The Clash were a British punk rock group that existed from 1976 to 1985. While the Sex Pistols were the first notable British punk rock band, The Clash are among the definitive British punk rockers. While the Pistols were anarchic and nihilistic, The Clash were fiery and idealistic
, charged with righteousness and a leftist political ideology
, not to mention a talent for agitprop. One of the most critically lauded bands of their period and their genre, they were noted for being musically far-reaching (they incorporated reggae
, and eventually many other music styles into their repertoire)
, for displaying a political and lyrical sophistication that distinguished them from most of their colleagues in the punk movement, and for uncommonly intense stage performances. The Clash are considered to be one of the best and most influential punk bands of all time. Besides contemporary American pop-punk outfits like Green Day, blink-182
, and The Offspring
, and Canadian pop-punk band Sum 41
, which cite The Clash as a major influence
, seminal alternative rock bands like U2
, The Cure
, and R.E.M. borrow much from The Clash. The 90s British music of the Britpop movement has also been influenced by The Clash via revolutionary looks and the big, catchy hooks.
, " their first single
, 1977.Originally composed of Joe Strummer (b. John Graham Mellor August 21
, d. December 22
, 2002) (vocals
, rhythm guitar)
, Mick Jones (b. 1955) (vocals
, lead guitar)
, Paul Simonon (b. 1955) (bass and vocals)
, Keith Levene (lead guitar) Terry Chimes (credited on the first LP as "Tory Crimes") (drums)
, the Clash formed in London in 1976 during the first wave of British punk. Keith Levene (later of Public Image Limited) was an early guitarist and songwriter with The Clash, but he never recorded with the band and left in ambiguous circumstances after 5 gigs. Strummer had previously been in the pub rock act The 101ers (his stage name at this point was Woody Mellor; soon he would brand himself "Joe Strummer"), and Jones and Simonon (briefly) in legendary proto-punk band London SS. At the behest of manager Bernie Rhodes, Jones
, Levene and Simonon recruited Strummer from the 101ers ("You're all right
, " they told him
, "but your band's crap.") Rhodes then allegedly gave Strummer 48 hours to sign on
, but called him wanting an answer in 24. And so the Clash name supplied by Simonon after seeing the word repeatedly in the newspapers came to be.
Their first gig was in 1976 supporting The Sex Pistols, and that autumn the band were signed to CBS Records. They released their first single ("White Riot") and first album (The Clash) in 1977 to considerable success in the UK, though CBS initially declined to release either in the United States
, only releasing a modified version of the first album in the US in 1979
, after the UK original had become the best-selling import album of all time in the United States.
Cover of The ClashFollowing the release of their first album, Chimes was replaced with longtime drummer Topper Headon (b. Nick Headon). The musically gifted Headon was planning to stay only briefly, in order to gain some measure of renown so that he might find a better punk group. In the process
, the band's potential became apparent to Headon
, and realizing that he wouldn't find a better band
, he changed his plans and remained with The Clash until late 1982 present for most of the band's career, in particular
, the most successful and fruitful part.
Initially The Clash were notable for their strident leftist political outlook and distinctive clothes painted with revolutionary slogans ("Sten Guns in Knightsbridge" "Under Heavy Manners"). Throughout 1977, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were in and out of jail for a range of minor crimes
, ranging from vandalism to stealing a pillowcase
, while Simonon and Headon were arrested for shooting racing pigeons with an air gun.
Their next album, the Sandy Pearlman-produced Give 'Em Enough Rope
, was the first to feature Topper Headon on all cuts. Pearlman was amazed by Headon's impressive timing and musical skills and thus christened him "The Human Drum Machine". 'Rope' was released in 1978 and debuted at number two on the British charts, but failed to crack the top 100 in the world's largest music market
, the United States.
Cover of Give 'Em Enough RopeLike many early punk bands
, The Clash protested against the monarchy and the aristocracy in the U.K. and around the world. However, unlike many early punk bands
, The Clash rejected the overall sentiment of nihilism. Instead
, they found solidarity with a number of liberation movements going on at the time. Their politics were expressed explicitly in their lyrics, in early recordings such as "White Riot
, " which encouraged disaffected white youths to become politically active like their black counterparts, "Career Opportunities
, " which expressed discontent over the lack of jobs in the U.K.
, and "London's Burning"
, which expressed punk rage but was at the same time downright analytical.
In one instance in 1978
, at a Rock Against Racism show
, organized by the Anti-Nazi League
, Joe Strummer wore a controversial t-shirt bearing the words "Brigate-Rosse" with the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof) insignia in the middle. He later said in an interview that he wore the shirt not to support the left-wing terrorists factions in Germany and Italy, rather to bring attention to their existence. Still
, he felt bad after the show
, prompting him to write the song "Tommy Gun
, " renouncing violence as a means of protest.
The Clash offered some support to the Sandinista and other Marxist movements in Latin America (hence the title of their 1981 album, Sandinista!). They were involved directly with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism. By the time of the December 1979 album London Calling, the Clash (like the Dead Kennedys in the U.S.) were trying to square the circle of maintaining punk energy while developing increasingly musicianly chops. They were especially wary of their own emerging stardom: they always welcomed fans backstage after shows and showed genuine interest and compassion in their relationships with them.
The title of London Calling evokes American radio newsman Edward R. Murrow's catchphrase during World War II, and the title song announces that "...war is declared and battle come down..." It warns against expecting them to be saviours "... now don't look to us / Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust..." draws a bleak picture of the times "The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in / Engines stop running
, the wheat is growing thin" but calls on their listeners to come out of their drugged stupor and take up the fight without constantly looking to London, or to The Clash themselves
, for cues "Forget it
, we can go it alone... Quit holding out and draw another breath... I don't wanna shout / But while we were talking I saw you nodding out..." finally asking, "After all this
, won't you give me a smile?"
The Clash are generally credited with founding the roots of punk rock in liberal protest, and were known as the "Thinking Man's Yobs" by many for their politically astute take on the world. It should be noted that they were never driven entirely by money. Even at their peak, tickets to shows and the prices of souvenirs were kept reasonable. Similarly
, the group insisted that CBS retail their double and triple album sets London Calling and Sandinista! for the price of a single album each (then 5), succeeding with the former and compromising with the latter by agreeing to sell it for 5.99 and forfeit all their royalties on its first 200, 000 sales. These "VFM" (Value For Money) principles meant that they were constantly in debt to CBS
, and didn't start to break even until around 1982.
Cover of London CallingGive 'em Enough Rope was the first Clash album to be released by a US label (though the UK release of the first album was a bestselling import in the US), and to support it the Clash went on their first tour of the US in early 1979. Their first album did not see an official release in the US until July 1979, then in a drastically revised form from the version that was released elsewhere. This included a roaring version of Bobby Fuller's I Fought The Law (originally from their Cost Of Living EP).
The band's critical and commercial breakthrough in the US came with London Calling, a double album released in December 1979. Besides straightforward punk
, it featured a much wider array of styles than the earlier albums
, including American-style rockabilly and reggae works that resonated with the ska movement in Britain. The album is considered one of the best rock albums ever produced, appearing at ..8 on Rolling Stone's recent "Top 500 albums of all time." Tracks such as "Train in Vain", "Clampdown" and "London Calling" show up with regularity on rock stations to this day. The album cover is a homage to Elvis Presley's self-titled first RCA LP.
The Clash followed London Calling with a triple album in late 1980, entitled Sandinista! (with the catalog number FSLN1
, from the Spanish initials of the Sandinista political movement
, Frente Sandinista de Liberacin Nacional). The results were mixed
, as the band continued their experimentation into reggae and dub ("Let's Go Crazy") and expanded into other musical styles and production techniques that included jazz ("Look Here"), hip hop ("The Magnificent Seven")
, chamber music ("Rebel Waltz")
, vocals by keyboard player Micky Gallagher's young son
, and "Mensforth Hill
, " a tape loop collage similar to The Beatles Revolution No 9.
Fans were confused and sales were down, although they were better in the US than previously. Following the release of Sandinista!
, The Clash went on their first world tour including venues in eastern Asia and Australia.
, The Clash returned with the best-selling of all their albums
, Combat Rock. Featuring the singles "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" it broke into the American Top Ten, and did the same in the UK. "Ghetto Defendant" featured Allen Ginsberg
, and "Red Angel Dragnet" referenced the film Taxi Driver.
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