Songs To Learn and Sing Hall of Fame #2: The Clash

by George_East on May 21, 2014

The ClashWith my posting a couple of weeks back of Janie Jones  the lead off track from their extraordinary adrenalin fuelled eponymous debut West London’s finest became the second artist, after The Beatles, to enter the Songs to Learn and Sing Hall of Fame by having 10 songs posted in our daily song feature.

Like the Fab Four, The Clash had the good grace to split up at the top of their game and to never sully their memory by reforming on the nostalgia circuit  – despite being offered gazillions to do so.   The woefully premature death of Joe Strummer in 2002 put final pay to any remote prospect of it happening, though Jackie South and I did have the privilege of witnessing the brief but extraordinary reunion of Mick Jones and Paul Simonon doing a Clash set at the Hillsborough Justice Tonight benefit gig a couple of years back.

The Clash were the cool conscience of punk.   Famously forming after the Sex Pistols blew away Strummer’s Feelgood influenced pub rock band, The 101s, when they supported them at the Lord Elgin pub.  Strummer knew straight away that the world had changed and his old band were dead.   He joined Jones and Simonon and originally Keith Levene and The Clash were on their way.

A reputation as the greatest live band of the punk era soon had the majors sniffing around and a signing to CBS who they remained with through their entire career (there was no Pistols’ style label hopping).  The first album, one of the most purely energetic albums ever recorded, mixed songs about being young in London in 1977 (‘burning with boredom now…’) with songs with an articulate political edge that would mark The Clash out from their more nihilistic punk brethren, such as Career Opportunities (‘I won’t open letter bombs for you’), I’m So Bored With the USA and their in your face debut single, White Riot – about the apathy of the white population of the capital.   Perhaps though it was with that album’s cover and wholesale reinvention of Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves that The Clash really made their mark – the blend of punk and reggae, which would become one of their signature markers and the politics of urban policing and racism captured a specific moment in social history perfectly.

In Don Letts’ wonderful documentary about The Clash, From The Westway To The World, Joe Strummer, who was always the keeper of legend of The Clash, sought to articulate what made The Clash great and that was that all four members brought something different musically to the party.   Joe Strummer had his love of rockabilly and country,   Mick Jones had his Bowie and glam rock influences and later his discovery of hip hop, Paul Simonon the reggae which he had grown up surrounded by and which would give his bass playing its distinctive sound and Topper Headon , his love of the classic soul of Motown, Stax and Atlantic.

The Clash were the ultimate musical magpies – taking influences from anywhere they found them and everywhere they travelled, and making them their own.  It is why their albums become more expansive (at least until Sandinsta) with each record they put out.   The politics, the roots music from all styles and genres, the effortlessly cool rock n roll attitude, and the skills of one of the great songwriting partnerships in Strummer/Jones made The Clash at their peak, as they would be on 1979’s landmark London Calling unmatchable.   It was for good reason that it was named the allthatsleft greatest album of all time last year.

If Sandinista demonstrated a band perhaps without sufficient editorial control, it only did so because there were simply too many ideas floating around in the Clash by 1980.  It has to be remembered that as well as that triple album, it was a year when The Clash put out a single as great as Bankrobber without it even making the album cut.    Combat Rock marked the band’s swansong and showed, in songs like Rock The Casbah and Straight To Hell that they had a good deal more to offer.  However the pressures by then were telling as The Clash were at the peak of their success in the US, selling out stadiums as Combat Rock soared to No 1.  This was a success that Jones loved but Strummer saw as somehow a sell out.

Topper’s heroin related departure from the band and then the absurdity of Mick Jones being sacked at the behest of manager Bernie Rhodes (though by this time Jones’ relationship with Simonon had broken down to the extent that they could not bear to be in the same room with each other) saw the band’s final demise.  Although the Clash have sought to rewrite their own history to erase the memory of the Strummer/Simonon misfire that was the final record to bear The Clash’s name, 1985’s Cut The Crap, to ignore it completely would be to forget the last great Clash track, Strummer’s brutally brilliant state of the nation polemic in the light of the defeat of the miners’ strike by the Thatcher government, This Is England.

The first ten Songs to Learn and Sing by The Clash in the order of their appearance are:

1. #37: 1980, Sound of The Sinners;

2. #76: 1982, Rock The Casbah;

3. #238: 1979, London Calling;

4. #349: 1978, Stay Free;

5. #495: 1980, Bankrobber;

6. #573: 1977, I’m So Bored With The USA;

7. #621: 1979, The Right Profile;

8. #770: 1977, Career Opportunities;

9. #786: 1979, Clampdown;

10. #878: 1977, Janie Jones.

 

That’s 3 songs each from The Clash and London Calling, 1 song each from Give Em Enough Rope, Sandinista and Combat Rock and 1 song which was not on an album.

For what it’s worth, my top 5 Clash tracks (at least as of now – I find this really very hard as the Clash are my favourite band):

  1. White Man (In Hammersmith Palais);
  2. London Calling;
  3. Spanish Bombs;
  4. One More Time;
  5. Stay Free.

My top 3 Clash albums

  1. London Calling
  2. The Clash
  3. Give Em Enough Rope

Yours?

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ray North May 22, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Top five Clash Songs (absurdly similar to yours)

1. White Man in Hammersmith Palais
2. London Calling
3. Stay Free
4. Hitsville UK
5. Spanish Bombs

And, yes, top three albums same as yours.
Weird!

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