The members of the Clash were drawn together in 1976, at which point ìthe insurgent spirit of '60s rock was well and truly dead,' as Gilbert writes. The explosion of the punk scene in England that year gave rise to a rash of bands, 'who channeled the anger and frustration on the streets of gloomy mid-'70s Britain into a new kind of cauterising, anti-establishment rock ín roll.' The first indictments served by the Clash came in the form of their debut single (on CBS Records/U.K.), 'White Riot,' issued March 1977, inspired by Strummer and Simononís attendance at the riot during that yearís Notting Hill Carnival, Londonís annual Afro-Caribbean Festival.
'White Riot' set the pattern for the Clash ñ biting, politically charged lyrics underpinned by a musical bed that owed as much of a debt to the minimalist garage-punk ethic of the Stooges and MC5 as it did to Lee Perry and Londonís transplanted ska and reggae roots rockers. This sound that dominated their self-titled British debut LP of early, 1977, The Clash ('White Riot,' 'Londonís Burning,''ìIím So Bored With the U.S.A.,' 'Career Opportunities,' 'Hate & War,''Cheat,' 'Janie Jones,' 'ìGarageland,' and the cover of Junior Murvinís 'Police & Thieves'). Recorded over the course of three weeks, the LP quickly reached ..12 on the U.K. national chart. The Clash was established as a headline act in Great Britain and Europe from their very first tours.
True to British form, the Clash began recording and releasing new non-LP singles in mid-í77. Meanwhile, the debut LP had gone unreleased in America where import sales reportedly topped 100,000 units, making it the best-selling import in history. When Epic/U.S. finally released the album later in 1978, it was resequenced, various tracks were deleted, and several (though not all) of the post-LP U.K. single sides were added, notably Jamaican Lee Perryís one-off production of 'Complete Control,' a cover of the Bobby Fuller Fourís 'I Fought the Law,' and the most recent U.K. 45s, the infectious 'Clash City Rockers' and blistering '(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.'
With an eye and ear cast on America, the Clash was hooked up with producer Sandy Pearlman (of Blue ÷yster Cult renown) who worked with his new assignees in London, San Francisco and New York. Give íEm Enough Rope, issued worldwide (in one version) in November 1978, showed a tougher rock sound. Strummer found an intellectual peer in Pearlman and the bandís scope broadened to tackle (in Gilbertís words) 'international terrorism, murderous political regimes, and visions of an imminent English Civil War ('English Civil War,' 'Tommy Gun,' 'Safe European Home,' 'Julieís Been Working For the Drug Squad,' 'Stay Free').
The Americanization of the Clash may have been evident when they invited Bo Diddley along as opening act on their first U.S. tour in early í79. But it reached a peak of sorts with their third album, London Calling, released at the end of the year, produced by Guy Stevens, known for his work with Mott the Hoople. The ambitious double-LP set incorporated rockabilly, soul and R&B, even a taste of jazz ('London Calling,' 'The Guns of Brixton,' 'Clampdown,' 'Rudie Canít Fail,''ìLost In the Supermarket,' 'Jimmy Jazz,' 'Train In Vain'). The Clashís first platinum album would earn Rolling Stoneís endorsement years later as ìthe greatest album of the í80s.'
In order to accommodate the prolific outpouring of songs from Strummer and Jones, the even-more ambitious triple-LP Sandinista! was issued in late 1980 ('The Magnificent Seven,' 'Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,' 'Police On My Back,' 'Street Parade'). The Clash had become traffic-stopping front-page news by then, whose albums were paced with a flow of non-LP single sides and 10-inch EPs. A number of these sides (ìBankrobber,' 'Stop the World,' ìThis Is Radio Clash') would take a decade or more to show up on full-fledged album collections.
The machinations of the rock life caught up with the Clash in 1982, not long after the May 1982 release of their fifth album Combat Rock ('Ghetto Defendant,' 'Rock the Casbah,' 'Straight To Hell,' 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go?'). Ironically, the album gave the Clash its first real Top 10 hit and, at the dawning of MTV, a visual cue as well. 'Rock the Casbah,' though co-written by Headon, could not avert his ouster from the band. A year later, Strummer and Simonon decided it was time for Jones to depart as well (he resurfaced on Columbia in 1985 with Big Audio Dynamite).
The Clash forged on with one last album, Cut The Crap ('This Is England'), but their legend endured with collections and anthologies that wrapped up many loose ends ñ demos, live recordings, outtakes, non-album single and EP sides and so on ñ well into the '90s and beyond.
9th May 1977
Photo Credit: Jeff Good
"Keeping a Joe profile"
16th January 1981