#1000: 1978, The Clash, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais

by George_East on March 19, 2015

Well. We are here. 999 songs after we started with the rock n roll monument that is Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, Songs To Learn and Sing reaches four figures. The 1000th song.

As previously mentioned votes were cast and charts were compiled. This song was joint first. Ray North will reveal what it shared the top honours with. But for me there could be no other choice, as (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais is not just the greatest song not to have featured in Songs To Learn and Sing, but the greatest song of all.

It is the moment when punk was brought to an end by its greatest act.  Joe Strummer’s recognition, from the experience of seeing an overly commercial reggae show at Hammersmith Palais (with Dillinger, Delroy Wilson and Leroy Smart), that the money men had won and the idealism that had fuelled both reggae and punk as street based folk movements was over, was turned into a pivot to something greater. From the Westway to the World indeed.

Strummer’s insight laid bare in White Man was that in the end it was not the record company executives that destroyed punk, but rather the greed and tawdry ambition of the artists themselves ‘fighting for a good place under the lighting’.

‘The new groups are not concerned

With what there is to be learned

They got Burton suits

Ha, you think its funny,

Turning rebellion into money’

This though is not the sound of disillusionment but of an awakening. Of a need for The Clash and bands who shared their ethic to think bigger , leave the punk posturing behind and to commit to something larger. A call for unity (‘white youth, black youth’) and political commitment (‘why not phone up Robin Hood, and ask him for some wealth distribution’). A sign post that would ultimately lead to the London Calling album 18 months later.

As well as killing off punk in its subject matter, the musical style also spoke of greater ambitions, with its singalong reggae riff and ska beat – only their cover of Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves had hinted at this before. After this their previous single – the great but far more punk rock power riff based, Clash City Rockers – sounded like it had been recorded in a previous decade.

Even if the new groups were a let down, White Man showed conclusively that it was The Clash who held the torch for rock n roll’s essence. It was The Clash that still had that all important ‘roots rock rebel’.

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