person and he penned this song from the perspective of an ordinary working man on the way back to his suburban home, who is beaten senseless by skinheads.
The sounds of an Underground train at the beginning of the song was recorded at St John's Wood Station.
Paul Weller told Uncut this song started as "a long poem, which (producer) Vic Coppersmith-Heaven helped me shape into a song."
Originally Paul Weller had wanted to exclude the track from the record. Vic Coppersmith-Heaven recalled to Sound On Sound magazine: "I remember Paul throwing certain songs out of the All Mod Cons album, like 'Down in the Tube Station', which he rejected largely because the arrangement hadn't developed during the recording session. I said, 'Hang on, I haven't even read the lyrics yet, Paul... You should really work on this song, it's great.'"
"I was insistent on him reviving it, and once the band got involved and we developed the sound it turned into an absolutely brilliant track, a classic. Maybe we would have come around to recording it later on in the project, but he'd just reached that point of 'Oh bollocks, this isn't working, it's a load of crap.'"