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This page last updated
Tue, Apr 19, 2005 2:39 pm

Also by Tony Fletcher...

HEDONISM Tony Fletcher's debut novel is available mail order in the USA from Barnes& It's available mail order in the UK from or
More info on Hedonism here.

REMARKS REMADE The first ever R.E.M. biography fully updated with ten new chapters covering Reveal and beyond. Available at UK bookstores, and musicroom. Available at select stores in the States and through More info here

MOON The American edition of the Keith Moon biography is available in paperback at book stores,, and amazon More info here

DEAR BOY The British edition of the Keith Moon biography is available in paperback at book stores, and amazon More info here.

Limited hardback editions of Dear Boy/Moon remain available through, and barnes&

Never Stop: The Echo & The Bunnyment Story is out of print.


THE CLASH: The Complete Guide To Their Music


Available at all good U.K. bookstores and online through ISBN: 184449506X
(U.S. Publication to follow.)
Omnibus Press. Just £4.95

Read samples:
From The Clash: 'GARAGELAND'
Introduction to LONDON CALLING LP
From Sandanista!: 'POLICE ON MY BACK'
From Combat Rock: 'ROCK THE CASBAH'
The RUDE BOY movie

More Clash at iJamming!:

An interview with Mick Jones
A Tribute to Joe Strummer


From the punk fury of their 1977 debut The Clash to the sprawling global extravaganza of the 1980 triple album Sandinista!, The Clash traveled a greater musical distance in a shorter period of time than any rock band since (and maybe even including) The Beatles. Given the unparalleled speed of this musical (r)evolution, and allowing for the band’s confrontational (and contradictory) attitudes, it was perhaps no surprise that their most successful album, 1982’s Combat Rock, also proved to be their swan-song. Another album under a different line-up belatedly followed, but Cut The Crap has since been excised from ‘official’ Clash history as an aberration.

Five albums then, spanning some sixteen sides of vinyl, in barely five years. Of those albums, The Clash is rightly revered as the Great British punk statement, while the double album London Calling is widely considered an all-time rock’n’roll classic. Sandinista!, which caused considerable confusion at the time, grows ever more alluring with age, and Combat Rock, though inconsistent, contains the group’s biggest hit singles. Even 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope, buried in bad production, has more than its share of moments. Add in a series of groundbreaking singles released in isolation from these albums, a number of noteworthy B-sides, and a penchant for dub versions and extended remixes, and you’re looking at one of the most impressive catalogues in modern musical history.

Few would have anticipated this eventual assessment back when The Clash first made headlines, in late 1976 and early 1977, at the vanguard of punk rock. At that point, the London band’s simplicity was often mistaken for stupidity. It’s true that when The Clash came together, with a genuine desire to kick-start a streetwise musical revolution that would represent and reflect the disaffected British youth of the late Seventies, they played up any working class roots and minimised their musical smarts so as to distance themselves from the rock ‘dinosaurs’ against whom they were aligned. But behind their self-admitted ‘Stalinist’ denial of the past (in which 1976 was declared, with a nod to Pol Pot’s very Stalinist Khmer Rouge, as a musical ‘Year Zero’) stood some inherently intelligent and creative people....



The final song on The Clash was also the last to be written. Significantly, it’s the first occasion whereby The Clash sing about themselves as a band. Soon enough, this would become their calling card, an unfortunate inversion of the “everyman” persona that dominates the debut album. At the time of ‘Garageland’ the self-mythologising had yet to fully take hold, so while the inspiration for the song was personal – a damning review in NME that concluded of The Clash, “They are the type of garage band who should be speedily returned to the garage, preferably with the motor running,” – the lyric was broadened to include every band that ever aspired to make a noise for the sheer gleeful hell of it. (“Twenty two singers! But one microphone!”). With the twin guitars (again hard-panned) drenched in reverb, and Jones contributing occasional harmonica, one of the album’s strongest melodies finds Strummer referring to the group’s major record deal but, crucially, without the details that would have rendered the song specific to The Clash alone. Instead, in the final verse Strummer venomously disassociates himself from “the rich”. Those who found this amusing given his father’s diplomatic status and his public schooling perhaps missed the point. No one has a say in how they are born, but everyone has a say in how they choose to live as adults. Strummer had long ago made that choice, and on ‘Garageland’ he appears to be inviting every other dissatisfied middle and upper-class kid to follow his lead, leave home and come join The Clash’ revolution. Many would heed the call, and though some would come to question their leaders’ own allegiance, as its own answer to the album's unstated but constantly suggested question “Which side are you on?”, ‘Garageland’ provides The Clash with the perfect finale.

(UK album, December 1979, USA January 1980)

The Clash’s finest moment was born out of their darkest hour. The group had reached a precipitously low ebb by early 1979. There was the exasperating process of recording Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and the group’s own doubts with the finished album, despite its commercial success. There were awkward battles with the American record company over lack of financing for the first tour, and then the reality check of that nation’s industry norms (and occasional audience indifference) once they finally played across the Atlantic. Most frustrating were the ongoing legal battles with former manager Bernie Rhodes, who had frozen their assets and forced them to vacate their long-standing rehearsal space in Camden Town. Penniless and homeless, it was time to either put up or break up, and given that there was no talk of the latter, The Clash found themselves a permanent new rehearsal space, Vanilla, on Causton Street in Pimlico, just north of the River Thames, and focused all their energies in the only direction they really knew: the music.
Retreating into the security of their own solidarity, the group found their spirits lifted immediately and immeasurably, and were soon writing and demo-recording their most varied music to date. “Desperation – I’d recommend it,” said Strummer at the end of the year. “The problem seemed to relax us, the feeling that nothing really mattered any more.”

(Eddy Grant)

It says something for Sandinista!’s experimental approach that the song which sounds most like The Clash is a cover version. ‘Police On My Back', by Eddy Grant’s late sixties band The Equals, was a Clash tour bus favourite, and the group used it to ease into recording sessions at New York’s Power Station. Punctuated by a piercing high-pitched guitar riff courtesy of Mick Jones, and sung in unison by Jones and Strummer, ‘Police On My Back’ is a four-square rock anthem, the most clearly mixed, radio-friendly track on the whole triple album. Naturally, it was never released as a single. If it’s a truism that you can tell a group by their covers, then following on from ‘Police & Thieves’ and ‘I Fought The Law', ‘Police On My Back’ demonstrates that The Clash had yet to tire of their outlaw obsession.


Topper Headon had been carrying a self-composed piano riff around for years. At Electric Ladyland one day, before the other band members arrived, he laid down that piano part, with a crisp drum track and flowing bass line behind it. When the others showed up, they were immediately impressed and demanded to work with this ‘demo’. To protestations that it was only two minutes long, they merely spliced it and doubled it to form a full song. It was rare for The Clash to find Topper so productive, and equally rare to be forced to work with a short backing track: Bernie Rhodes had complained during the London sessions that everything was as long as “a raga”. Strummer now used that comment as a springboard for a lyric inspired primarily by the newly fundamentalist Iran, where people were being whipped for owning disco records. (As a boy, Joe had spent time in Iran with his diplomat parents.) His intelligent but witty lyric quickly established dancing as a natural human instinct, and imagined a Bedouin groove so intense that the King’s jet fighter pilots refused to put it down.

It’s a strong assertion of belief in the universal power of music, given further credence – and humour - in a video clip depicting a Sheik and an Orthodox Jew dancing (and drinking) round a swimming pool together as The Clash look on in bemusement. One person is missing from the scene: Nicky Headon, sacked just as the album was released. ‘Rock The Casbah’ stands as testament to the drummer’s all-round musical talents (the piano playing is as nimble as anything Mickey Gallagher ever contributed), but also to their waste. As all songs on Combat Rock were again credited to The Clash as a unit, Headon received no special compensation for ‘Rock The Casbah’, but his share in all the other songs ensured he could continue to finance his heroin addiction for years to come.


RUDE BOY (excerpt)

....Ray Gange proves a fascinating case study, if a terrible actor. He claims unemployment but works in a sex shop; he declares a determination to break out of his rut but when offered a chance to roadie for The Clash, squanders it through laziness and heavy drinking. Most disturbingly, but not atypically, he’s a Clash fan whose politics lean increasingly to the extreme right. There’s a fascinating, staged (but not necessarily scripted) scene in Brixton pub The Railway where Gange declares his desire to have “a lot of money, and a country mansion, and servants.” Strummer, who at public school would have been exposed to the offspring of the upper classes, tries to convince Gange that “There’s nothing at the end of that road, no human life or nothing.” The irony, of course, is that Strummer has the wits to make money, should he want to; Gange can only dream.

A late movie scene in a rehearsal room brings them back together. Gange, drinking Special Brew (and apparently unaware of his increasingly pathetic on-screen persona) complains that The Clash should stop mixing music and politics; a clear-headed Strummer plays ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ with a wry smile on his face as Gange slouches in a stupor round the room.


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2000-2005