In Music Discoveries, I find artists and bands that I’ve liked but have only listened to a small portion of their output, and do a complete listen of their discography. In the case of the Clash, this is a band I have listened to a more extensively but nevertheless have still found new-to-me music.
Back when the Clash was an active band I was a child who decidedly did not like punk music. Of course, I didn’t really know what punk music was since I basically equated it with heavy metal (and honestly I didn’t really know what heavy metal was either). I first became acquainted with the Clash like many mainstream Americans with their 1982 hit songs “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” In 1989, I was reading a “Best of the 80s” issue of Rolling Stone that ranked the Clash’s London Calling as the #1 album of the decade (despite being released in December 1979). I got a copy from the library and gave it a listen, surprised by what I heard and more surprised that I loved it.
A couple of years later, I started college and many of the people in my dorm listened to the Clash so I got exposed to their other recordings, including the more raw punk of the earlier days. And so, five years after the Clash broke up, I became a fan.
Lately I’ve been trying to learn more about the band by listening to a podcast produced by the BBC and Spotify called Stay Free: The Story of the Clash hosted by Chuck D of Public Enemy fame. That prompted me to give the Clash the Music Discovery treatment.
Album: The Clash
Release Date: April 8, 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Remote Control,” “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” “Career Opportunities,” and “Police & Thieves.”
The Clash come in with a roar on one of the most remarkable debut albums of all time. This is The Clash at their most raw, most punk rock, and yet already melodic enough to be appealing to squares like me. They even cover a reggae song, “Police & Thieves,” which was innovative at the time. The album also stands as a legacy of the social unrest, inequality, and racial strife of the UK in the 1970s.
Album: Give ‘Em Enough Rope
Release Date: November 10, 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Guns on the Roof,” “Drug-Stabbing Time,”
The sophomore effort feels more stripped down and raw than the debut, although the second side is poppier (and “Drug-Stabbing Time” sounds deceptively cheerful). Lyrically there’s a broadening of topical issues beyond the band’s experiences in London to global political events. This album doesn’t grab me as much as The Clash, but it’s still quality.
Album: London Calling
Release Date: December 14, 1979
Favorite Tracks: “London Calling,” “Hateful,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “The Right Profile,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Guns of Brixton,” “Death or Glory,” “Revolution Rock,” “Train in Vain”
It’s hard to find anything new to say about what many people consider one of the greatest albums of all time, except to say it is one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s hard to single out my favorite songs, although “Lost in the Supermarket” has always resonated with me. I wonder what it would’ve been like to hear this album for the first time in 1979. It must’ve been so unexpected for most listeners of the time.
Release Date: December 12, 1980
Favorite Tracks: “The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville, U.K.,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “The Sound of Sinners,” “Lose This Skin”
Almost a year to the date of releasing a double album, the Clash follow up with a triple album! Sandinista! is reminiscent of the Beatles “White Album” in it’s diversity of musical styles, large list of guest musicians, and the sense that one could pare down this sprawl into a great single album, but what would you cut? The new wave and “world music” sounds of the album seem to be years ahead of the rest of music world.
Album: Combat Rock
Release Date: May 14, 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Know Your Rights,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Straight to Hell”
Thoughts: The band’s best-selling album is more radio-friendly with tracks like “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” but I don’t think the band compromised too much for commercial success. Other tracks on the album like “Know Your Rights” hearken back to their early punk rock sound. And then there’s music that doesn’t sound like anything else ever made, like “Straight to Hell,” one of my all-time favorite songs by any band.
Album: Cut the Crap
Release Date: November 5, 1985
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: This is the much-maligned final album of the disillusioned remnant of a once great band. The songs are formulaic, recorded over cheezy 80s synth with shout-along choruses that sound like a crowd of drunken football supporters. It’s not terrible, but it it is boring, which is about the worst thing one can say about the Clash.
My Clash All-Time Top Ten Songs
Aramagideon Time (Live at Shea Stadium)
(NOTE: The live performance combines Armagideon Time with The Magnificent Seven which is not evident from the YouTube clip)
I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.
Know Your Rights
Lost in the Supermarket
Rudie Can’t Fail
Somebody Got Murdered
Straight to Hell
(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais