The Clash were principled. They wrote real songs. They were goofy. They went to the edge and beyond. And they did what they did, made the world come to them, and felt guilty about it. They recorded the equivalent of nine records in six years, including two or three of the greatest rock-and-roll records ever, and possibly the greatest album of all time London Calling along the way. After the demise of the Sex Pistols, they remained the reigning aesthetic embodiment of an authentic, radical art movement rife with provocations and contradictions.
And they had Top 40 hits. As time went on, we could suss the group out: a slightly poetic and deceptively able guitarist, Mick Jones, tied to a diminutive but full-throated buffalo of a front man, Joe Strummer, whose lyrics were a maelstrom of political doggerel, but always well, generally with a deeply human heart. They had a tall good-looking guy, Paul Simonon, on hand, who, somewhat miraculously, turned into a strong bass player, and, on and off, a powerful and appropriate drummer, Topper Headon.
And by the time of Sandinista! And what happened after that? Well, read on. What follows is an account of every song the Clash released, ranked in order from worst to best. The last one has amazing early live footage of the band. Another Julien Temple Clash doc, now available here , while highly Julien Temple—esque, has some great things in it.
It is now forgotten, but I also want to acknowledge the The Boy Looked at Johnny , one of the very greatest of all books on rock and roll, and — I use these words advisedly — a punk-rock-worthy tale of the early days of punk rock. More on the causes of all that later. Astonishingly, Strummer and Rhodes decided they could keep the band going themselves, and wrote and produced a new album together. What could possibly go wrong? To this they added some other elements, one of them recurring backing choruses that sounded like they were recorded by crowds in soccer stadiums.
But nothing could disguise the fact that they had replaced the strongest British rock songwriter since Keith Richards with a music-business operator whose music experience had consisted solely of watching rock bands. From the ugly title on down, Cut the Crap is a sordid and clumsy affair. Neither Strummer nor Rhodes really knew how to make records, and what they thought was radical, like running TV programs over songs, were just bad ideas.
You patiently wait for the song to start, and then you realize you just missed the best part of this lame track. While we dutifully account for all the shitty songs on Cut the Crap , we might as well look at how the Clash came to be the Clash.
His mother was from the far, far north of Scotland, the rough equivalent of being from Nome. Strummer himself was born in Turkey. He also lived in Mexico, Egypt, and Germany before being sent back home to what he recalled was a repressive boarding school.
Despite once-a-year trips to exotic locales to see his parents, he was at that point decisively emotionally detached from them. At school he was, by his own account, a ringleader and one of the bullies, as opposed to the bullied. In the codes governing him and his fellows at the time, this background made him somewhat upper class, and he worked to suppress such leanings. He was eventually thrown out of school; on his way home that night, he tossed his portfolio into a garbage can.
And worse. The first few verses are literally about fingers snapping, and the rest of it is Joe trying to get people out onto the floor to dance, which, from a guy with his emotional agitation at the time, is less than festive.
The instrumentation and mixing could be used in a class about how not to mix and produce a record competently. Back to our story: Mick Jones was born in the s but still grew up among the ruins of the war in Brixton, in south London. He ended up at an art school in Wales — until a friend introduced him to reggae. Holy shit, he thought, and went back to London. He was obsessed with music and would even follow the Faces or Mott the Hoople around England, sneaking into shows. A tape of voices from radio or TV is run over the entire song, a device that gets annoying quick.
Meanwhile, a strange couple, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, were purveying odd clothes out of a boutique with an ever-changing name on Kings Road, in Chelsea. Various members of bands who would soon become notorious worked there. One day, Jones and Simonon, having checked out the ers and wanting to ask Strummer to join their group, spied on Strummer as he lined up to pick up his check from the dole office. Strummer saw them lurking outside and figured he was about to get jumped. He sized up which one to kick in the balls first.
I could hear your momma scream. When your daddy smashed that TV screen. I understand what he had to say. Violence was averted that day, and Strummer was eventually brought to meet Jones formally through a mutual friend named Bernard Rhodes, who, depending on whom you ask, was either a key part of the Malcolm McLaren brain trust, or his driver.
The ultimate verdict on Rhodes remains open. The band ultimately fired him — and produced its best work, London Calling and Sandinista! Still, Rhodes helped bring Strummer and Jones together, and was a voice, among others, for writing songs about politics, real life, and society rather than the pop verity of girls girls girls.
This lesson, as we shall see, Strummer and Jones learned very well. Everyone in the band says the Clash would not have been the Clash without him. Rhodes was known for having an apartment whose sole furniture was stacks of Marxism Today used as chairs, and was also by most accounts a somewhat rude person, with schemes upon schemes going on at any given time.
Albertine thought he was a fraud; when the Clash would meet in her apartment Rhodes would push past her without saying hello. It should be noted that while everyone in the scene has had his or her say about Rhodes, most of it making for a convincing megalomaniacal portrait, he himself has kept his own counsel through the ensuing decades.
Sometimes I wonder if Strummer primarily a lyricist wrote the music on Cut the Crap , Rhodes the lyrics. That would explain why on this album, with the band having lost only the musical half of its songwriting team, both the songs and the lyrics are terrible. The Clash and the Sex Pistols formed around the same time; the Pistols opened for the Clash at their first show at their squat, and the Clash opened for the Pistols soon after. We used to sleep together in the same bed, farting contests all night long. Most of these groups, along with Thunders, in exile from New York, all joined up for a merry tour of the U.
Everything was going great until the Pistols and a few friends — including Sioux and a nitwit wearing a swastika armband — appeared on an early evening talk show. The segment saw a host with the Dickensian name of Paul Grundy provoke the group — until the segment, which lasted all of two minutes, disintegrated in a hail of foul language. Most of the shows of the tour got canceled. For the record, I think there are other late-Clash songs on a later rerelease of Cut the Crap, but I could never get past marveling at the thought of a rerelease of Cut the Crap.
It consists of an interview the magazine did with the band, laid over a rousing instrumental track they supplied to go with it. To make matters worse, the chat was conducted on the subway. Close, but no cigar. But the instrumentation is weird, with some odd sounds percolating in the background. Back to our story: For the first three months of , a club called the Roxy gave the bands free rein to play.
The scene coalesced around this venue during these months. Outside, national hostility to the punks after the Grundy appearance, egged on by the tabloids, was explicit. It was actually physically dangerous to be a punk. Leaving aside the guys with the swastikas who you could say got what was coming to them, virtually all of the denizens of the scene at the time have stories about being jumped or assaulted in one way or another.
Johnny Rotten was slashed with knives in one serious attack. Strummer ended up in the hospital with hepatitis after taking one affectionate load in the mouth. The punks responded in their own way. It seems to be a replay of a previous Sandinista!
Now, before we get into the songs from the Clash at their height, we need to explain punk a little. Punk, which this many years on seems pretty basic, was actually pretty complicated, with any number of glancing and sometimes clashing aesthetics in the mix.
First, as far as music went, you had to have a contempt for the state of rock and roll; it was flaccid and overdone, its. Punk was shorter, faster, tighter, and about real things.
The Ramones, from the U. Some people, like Pistols impresario McLaren and possibly Rhodes, were familiar with goofy bands of philosophical malcontents like the Situationist International and the Lettrists, descended in some ways from the Dadaists and sometimes adumbrated by Marxists, whose manifestoes might reductively be described as demanding opposition to established political and aesthetic forces, ideally by means of an absurdist spectacle. The more political punks advocated violence when necessary, casually or explicitly.
Some punks, Jones and Simonon prominent among them, were getting into reggae; expressing solidarity with the Jamaicans and West Indians they knew from the streets around them. This is why the Clash, god love them, often dressed derangedly. This both inspired and reflected the confrontational fashion that grew, virtually week by week, at the first punk rock shows. Sociologically, there were a lot of deprived kids running around, and a lot of them were just this side of thugs.
Steve Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, for example, were in fact gainfully employed as burglars, helpful skills when all your poor friends were getting into bands and needed equipment. She had a shirt with holes cut out for her breasts to show. Ari Up, the lead singer of the Slits, wore her underwear outside her pants.
And that brings us to the final element of the scene, and an important one not to forget, which is that the participants were in most senses of the word children … and were all, we in America have to remember, deeply affected by their upbringing and unsure of their way forward in a compromised former empire then very much on the fritz. Highly stupid. The second side of Combat Rock was rough going. After Sandinista! They ultimately turned the tapes over to the talented engineer Glyn Johns.