The Clash

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The Clash in 1980
Time to put on some
Music
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Soundtrack
Musicians

The Clash were a band formed in 1976, and were part of the original wave of British punk rock groups. The members of the band during most of its existence were Joe Strummer (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, news and politics), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocals, pop sensibility), Paul Simonon (bass, backing vocals, occasional lead vocals, fashion statements) and Nicky "Topper" Headon (drums, percussion, heroin). In 1982 Headon left the group, and (after some internal friction) Jones left in 1983. After this point, the band rapidly dissolved, bringing on various replacements, but finally disbanding in early 1986.

The Clash did a cover of the song "I Fought the Law" recorded originally by The Crickets and popularized by the Bobby Fuller Four.

The Only Band That Matters (accolades)[edit]

The Clash were named "the only band that matters", as proclaimed by the sticker on the jacket of London Calling ("18 [sic] [1] new songs by the only band that matters!") by Epic Records' A&R director (although that was almost definitely influenced by the Clash's having a contract with said company), and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.[2]

At the end of the 1980s, Rolling Stone magazine declared London Calling the best album of the 1980s. Presumably they were not only hailing a great album, but also making a snarky statement about the state of popular music during the 1980s. After all, London Calling was released late in 1979.

The thinking man's yobs[edit]

The Clash were well known for having a strong leftist stance as a band, and were known as "the thinking man's yobs" for espousing a coherent ideology other than "get rich". Strummer especially was known for his outspoken progressive views (a relic of his shameful early hippie days), and as he wrote most of the lyrics this is definitely in evidence, loudly and rather intelligently. The Clash covered a broad range of subjects, from a narrative about the legacy of the Spanish Civil War ("Spanish Bombs") to a commentary on the failure of revolutionary music in the late 1970s ("White Man in Hammersmith Palais") to discourses on international politics ("Washington Bullets"). There were also slightly less weighty songs when Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon wanted to complain that nobody else wanted to get arrested, their girlfriend had been lying to them, they hadn't even been allowed in the door at the ping-pong club or their holiday to Jamaica had ended badly. They wrote about the personal and the political, with a strong emphasis on the political which was encouraged both by Strummer (who early on decided that Jones' song "I'm So Bored with You" should become "I'm So Bored With the USA") and their original manager Bernie Rhodes.

They often railed against fundamentalism and authoritarianism, but appear to have largely ignored our third mission target, the anti-science movement.

Right-wing?[edit]

Despite this, some people have mistaken the Clash's message for one that promotes right-wing ideologies. Indeed, during the Clash's heyday National Review ran at least two articles mistaking the Clash (and most of the rest of the early British punk bands) for being on the conservative right, in one article hailing British punk as a youthful reaction against Labour Party welfare statism. "Hate & War" was claimed to be a rebuttal to hippie peace & love, "Career Opportunities" a broadside against welfare statism, the punks' preference for short hair a statement against long-haired hippie drug culture (National Review oddly enough foreseeing straight edge here), and don't forget who was president when "I'm So Bored with the USA" was released. The second article reviewed a Clash concert that coincided with the start of the Falklands War and talked up the Clash's militant stance as some sort of ideal soundtrack for wartime (or at least for those grown up little boys who read magazines about mercenaries). "I'm So Bored With the USA", one of the first Clash songs, contains the lines "I hate the army and I hate the R.A.F/I don't want to go a-fighting in the tropical heat". It has been suggested in some quarters that early reviewers weren't able to make out any of the words and made assumptions based on the band's aesthetics. Many years later, "Rock the Casbah" wound up on a National Review list of best conservative songs. It was also reportedly adopted by U.S. troops during the Gulf War. However, Strummer (who wrote the lyrics) is said to have wept when he learned that the title of the song was written on a bomb dropped in Iraq during said war, and is quoted as having said "Hey, man, I never could think that a song of mine could be written as a death symbol on a fucking American bomb."[3] The media also latched on to the fact that members of The Clash used to be in a band called the London SS, and some of their earliest songs were named "White Riot" and "White Man in Hammersmith Palais".

While clearly leftist most of the time — songs like "Working for the Clampdown" and "Washington Bullets" bear this out — The Clash could make unpredictable political fakes to the right with or without any irony. "The Guns of Brixton" suggests the answer to police brutality in poor neighborhoods is widespread ownership of the firearms; "Red Angel Dragnet" seems to endorse right-wing vigilantism of the Guardian Angels type; the aforementioned "Rock the Casbah" was a protest against the social policies of Islamic governments, especially Iran; and "Overpowered by Funk" comes across as rather negative towards hip-hop culture. Three of those four songs are from Combat Rock, an album also filled with Vietnam War references, not to mention the title, so in context it is easy to see how they could be mistaken for right-wing. But see also Poe's law.

Commercialism?[edit]

Their strong leftist stance did not stop them signing to CBS, at the time one of the world's biggest record labels. Neither did it stop their publisher allowing the use of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" in a jeans commercial, or "London Calling" by luxury car maker Jaguar for a television commercial, many years after their release. Although, they did force the record company to sell the double and triple-disc albums London Calling and Sandinista! for the same price as single-disc albums, with the Clash forfeiting royalties on the first 200,000 sold, and even during their peak popularity tickets to concerts were "reasonably priced"; because of these "VFM", or Value For Money, policies the band was in debt to CBS for much of their career, only breaking even in 1982.[4] According to The Future Is Unwritten, Joe Strummer remained uneasy with the band's commercial backers throughout their history, a feeling which is reflected in their song "Garageland".

Not all punk fans were happy with the band's US$200,000 CBS deal though. In 1978, the seminal book on the early days of the British Punk movement, The Boy Looked at Johnny: The Obituary of Rock and Roll by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons was published. The authors attacked the Clash as "…the MC5 of the new wave; the credibility hustling manager Bernie Rhodes, the six figure recording contract, the revolution for fun and profit." They go on to posit that the Clash "were the first band to use social disorder as a marketing technique to shift product." Punk band Crass wrote on their self-released 1978 song, "Punk is Dead": "CBS promote the Clash, but it ain't for revolution, it's just for cash. Punk became a fashion just like Hippy used to be, and it ain't got a thing to do with you or me!"

Cut The Crap![edit]

There was no Clash album of this name. "This is England" was a good song though.

Legacy[edit]

Regardless of where you stand on their politics, the Clash could certainly write a good tune--even Steve Ignorant admitted he kept buying their records after he wrote "Punk is Dead". Although they came to an ignominious end and never reformed, they survived the death of first-wave UK punk with aplomb and made several more albums than the Sex Pistols ever managed. Their good name is more-or-less secured.

See also[edit]

References[edit]