The Clash – The Clash

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I think I first heard the Clash via “Rock the Casbah,” which was released when I was nine years old. I remember I didn’t love it (I still don’t) and being vaguely annoyed by the repetitiveness of the chorus and the held out, digitally altered “jiiiiiiiiiiive.” I didn’t encounter the Clash again until high school, when I became a convert (though I probably heard “I Fought the Law” before then, actually). I am not entirely sure where I fall on the spectrum of Clash fans. I am not rabid – I don’t care for Give Em’ Enough Rope, for example, and I think the cult of Joe Strummer is myopic (more on that later) – but I do possess a healthy love and respect for the band.

What I Think of This Album

How much is your purity worth to you? At what point will you concede in the name of common sense, and set aside your self-righteousness for a higher ideal? The U.S. version of The Clash removed five songs from the original British release, and – coming over two years later – replaced them with five intervening singles, and also rearranged the order of the songs. So, punk rock adept, which one is better? Undoubtedly, the capitalist meddling of Epic improved this album. Is the original version more punk? My answer is that the Clash were not interested in promoting a straightjacketed definition of punk, and to fall back on the amorphous notion of punk to criticise the U.S. version is misguided.

It’s not like the original songs were replaced with Pat Boone covers – the substitutions were mostly Clash songs from 1977-78. Is there something particularly appealing about “Protex Blue” or “Cheat” or “Deny”? No. They are decent songs, but not critical. Is it galling to have the record company monkey about with a band’s vision? Yes. But in this case, the suits got it right. Each of “Clash City Rockers,” “Complete Control,” “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” and “I Fought the Law” improves this album dramatically. The swap of one version for another of “White Riot” we can call a draw. I don’t think “Jail Guitar Doors” is prime Clash, but it’s not a bad song either. As for the sequencing, while “Janie Jones” is a great tune, to have “Clash City Rockers” knocking down the front door is brilliant. I don’t know . . do what you want, but I will always prefer the bastardized U.S. version of this album (which ended up being the band’s second album release in this country).

Honestly, the opening chords of “Clash City Rockers” sound like the musical version of an electric chair (the lyric about a “jump of electrical shockers” only adds to this feeling). Joe Strummer’s gruff bark gives way to a relatively melodic chorus led by guitarist Mick Jones; the bridge references Bowie, Gary Glitter, and Jamaican producer and DJ Prince Far-I. An epic, self-mythologizing burner is not the wrong way to begin a debut album. Sounding a lot like the intro of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” the take-no-prisoners “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” angrily shreds the special relationship with vigor. “Remote Control” shows off Jones’s way with a melody in a fashion the more simplistic earlier songs don’t. “Complete Control” maybe should not have been sequenced right after “Remote Control,” though there is some poetry to it, as the former references the latter. Overall, the song is a rampage of grievances against corporate music interests, with propulsive drumming from Nicky “Topper” Headon and killer riffs and a solo from Jones. This song was produced by reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry.

“White Riot” is a bit of standard punk rock, though with some advanced race consciousness. On the other hand, “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” with its reggae feel, is a true classic. Bassist Paul Simonon and Headon are locked in (listen to the high hat grace notes); Jones came up with a wonderful melody, and Strummer knocked it out of the cricket field with a powerful delivery of an excellent set of lyrics. The harmonica and the backing “ooo-ooo”s are great, too. “London’s Burning” demonstrates how the Clash could elevate even three chord punk – compare this to “White Riot” and notice how much better this is. Basically a song about driving around in your car because there is nothing else to do, the classically teenaged theme links the band to rock’s history.

The hyper-enthusiastic cover of “I Fought the Law” is yet another critical tie to the past. While the inspiration for this cover was the 1965 hit version by the Bobby Fuller Four, the song was originally written by Sonny Curtis, who recorded it as part of the post-Buddy Holly version of the Crickets in 1960. “Janie Jones” is about a former British pop star who also happened to be a madam – the rhythm is irresistable. “Career Opportunities” is another classic – a fiery reminder that punk was borne of a specific social and economic context, and wasn’t just a bunch of kids making noise and dressing weird for shock value. “What’s My Name” is notable mostly for being co-written by Keith Levene, who was a founding member of the Clash but left and then became a founding member of Public Image Ltd.

Jones has an excellent vocal on “Hate & War.” The unexpected cover of Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” is fantastic – though it should be noted that neither of them was very happy with it. Strummer throws in a lyric from the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” as a tribute at the start of the song. Jones again sings lead on “Jail Guitar Doors.” “Garageland” is a little silly (your “bullshit detector”? Okay, Joe), but it also gave rise to the Australian band of the same name. Terry Chimes played the drums on the songs carried over from the British version; he was in and out of the band every week, it seems like, in the early days, but then Headon took over and is heard on the newer U.S. version tracks (though Chimes would come back in 1982). I am a HUGE fan of Chimes being listed as “Tory Crimes” in the credits. Obviously, this album is a punk and rock must-own.

The Best Thing About This Album

“(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” is a relatively easy choice.

Release Date

April, 1977 (U.K.); July, 1979 (U.S.)

The Cover Art

The font for the band name is outstanding. The band portrait is boring and the picture quality is crap. Terry Chimes was out of the band during the five minutes when this picture was taken, but undoubtedly rejoined five minutes later. The only difference as to the U.K. version is that in the original, the band name is in the lower right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑