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Mar 11

THE CLASH – “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”

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#661, 9th March 1991

March 1991. I’m coming to the end of five years as a scholarship boy at a top boarding school. It’s been – oh yes – an education. I’ve bullied, I’ve been bullied, I’ve hidden myself away, I’ve learned a lot about institutions and very little about the bits of real life that happen in between them. I’ve fallen for music. I’ve discovered – though I’ve no idea yet how important this will be – that I’m much more comfortable putting words into the world than I am a physical presence. And as such I’ve stumbled into being the nominal editor of the cosy, unrespected, unread school magazine.

What’s in this journal? It has endless reports of a sport only a few thousand people have ever played. It has indifferent landscape photography. It has an anonymous gossip column (which I write) mostly about the editors of its inky, photocopied school rival. Which also has an anonymous gossip column. Which I also write. It has creative writing – oh god, the creative writing. In my first week I’m sent a long poem in iambic tetrameter about the poet’s copping off with an unfortunate girl at a school disco. “She kissed me like a hoover would / A lot of suction. It felt good.” Reader, I published him. And faked a letter of complaint in the next issue.

What has this to do with that band of my fellow poshos, The Clash? Well, the magazine also publishes music reviews, of schoolboy bands. The bands are always awful, the reviews are by convention always encouraging. Except as a music lover I decide it is time to Take A Stand, and so I commission a scathing review of a particularly braying group whose repertoire is mostly punk rock cover versions. “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” among them.

I got the writer to take an obvious line – how nauseating to see the anthems of punk sung by the scions of the ruling class, blah blah. Good rabble-rousing stuff, utterly hypocritical of course. It was a fairly gross spectacle to be sure but there was a lot of emotion I wasn’t ready to examine lurking behind my reflexive hate. What I was really expressing wasn’t an incipient preciousness about punk authenticity but a more deep-felt unease and resentment about rock and the uncomplicated, well-worn hedonism it had come to represent. The boys getting up on stage and playing punk rock weren’t rebelling against anything much but they were doing more than I was, with my knotted, paralysed suspicion of everything. But if breaking out of that suspicion meant sinking into the cosiness of rock, was it really worth it?

And then suddenly “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” was at number one, and my personal identity crises were being played out across pop. It’s The Clash at Number One! But from a jeans ad! But still, The Clash! But so what? Half the NME got excited, half cued up the “He who fucks nuns….” quotes. As for me? I hated the song, and the band, even more.

But why? OK, the anti-Clash argument in a nutshell: they were – by this point, for sure – a big sloppy rock’n’roll hug, a four-headed walking reassurance that nothing had really changed in the 70s, that rock could still be about – could again be about – riffs and leathers and blokey mob-handedness. But more abstracted – they didn’t seem to be in it for sex or money or even religion, politics perhaps but also just a sense that rock was in itself still a good idea. The Clash Are The Rock’n’Roll Preservation Society: that was how their fandom came over by 1991. And maybe that wasn’t their fault, but all their branding – that “Last Gang In Town” stuff – seemed to point to it. It repulsed me. I didn’t want to join any gang that would have me as a member. How fortunate that no gangs were asking!

More than Queen, more than Maiden, more than B**** A**** even, this hit stank of the past, all the more strongly because so many people around me seemed to think it wasn’t the past. And so I find it very hard to listen to now – my dislike of it is still located in the vicious roil of being 17, semi-detached from the repetitive ramalama knock-off I hear when I put it on. I even like some Clash songs now, but not this. In the pub I suggested maybe it was their “Rainy Day Women” – an irritating crossover hit – but that’s not quite right.

So let’s strain for objectivity. Good chugalug riff. Vocals a bit clearer than usual – I like Mick Jones more than Strummer as a singer. The mood? I guess I quite like how the goof-off Spanish backing vox undercut the apparent tension in the thing, provide an illustration of the matey delights awaiting the boy if he goes, but the sullen, finger-jabbing attack of it reminds me too much of The Stranglers (and who would want this moaner to stay, anyhow?). And then the double-time bit starts and I just can’t keep up the pretence – I’m 17 again, and I still just hear this as rock music, and rock music as an institution, a school I can’t wait to leave.

3

Comments

  1. 1
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Mar 2011 #

    THREE???!!!

    Dear God!

  2. 2
    Jim5et on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Indie snobbery never dies!
    That’s not a criticism, by the way, it seems to be a universal truth. This is a pretty tedious record, listened to now – I never had much time for the Clash though I now associate them with my 5 year old who has an old vinyl copy of London Calling in hsi room which he plays endlessly. 3 is a bit harsh, but I’d not go above 5.

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Had never heard it before the advert but was vaguely familiar with a handful of their other previous hits. Love the guitar sound throughout, the rowdy vibe and the tempo shift towards the end stops it getting boring. 7 or 8 for me (Rock The Casbah being a 9).

  4. 4
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    “Rock The Casbah” is quite entertaining – way more so than this – but obviously best used by Will Smith.

  5. 5

    The Clash didn’t really make a habit of straight-ahead old-school love songs, so who is “she” meant to be? Allegorically, I mean — presumably she isn’t an actual person.

  6. 6
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #5 Apparently it IS – one of Meat Loaf’s backing singers.

  7. 7
    Matthew H on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Wow. That’s getting the boot in. Then I realise I’m pretty ambivalent about it – coming into pop in the early 80s, The Clash were already dinosaurs to me, and in 1991 this felt like a weary interruption in an exciting year (second term at university, off my box on Balearic/Italo dance music at all times). I appreciated the riff well enough but hated the clumsy double-time chorus, and dismissed The Clash altogether because I was into pissing off the rockists down the hall bar.

    Oddly, the reissue of ‘Train In Vain’ later in the year started to tickle my interest, but ‘Should I Stay…’ was too imperfect (maybe, ahem, too obvious).

    I ran a school paper too. It was mainly a vehicle for me to survey musical tastes, and ‘Thriller’ emerged as the school’s favourite single. My music teacher went for Ashton, Gardner & Dyke’s ‘Resurrection Shuffle’.

  8. 8

    “one of Meat Loaf’s backing singers” <-- ALLEGORY OVERLOAD

  9. 9
    Mark G on 29 Mar 2011 #

    I’d give it six, and remark that it’s, again, something I don’t need to hear ever again.

    Still reckon “Sandinista” the classic though.

  10. 10
    Steve Mannion on 29 Mar 2011 #

    “but obviously best used by Will Smith”

    not feeding the troll here ;)

  11. 11
    col124 on 29 Mar 2011 #

    What a tremendous review, though I’d argue the “3” is just too low–perhaps you should’ve recused yourself and put an asterisk in. & I think comparing “Should I Say” with “Rainy Day Women” is pretty on point–a friend once described the latter as “the Dylan song morons love,” harsh but relatively accurate in my experience. “Should I Stay” is in my bottom tier of Clash singles today: it’s repetitive and it just jabs away at you. In theory, it should be a 4 or 5, but I give it far too much leeway because of what the Clash meant to me at the time.

    Because when I was in my teens I certainly was in the group who considered the Clash “the Only Band That Matters” and the last great rock & roll band, etc. Perhaps the US perspective is different—the Clash, though they did get a couple hit singles towards the end of their career, never seemed like the rock establishment at all, or any sort of preservationist society—they weren’t played on the radio that much, so they still seemed like outsiders. Even in the late ’80s, they sounded fresh and adventurous, to the point where even their pop compromises (like “Should I Say”) seemed justified–the message getting to the masses, as inane as that seems now.

    So I suppose I’m coming at this record from the opposite end: I’m overrating it, because when I hear it now, I’m 17 again as well, but music like this was one of the few good things I had in going on in my life then–it represented getting out of my hometown, it suggested an alternative; it was the future. An 8.

  12. 12
    Mark G on 29 Mar 2011 #

    The rest of the band figured that as it was Mick Jones’ song, he should pick the b-side as well.

    To which he chose “Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite, forcing it to be a double a-side.

    Which somewhat annoyed the rest of the clash.

  13. 13
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    I should point out what I didn’t find space for in the review = that, yes, my characterisation of the Clash as firing the flames of anti-rockism in Young Tom is based on a hugely unfair appreciation of their output, which as Sandinista apparently shows had plenty of globe-trotting adventure. But you only need look at the sleeve of this reissue to understand that it wasn’t that side of them that was winning the legacy war in 1991!

    My favourite Clash song is the impeccably canonical White Man In Hammersmith Palais.

  14. 14
    Matthew H on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #11 I usually find that ‘Rainy Day Women’ is the song Dylan-haters use to bash him.

  15. 15
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Mar 2011 #

    # 7 – Your music teacher had good taste, Matthew!

  16. 16

    Re the legacy: Jon Savage wrote a powerful review somewhere* of the first compilation (1988 I think) as a disgraceful slab of band-approved revisionism, programmed and ordered to streamline their lamest and most mythologised dimensions, and edit away much of what was so contradictory (and therefore interesting) about them early on. Obviously all bands do this on their compilations, but the Clash were meant to be different.

    I actually quite like the bit where it speeds up, and dislike “Rock the Casbah” a LOT more.

    *It’s collected in Time Travel

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 29 Mar 2011 #

    This one positively reeks of JABOF! Their hearts weren’t TRULY IN IT were they?

    Oh, but I loved this song. And like many, who’ll cite White Riot or London’s Calling, or even Rock The fupping Casbah over this, I agree. It’s throwaway regurgitated shit, but I can’t help it. I should hate it, but the stupid opening riff and the back-of-the-studio hollering (Joe?) just set me up to get my feet stompin’ and fists pumpin’ with pavlovian regularity. I love it enough to give it a 9!

  18. 18
    flahr on 29 Mar 2011 #

    screamy bit + Spanish backing vox = 7

    best Clash song = probably “Lost in the Supermarket”

    Not a surprising Tomscore, it has to be said, but it’s nice to know he was at one point a teenager just as anti-authority and surly as doubtless Joe Strummer was :P

  19. 19
    will on 29 Mar 2011 #

    I don’t mind Should I Stay, but as a overall package it’s desperately lacking its original double A side. I wouldn’t describe myself as an affociando but Straight To Hell is a reminder that the Clash were always more than just skinny-jeaned rock revivalists.

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Re 13: The “globe-trotting adventure” always seemed like more grist to their myth, to show how well they understood the oppressed. The influences were rarely assimilated – how well does their take on Police And Thieves stand up against the Junior Murvin original, or London Calling/Sandinista! against subsequent black/white British pop – say, Massive Attack? It just doesn’t.

    The sight of them dancing in the background while b-boys break dance in Clash On Broadway is hilarious.

    And that’s without even mentioning the “last gang in town” stuff!

  21. 21
    col124 on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #20: I’d say the Clash’s reggae generally has held up okay. “Police and Thieves” is nowhere near the class of the original, but the intensity and the commitment of the band to the material is still compelling for me (the Clash were sort of like folkies when it came to reggae, for good and ill). Plus they generally had good taste: Junior Murvin, “Armagideon Time.” I like the Simonon reggae tracks in particular. Only real misstep is their version of “Pressure Drop,” which is a mess.

    but yeah, the hip-hop era of the Clash seems a bit ridiculous now (though I still like “Overpowered by Funk,” dumb as it is).

  22. 22
    Billy Smart on 29 Mar 2011 #

    More than any other band, the way that I respond to The Clash is dictated by context. Sometimes when I hear them they seem to completely hit a spot that nobody else ever quite has, finding a mythology and excitement in living in the city, and then placing the singer and listener within that narrative, the romanticism of which can be overwhelmingly exciting. And then often they just sound like a posturing rabble of fools to me. The best way to induce the first reaction is to listen to ‘London Calling’, the best way to induce the second is to play their dimwit version of ‘Police & Thieves’.

    ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’ is a song that has its own ideal context – as a 1982 double A-Side with my own favourite Clash song ‘Straight To Hell’, a vastly ambitious attempt to construct a global narrative of the sufferings induced by capitalism and colonialism that takes in deindustrialised Britain, US junkies and Vietmanese war babies. Having held himself up to ridicule by trying to achieve so much on one side of the single, Strummer and the listener has certainly earned the ability to derive goofy fun from ‘Should I Stay’.

    Heard on a sodding jeans advert nine years later, the song seemed to signify a dispiriting nothing. Turning rebellion into money, indeed…

  23. 23
    Billy Smart on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #21. Although ‘Police & Thieves’ raises my hackles, ‘Police On My Back’ – the Eddy Grant song on Sandinista – is the business.

  24. 24
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Three seems fair. A dull underacheiving song by a band that were capable of things far better, and even, just occasionally, quite special.

    But, let’s face it, a few gems apart, the Clash were basically the Who of their day – highly overrated and woefully inconsistent.

    The AA-side ( as I recall it being, but chart stats don’t now seem to back that up) by “Big Audio Dynamite 2” as I think they were styling themselves then would be lucky to get two out of ten, though. Sub-Pop-Will-Eat-Itself-more-or-less-before-they-went-properly-dancier drivel.

  25. 25

    I never listened to Strummer’s World Service radioshow (called “London’s Calling”, inevitably). But the clips of it that were used as a framing device in Julian Temple’s otherwise annoying and sloppy documentary — I hate Julian Temple! — I really rather warmed to; he came across (admittedly posthumously) as the genial uncle of worldwide rebel rock, and I was always happy he favoured Spanish-language rock so much, when almost no one else does.

  26. 26

    “almost no one else” –> ie in the UK

  27. 27
    Billy Smart on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: The Clash were notoriously television-averse because they meant it, man;

    ALRIGHT NOW!: with The Clash, Tom Robinson Band (1979)

    SO IT GOES: with Tony Wilson, Jon The Postman, Steel Pulse, Matthew Kaufman, The Clash, Ian Dury (1977)

    SOMETHING ELSE: with The Clash (1978)

  28. 28
    wichita lineman on 29 Mar 2011 #

    NOW! watch: SISOSIG opened disc 1 on Now 19, a very good selection on the whole, including Green Gartside’s final Everyhit bow:

    1. The Clash : “Should I Stay or Should I Go”
    2. Scritti Politti feat. Shabba Ranks : “She’s a Woman”
    3. The Source feat. Candi Staton : “You Got the Love”
    4. The KLF feat. The Children Of The Revolution : “3 a.m. Eternal”
    5. C+C Music Factory pts. Freedom Williams : “Gonna Make You Sweat”
    6. Nomad feat. MC Mikee Freedom : “(I Wanna Give You) Devotion”
    7. EMF : “I Believe”
    8. 808 State : “In Yer Face”
    9. Massive Attack : “Unfinished Sympathy”
    10. MC Hammer : “Pray”
    11. Kim Appleby : “G.L.A.D.”
    12. Kylie Minogue : “What Do I Have to Do?”
    13. >>bunnied<<
    14. 2 In A Room : "Wiggle It"
    15. Vanilla Ice : "Play That Funky Music"
    16. Jesus Love You : "Bow Down Mister"
    17. Enigma : "Sadness (Part I)"
    18. Praise : "Only You"

  29. 29
    lonepilgrim on 29 Mar 2011 #

    It seems appropriate for The Clash to have a hit as a piece of commercial nostalgia. I could never become excited by the band in the first rush of punk – never wanted to be in their gang -and for me they seemed left behind by bands from the post-punk era of the late 70s and early 80s. Their disdain for appearing on TOTP seemed to reflect a lack of populism which contradicted their stance of being down with the kids. I’ve become more tolerant of their music since then and don’t mind this too much but wouldn’t choose to hear it.

  30. 30
    Cumbrian on 29 Mar 2011 #

    In 2002, I went to T In The Park up in Balado. Being from Cumbria, it was actually the easiest festival to get to, a group of us decided we wanted to go to a festival and that was the natural choice. In retrospect, the bill wasn’t brilliant and, despite the weather being really very good, we actually spent an awful lot of time in the King Tut tent, where I think I finally understood heritage rock.

    Not The Clash exactly, obviously, but Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros. Stood at the back of the tent, it seemed I was in a crowd that hadn’t been seen anywhere else in the festival – everyone in the tent was probably 15 years older than us, maybe more in some cases; it is possible that every single person over the age of 50 at the festival was in the tent and a decent proportion of those who were over 40 were in there too. My first impression was that the band was pretty decent (in a vaguely competent but forgettable sort of way) but the crowd weren’t really into it. They finished their first song and launched into the next and everyone went crazy – 40 year old skinheads with arms around each other’s shoulders singing along to Rudie Can’t Fail, old blokes with actual tears in their eyes bawling along to every note and inflection. For me, it was pretty weird, I can tell you. Then the next track came along and the crowd went back to being utterly placid. Next up was Straight To Hell (I think) and everyone went crazy again.

    It seemed pretty apparent to me that no-one was there to hear any new material but to glory in the past and I finally understood why bands like The Stones can go on world tour after world tour whilst churning out stuff I thought irrelevant – it dawned on me that people just want to hear the stuff from when they were a kid, to feel like they used to when they first heard the song in question – Don Draper does all this stuff far better than me in the last episode of the 1st series of Mad Men. It’s pure nostalgia.

    I learned later that The Mescaleros were apparently none too happy about churning out The Clash stuff every other song whenever they played. Supposedly Strummer said, we’ll play them because that’s what people want to hear, so play them they did.

    6 months later, Joe Strummer was dead.

    What does this have to do with SISOSIG? Well, it’s in the charts because of the jeans but I suspect it sold because some were searching for that piece of nostalgia – enough to get it to #1. It doesn’t really have anything to do with 1991, or at least what I think of when I think of music from 1991 – even though, as Tom points out, it seems to be part of a general throwback that we’ve already seen in the entries for this year. It seems simply to be some people reliving their youth by buying a lump of plastic. And, as evidenced by what happened 6 months after I saw JS and The Mescaleros, if that’s what you want, you should grab it while you can – so good for those that bought it, in my view.

    I don’t mind some Clash, though unlike the consensus that appears to be developing up thread, I think Sandinista an unfocused mess that really needs the best stuff extracting from it to be worth listening to; I actually prefer the much maligned Give ‘Em Enough Rope. SISOSIG is not one of my favourites though – it’s a good riff but pounding the listener into submission with it is not the way I would want to go unless the riff is quicker in tempo or the song shorter. The double time bits, as others have mentioned, elevate the song, as do the Spanish shouts.

    And yet, marking on a curve, I really don’t see how this can be a 3. The last record marked at 3 that I think should be higher is She by Charles Aznavour, all the way back in 1974. I understand that Tom’s mark is a personal thing, coloured by his own formative years – but for me it’s a 5. Perfectly average and not much more.

  31. 31
    RDMcNamara on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Always thought ‘Protex Blue’ or ’48 Hours’ would have made more sense soundtracking that particular advert… It was a lazy thumbs-in-the-beltloop head-nodder in 1982, 1991,and in 2011. ‘Train In Vain’ proved that Jones could do that sort of thing well when the mood took him, but this is nothing-tossed-off stuff (maybe due to the fact the directions offered to him by BAD at that point were more appealing).

    4.

  32. 32
    Martin Schneider on 29 Mar 2011 #

    I have always thought there was something off about this song; I don’t enjoy it very much, and I was 13 when it was new, and didn’t have any particular baggage about it. It’s just *too* simple. To me it’s a form/content problem. The form is fine, but the content is moronic. I wouldn’t give it a 3, but I might give it a 4. There should be a wikipedia category for bands who hit #1 with one of their worst songs.

  33. 33
    Izzy on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Haha! Great review; precisely the wrong mark. I don’t know what the rest of you are doing, agreeing with it as if it were an objective thing. This is an 8. (Excellent post from Cumbrian too btw)

    Two things elevate it for me, the difference I guess being that for me they elevate it quite high. They’re the same things everyone else has identified – the double-time section and (especially) the call-and-response vocals. I’m reminded of the Eno bit quoted in Fortress of Solitude (I don’t know where it’s originally from I’m afraid) about the importance of the answering backing vocal in pop, how a disproportionate number of classic records have that feature. It’s those records’ way of enveloping us in the song, I think the argument was. This is one of the more unusual examples of the trick, but it pulls it off well.

    I heard a samba bloco doing this recently and it was quite wonderful. They (I suppose through necessity) went with a heavier beat throughout, effectively replacing the slightly pedestrian opening with the double-time bit (or triple-time or triplet-time, whatever it is that makes samba groove) all the way through, and it worked great.

  34. 34
    anto on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Excellent review even if the score is too low. Admittedly this is the one Clash song that Status Qua could cover and do total justice but it doesn’t even sound to me as if they’re holding it in high regard.
    The best bits of SISOSIG are when the singers are clearly taking the piss – Mick Jones’ camp TEASE!TEASE!TEASE! and Joe Strummers goofy Spanish (was Frank Black listening one wonders?)
    As number ones go it’s the definition of a pyhrric victory. I notice the time gap of Levis musical plundering had diminished since 1987.
    First a sixties soul favourite, then 70s rock by Steve Miller and now a song only 10 years old by a band whose fans would only really be starting to feel nostalgic. Unless I’m mistaken the Levis tracks that topped the charts after this would be contemporary.
    Like trousers, like mind indeed.

  35. 35
    hardtogethits on 29 Mar 2011 #

    I am staggered no one has attacked the lyric. As #32 says, the content is too simple. The Should I Stay Or Should I Go dilemma should be easy to present, but here it is all wrong. As a Viz reader once pointed out, if staying will be double the trouble of going, there’s no choice to make. Go.

    Then to compound the issue, there’s the phrase “Exactly who’m I’m supposed to be” – and this is definitely what is sung, lest anyone protest it’s “Exactly who’m I supposed to be?” If someone pleaded to me “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” and then introduced a phrase as ungrammatical as that, I would be suggesting we discuss the use of “whom” before discussing our future.

    These mistakes grate every time. I’m surprised at the general negative feelings towards the Clash, but this is not a good record. 3.

  36. 36
    Tommy Mack on 29 Mar 2011 #

    My response to the the standard Clash-not-proper-punk-blokey-rock-revivalism argument has always been that if blokey rock can be as sharp, visceral and fun as The Clash, then perhaps it’s not always a bad thing.

    I’ve always been a sucker for the last gang in town thing. In 1991 it probably seemed as old hat as it does in 2011 post several back-to-basics rock revivals from The Strokes onwards. But when I first caught onto it in the late nineties, when every other band was a gaggle of pudding-faced mouth-breathers with a string section, it seemed a thrilling escape: that music could be your life, your band your gang and that you could use your music as a recruiting drive for your gang. Although, once I discovered him, it was Adam Ant’s brand of band-as-gang rather than Strummer’s that appealed most to me.

    Plus it always seems that last-gang-in-town-haters are like 17-year-old Tom; uptight, self-righteous Morrissey fans suspicious of anything resembling fun: railing against rock’s blokeyness/revivalism/predictability while secretly, actually hating it’s messiness, momentum and joie-de-vivre: dismissing the like of the Clash as dead and dull and then raving over even more retro, predictable, safe stuff: the (imaginary?) enemy against whom Steven Wells used to rail.

    That said SISOSIG does seem to embody everything the Clash-haters are talking about: chuga-lugga mid-paced pub boogie. In 1991 aged 9 (actually, it was probably a little later once I got to high school), I heard it as an extention of people like Jason Donovan and Bros wearing leather jackets and quiffs in a late-eighties nod to the fifties: conscious and deliberate rock’n’roll revivalism. I didn’t realise it was seven years old.

    It’s far from their worst song; Lord knows they’ve recorded plenty of utter crap, but it’s probably the worst of their big hits (I even quite like Police and Thieves) probably a 6 for me, although I enjoyed it when it came up on random today, so maybe a 7 today!

    Fave Clash song, probably Guns Of Brixton, maybe Complete Control.

    Not sure about Will Smith doing …Casbah best, but I remember hearing Paper Planes and thinking it was great, but probably only coz it leant on a great Clash riff, then subsequently hearing Straight To Hell and thinking ‘Christ it’s a bit glum and slow compared to Paper Planes!’

  37. 37
    23 Daves on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #30 – Interestingly enough, I once shared a crowded tube carriage with a bunch of Clash fans on their way back from a Joe Strummer gig. There was a lot of excited chatter about the genius of the man, and all the great old songs he played, then suddenly one of them piped up: “I don’t know if I feel very good about this, to be honest with you”.
    “What do you mean?” asked another.
    “All this is just NOSTALGIA,” he said with some distaste, at which point everybody went completely quiet for thirty seconds or so, seemingly acknowledging he had a bit of a point. I obviously don’t know what they were thinking, but I suspect they were wondering if this was how they’d have seen themselves living in the 21st Century.

    As for me personally, I would go as far as to say that I hate The Clash. I once houseshared with a very good friend of mine who worshipped Strummer and I explained that I didn’t like the band, to which he loaned me some books about them. I read one, then disliked them even more. I’m not against bands using mythology to further their image, but The Clash embraced such hoary old cliches that I found them hard to admire – of the million and one possibilities punk offered, they took the fifties outsider rebel idea and regurgitated it. Then there was the small problem of Strummer seemingly embracing myth purely to cover up some uncomfortable truths about his own background, which other bands of the era would have been lambasted by the press for. The Clash, however, were regarded as somehow exempt and “special”.

    Then there’s the music, which is mostly unimaginative and hectoring. As Julian Cope pointed out, “White Riot” is little more than a tinny Glitter Band stomp, and as I’m fond of highlighting, “The Call Up” is dull and obvious, a real stinker of a single by the standards of anyone in the era. When I first saw the promo clip for the latter, I actually collapsed with laughter at the image of the letterbox having planks of wood nailed over it. Did anyone find any of that posturing and any of that hackneyed imagery powerful?

    “Should I Stay or Should I Go” itself is barely much better, being – as several posters have already commented – moronic rock and roll which sets out its stall within the first thirty seconds and then fails to achieve much more. It’s a dumb-ass riff, and admittedly a good dumb-ass riff which could in itself sustain the idea were it not, once again, for the prevailing tinniness and the lack of drive the track has. It slopes along until the chorus and the finale, at which point the band go batshit with their ramshackle thrashing, but somehow sound as if they’re merely pissing around in a rehearsal room somewhere. It sounds too cool for school and lacks commitment, which in a nutshell is actually my major problem with a lot of their output. Perhaps if I’d been born at a different time and seen them live, I’d have got it, but as somebody listening to their studio output, all I hear is a band who are too vain to truly have an impact on me personally, too terrified of the idea that their masks might slip if they break into too much of a sweat.

    I was once nearly punched by a Clash fan when he overheard me slating Strummer in a pub (and this was long after Strummer had died, incidentally). He left the bar in a strop instead, and I was warned I’d had a “lucky escape” by his friends. I’ve had other aggressive reactions from fans when I’ve stated my case, which reminds me entirely of the responses the Sex Pistols got when they wore “I Hate Pink Floyd” t-shirts. Part of the reason I feel some people in my generation struggle with The Clash is because they’ve become sacred figures, Mojo reader favourites, and we have utterly different associations to their original set of fans. Even bearing their original impact in mind, however, there were plenty of more challenging, interesting punk bands to get behind at the time than this lot, who really were just the rockist’s choice. To me, they’re just a puzzlement, another case of the general public siding with the mediocre option.

    Oh, and “Top of the Pops”? There’s a common theory that The Clash failed to embrace television for the pure and simple reason that they came across as berks on the box, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with their desire not to sell out. Had that been a particular issue, they’d never have signed to CBS. I’d better stop. I really could just be here typing all day.

  38. 38
    Izzy on 29 Mar 2011 #

    That ‘whom’ is grammatically correct, no? The person ‘I’m supposed to be’ isn’t doing anything, so it’s ‘whom’ not ‘who’. Your assumption that it’s short for ‘who am’ is not, I think, correct.

    (Is this the most boring critique of The Clash ever, or what?)

  39. 39
    Tommy Mack on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Re #24: Good call with The Who comparison: both at their best, a mix of power-pop melody and propulsive rock thrust, but both with a fair chunk of shouty, stompy near-misses to their name.

  40. 40
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Mar 2011 #

    No, it can’t be “whom” because the verb “to be” is copulative — it links the subject not with an object but with a predicate, which will share the same case as the subject. As in “Who am I supposed to be?”

  41. 41
    Cumbrian on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #36/#37: In between the third paragraph from Tommy and the penultimate paragraph from 23Daves, there is probably something interesting to be said about quite how bands (and perhaps this band in particular) inspire such a polar opposite reaction from some sections of music lovers.

    But I’m half way through my third beer and England are playing a relatively interesting game of football against Ghana (probably because Ghana really want to win and we’ve given a chance to a bunch of players described as second choice but should actually be first choice), so I’m buggered if I can articulate it properly.

  42. 42
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Mar 2011 #

    @40: oops I think I mean the complement shares the same case as the subject — the predicate is a slightly different thing. This is the best Clash discussion I ever had.

  43. 43
    RDMcNamara on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #37 – re. the “Mojo reader” comment.

    Yep, I wonder what the Strummer of ’77 would make of ‘White Riot’ appearing on Total Guitar magazine CDs and the like these days… They’ve certainly got the muso tag hanging around them now, I suppose that is the old “real music” versus “manufactured crap” divide happy to have any one who slings a guitar round their neck into the former camp. Even that needs to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt give Paul Simonon was given the role in the first place purely because he ‘made the bass look cool’

    In a parallel universe we’d be talking about ‘Complete Control’ at number one. There’s a 10 if ever there was one. Acerbic, funny, spontaneous… One “I don’t trust you/so why do you trust me?” is worth a million ‘Last Gang In Town’ proclamations.

  44. 44
    Cumbrian on 29 Mar 2011 #

    The comments on Complete Control thus far are dead on for me, probably my favourite Clash track and released in the sweet spot between The Clash and Give Em Enough Rope, when they also released White Man In Hammersmith Palais, which I reckon is their high water mark.

    First enjoyable England match in ages – who knew we could have an interesting international football match nowadays?

  45. 45
    Billy Smart on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #43/44 And produced by Lee Scratch Perry, too, the use of space and echo creating a far more convincing Clash-reggae than ‘Police & Thieves’ was.

  46. 46
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Plus it always seems that last-gang-in-town-haters are like 17-year-old Tom; uptight, self-righteous Morrissey fans suspicious of anything resembling fun: railing against rock’s blokeyness/revivalism/predictability while secretly, actually hating it’s messiness, momentum and joie-de-vivre: dismissing the like of the Clash as dead and dull and then raving over even more retro, predictable, safe stuff: the (imaginary?) enemy against whom Steven Wells used to rail.

    Haha guilty as charged! (I was a terrible puritan at around this point) BUT remember this is 1991, around the time of “Kill Uncle”, so even the Morrissey fans weren’t Morrissey fans then. If you’d asked me at this point who the most exciting band in the world are I’d have said, without a second’s hesitation, Public Enemy.

    Who, of course, were in rockcrit terms – i.e. the terms I approached them on – the TOTAL 1991 EQUIVALENTS OF THE CLASH except with rather better beats, but they traded on us-against-the-world vibes more than almost anyone (and I doubt any of Strummer’s hangers-on ever said anything as stupid as that Professor Griff quote). Obviously I’d still rather hear “By The Time I Get To Arizona” than anything in the Clash discography but there was a certain hypocrisy involved nonetheless.

    And yes you’re right that a lot of the “last gang in town” irritation comes from the fact that they have ended up being very far from the last.

  47. 47
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    As for Swells, I doubt that there are many guys who’d have passed one of his purity tests, and I doubt that was the point of them anyway. :) I remember reading them feeling that right was on MY side and not on the side of the Clash-worshipping revivalist false punk boyrockers he rightly loathed: part of his talent was to make you feel, mostly, you were on his side.

  48. 48
    Tom on 29 Mar 2011 #

    (this thread has been great so far by the way – this was one of those posts where I hit publish with a sense of impending doom and I have been very pleasantly proven wrong)

  49. 49
    anto on 29 Mar 2011 #

    By the way can I say how fortunate it was that the young Noel Gallagher wasn’t discouraged by the criticism of his touching poem
    ” She Kissed Like a Hoover “

  50. 50
    thefatgit on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Another thing, SISOSIG represents the kind of laddishness that came to the fore in the 90’s. Something about that decade created a kind of post-feminist backlash, the Loaded culture. The dumb-ass nature of this will get me up on the dancefloor, windmilling like a loon as the double-time kicks in, and that’s what I love about it, but the truth is we’re seeing The Birth Of The 90’s Bloke, rising from the corpse of the 50’s rebel/outlaw. And that makes me feel uncomfortable, because I could so easily become that archetypal binge drinking, free spending, boorish lout at the drop of a hat. The type that Cumbrian describes so eloquently above. James Brown would argue it was Primal Scream’s Loaded, but I’d argue this had The Bloke Factor cranked up to maximum. You can dance with a girl to Loaded, not to this though.

  51. 51
    ace inhibitor on 29 Mar 2011 #

    I don’t like SISOSIG, but to me the Clash’s saving grace was always, precisely, the clunkiness of it all; the slightly ham-fisted reggae on police and thieves, the earnestly political lyrics that didn’t quite scan or rhyme (you have the right! not to be killed! murder is a crime! unless it was done, by a police-mun!), the shoe-horning in of every world musical style they were ever taken by – these are endearing things, to me. Despite the last gang in town stuff, there was little sense of studied hipster sneer that always turned me off the Stones, or the Stone Roses. This was down to Strummer, I would have thought, who always came across in interviews like he didn’t care if he came across like a prat. Which always meant when they did get it right it sounded thrilling because it seemed such a struggle for them to get there.

  52. 52
    hardtogethits on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #40 (and #42) Thanks for the back up!

    #38 Explicitly, I said the line in the song is NOT “Exactly who’m I supposed to be?” and so you are wrong to suggest this was my assumption.

    As for the use of the word “whom”, it is wrong. It would work for me if the song went ungrammatical as the subject passionately began to express himself in the vernacular – no-one minds that kind of thing. However, here he’s unnaturally grammatical, overly-formal and, to cap it all, wrong.

    Equally, if the subject were defined by his odd grammatical style, the “whom” line would fit well in a song which concluded: “Can you please let myself know, Shall I Stay Or Ought I To Go?”

  53. 53
    Cumbrian on 29 Mar 2011 #

    #50: Hmmm. An interesting perspective. The bloke I am describing at #41 could very easily by my father though (a former secondary school teacher, who home brews his own beer, and still unwinds by watching some sport and having a pint or two once or twice a week). It was in fact me I was describing – I have basically allowed myself to accept, bordering on my 30th birthday, that I am turning into my Dad.

    I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this necessarily; the trick is knowing when to switch it off (and my girlfriend is out tonight herself, so watching the game and having a beer after a day in the office was an option). Dad knew/knows when to switch it off – I’ve never seen him pissed in my memory – and I’d like to think that he taught me to behave in a similar way. The real issue for lad culture in the 90s, as far as I can tell, is the brakes coming off, for whatever reason.

    That said, I am also aware that 2 or 3 beers don’t improve my ability to make coherent points, particularly when there is probably a need to be insightful, which is why I backed off the subject I raised in the first paragraph of #41!

  54. 54
    Mark M on 29 Mar 2011 #

    About three years earlier at a very similar educational institution to Tom’s, I was also attacking the bands at my school in print (this time the scrappy weekly newsheet) on the grounds that playing punk rock at this stage in history was about the most reactionary activity possible (and, indeed, citing Public Enemy – along with Pixies, M/A/R/R/S and the Sugarcubes – as what was good out there. Quite how diabolical one of those bands would have been if they’d directly tried to mine those influences doesn’t bear thinking about*).

    I’m ambivalent about The Clash – I hate the last gang nonsense, a lot of the posturing, the production on the first album, the rank idiocy of White Riot, the political incoherence, etc. As discussed here a couple of years ago, Sean Rowley’s starting point for the whole Guilty Pleasures thing was the assumption that The Clash are the core element in anyone’s record collection – I always felt he must’ve known the most diabolically dull people on earth. But I do sort of quite like a number of Clash songs, although I don’t think I’d ever want to hear more than one at a time.

    *That said, a vague long-term acquaintance of mine has had a very successful career whose initial impulse has often been described as colliding all that late ’80s stuff together…)

  55. 55
    heather on 29 Mar 2011 #

    Over-rated band, and a re-release, but it does have a nice bassline.

  56. 56
    Billy Smart on 30 Mar 2011 #

    For your reference, here’s the 1991 Levis commercial;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tBop3IKBdQ

    Its hardly the fridge or the bath, is it? The stop-start riff of ‘Should I Stay’ makes it an especially appealing song to use as a template for edits, though.

  57. 57
    will on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Re 50: Wasn’t it around this time that the same pre-Loaded James Brown put The Clash on the cover of NME with the cover line ‘Still The Greatest Rock N’ Roll Band In The World?’

    Re 30: Cumbrian’s comment about SISOSIG having nothing to do with the music of ’91 – there’s an argument that with this ad Levi’s were actually slightly ahead of the curve. Early ’91 is when the first traces of punk revivalism can be heard across indie land – The Manic Street Preachers had just released Motown Junk, were sporting white stencil-shirts and looking and sounding not like the pre-White Riot Clash.

  58. 58
    swanstep on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Blimey, I don’t get the problems people have with this one (or The Clash more generally) at all. SISOSIG is in the same genre as My Sharona, Wild Thing, Louie Louie, Stepping Stone,… call it ‘dumb rock’. Everyone who’s been in a band has tried to write a dumb rock song, and has duly found out that they’re bloody hard to pull off convincingly. There has to be some special way in which your voices work together and/or some way in which you attack your instruments so that the whole thing ends up sounding fresh and newly explosive rather than plodding. I think the Clash clear the mark nicely here, it’s a fun record and every bit of it from the drums up has great ‘played dumb’ feel to it. The Jeans ad is new to me – that’s a horror I agree. I also agree that it’s generally hard to sort out ones feelings about re-issues or to commensurate their scores with others given, but sub-par scores are just silly:
    7 (8 on the right day)

    @35, hardtogethits. Your objection to the lyric strikes me as poor. All other things being equal, staying is much easier/cheaper than going. The lyric then just says that that’s complicated by a trouble factor, t, that’s doubled in the case of stay.

    aotbecost(stay) << aotbecost(go) You think that it's obvious that aotbecost(stay)+2t > aotbecost(go)+t

    But it isn’t, hence the singer searches for some further information that’ll bound t. Jesus.

  59. 59
    Izzy on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Review and #54: you’ve reminded me that I have my own newsletter review nightmare around this period, but as it concerns a no.1 from later this year I shall keep schtum for now. Clearly something in the water circa 1991 though.

  60. 60
    vic cowling on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #25 mentions Joe Strummer’s show on the World Service, which I did listen to at the time. I’d seen the Clash a handful of times back in Bristol and I was now in Savannakhet, Lao PDR. I sent Joe a fax (it was ’98 or ’99) saying who’d have thought back in ’77 that he and I would now be doing what we were doing & asking him a few questions and suggesting a few discs to play. I got a hand written fax back from the man, with careful answers to my questions, and comments on the discs I suggested e.g. that he always put Yeh Yeh by Georgie Fame on the jukebox and so on. I was mighty pleased with that and agree that he seemed a very decent bloke

  61. 61
    JonnyB on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Really interesting to read all these comments as I kind of thought that not being wowed by the Clash was my own unique failing as a serious music lover yadda yadda yadda. That said, I’ve never been driven enough to investigate beneath the surface of the well-known ones; when I’ve heard other tracks it’s just been guitar-landfill wallpaper to me.

    SISOSIG – Rainy Day Women or My Ding a Ling – it’s an earworm, but also smacks of one of those annoying bands-pissing-about extra tracks that would have been hidden after the end of the CD had it been in another era. I guess it is the contrived laddishness that grates most with me – almost too calculating. I can imagine One Direction doing it on the X Factor.

    Is that enough to mark it down to a 3? Probably not. Its, and the band’s, sacred cow status make it tempting to over-slate. So I’ll go a low 5.

  62. 62
    punctum on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Arising as they did from the 19th-century Ranter tradition, The Clash did not deal so much in terms of “records” as they did with communiques, samizdats, bulletins. Singles like “White Riot” or “English Civil War” or “Know Your Rights” are less “songs” than progress reports from the frontline, agitated leaflets…proto-blogposts, if you must. Had the internet been in existence in ’77 one gets the feeling that there would have been endless downloads, randomly mixed.

    The cruciality of “nowness” to The Clash is one of many reasons why the current push to insert their square peg into the round hole of Rock History is so misguided. Yes, in many ways Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were helpless traditionalists, hopelessly in love with the scratched 45s they lifted from Shepherds Bush Market, romantically devoted to the bloodied fire of Gene Vincent and Joe Gibbs. But they never really fitted into any schemata to do with rock or pop. Technically they fumbled gloriously, virtually to the end; their fervid assault on Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac” is akin to fifteen-year-old kids in the garage who’ve just learned the chords and haven’t yet had the passion burned out of them. Both vocals and guitars studiously avoided “virtuosity” – so the attempt to do an Animals/Kinks-style R&B rocker with “Should I Stay” is as punk, if not punkier, than the Seeds or the Elevators; vocals collide into each other, Spanish interjections yelled in the background for reasons obscure, guitars clicking with the hum of their dodgily fused wires, Paul Simonon’s ultra-fuzzed bass (possibly doubled up with a synth bass in an askew nod to New Pop) the production all over the place as though the group were using the desk slides as a bouncy castle.

    The Clash never really trusted pop, nor pop them; their unbroken boycott of TOTP helped to ensure the absence of any top ten singles within their lifetime (their biggest was “London Calling” which tellingly and symbolically stopped at #11, as though locking themselves out of the palace), but was there any more pop in them than Pop Art – those early Pollock splashes on the backs of their leather jackets which unpeeled easily in the wash?

    Their magic was that it didn’t matter. That the double-headed alarm bell of “White Riot/1977” sold well enough to put them into the Top 40 was wonder redefined; but “Complete Control” and “White Man In Hammersmith Palais,” pop or not, are two of the greatest singles ever recorded, and the fact that they so palpably did not “belong” in charts filled with Boney M, Brotherhood of Man, the Barron Knights and Smokie made them all the more important. Witness how “Complete Control” starts off as a standard, thrashy rant against their record company and touring schedule (so jaded already, boys?) but then midway through – thanks in great part to producer Lee Perry’s Constructivist use of echo, and in common with its chart contemporary, the Pistols’ “Holiday In The Sun” – the structural dummy is cut loose, words start spreading and flooding over bar lines, it stops being a song and starts to become a rant, a hysterical plea for the original punk spirit, already in its dying throes, to be reclaimed and preserved. No wonder Dave Lee Travis was so angry – not grumpy, but actually and vividly angry – to have to play it on his chart rundown show; after all, it seemed to justify the destruction of everything else in that, or any, chart. Meanwhile, “White Man” sees Strummer slowly losing it; at first outraged, and then bereaved, by his discovery that other cultures deal in entertainment as much, or more, as they deal with any “struggle,” the record is the most acute of warnings against misunderstanding cultures in which you do not personally have a hand. The singer, rather than the song, collapses this time; ranting about the imminent rise of the New Right, he ends up squatting in a bleak, cobwebbed corner of the dancehall – “Mister, just leave me alone/I’m only…looking for fun.” Is his idea of fun the suffering of others? The song asks the most crucial of questions – and he can find no answer.

    They never made an album that was listenable all the way through, but neither did they make an album that wasn’t indispensable. Thus the Rolling Stone-venerated London Calling is largely an incoherent mess – but what music lover in their right mind would give up “Guns Of Brixton” or “Lost In The Supermarket” or “Spanish Bombs” or the title track or even, or especially, “Train In Vain” (the latter the closest The Clash ever got to understanding “pop”)? Likewise, the three albums which comprise Sandinista! are a gruelling trawl in one listen, yet the record is not that far away from Metal Box in its (ab)use of dub techniques or its serene overlooking of song structure, and it still yielded three key singles – “The Call-Up,” “Hitsville U.K.” and “The Magnificent 7” – the latter at a time when rap music in Britain was still viewed as a novelty on a par with the Smurfs.

    It helped the reception of Combat Rock that it was released in May 1982, unwittingly at the height of the Falklands war – as New Pop beamed benignly, Strummer and Jones put themselves in the muddled boots of the weary soldiers, trooping towards a preordained death. Songs – if songs they be – like the drowning psychedelia of “Straight To Hell” or the album’s terrifyingly peaceful closer “Death Is A Star” which latter sounds like atomised skeletons clanking their way through the remnants of a piano in a shattered cocktail lounge – sounded as though they came from a different planet, an irretrievably remote world of shattered limbs and imploding lungs.

    “Should I Stay,” released as a double A-side with “Straight To Hell,” was the third and most successful single to come from Combat Rock, peaking at #17; while “Rock The Casbah” went top five in America, it struggled to get to #30 here, sounding utterly lost in a changed world. But by 1991, years after the group had disintegrated, the world had changed again, and not wholly in their favour. The stalwart anti-capitalists finally made number one (a) at a time when they had ceased to be an active threat (is there another theme developing here?) and (b) as a consequence of the latest Levi’s commercial. By then The Clash’s history had been clumsily rewritten for official media purposes – thus 1985’s Cut The Crap, which even without Jones may still be their best album (since in tandem with the same year’s This Is Big Audio Dynamite, it makes the perfect Sandinista! 2), has long since been erased from the record, the better to preserve their preservative status. Sony tried to railroad the band into reforming but they, rightly, were having none of it. Meanwhile, the second, historical wind of “Should I Stay” helped cement them as pioneers worthy of Jeff Bridges’ “phew!” – but the record itself, thankfully, remains too shambolic, too quixotically elusive, to frame them in any Classic Rock weariness.

  63. 63
    weej on 30 Mar 2011 #

    This is the second of the four consecutive number ones I bought at the time, and the only one I thought I could seriously defend. Looks like I was a little off the mark there!
    Anyway, yes, “objectivity” – aged 11 I had no idea of who The Clash were, and almost no idea of what even punk was. This was just a song that seemed exciting and interesting, so I went out and bought it. Listening to it now it’s lost a good deal of its lustre, but I can still enjoy it on its own terms without any “rockist” baggage. Early Clash is something I didn’t really hear until a good five or six years later, and just seems like a completely different band without much bearing on SISORIG. Rock The Casbah is the same period, but I’ve never really liked it, partly because the message gets in the way of the song, but mainly because I can’t stand the ridiculous sound effects layered over the verses.
    So, a ‘3’ seems a bit unfair, not because there’s any level of respect needed, just because it’s an enjoyable song on its own terms. To be fair though, I’m sure I’ll have an equally strong reaction to certain number ones in 97-99. An ‘8’ from me.

  64. 64
    vinylscot on 30 Mar 2011 #

    When I heard this, first time around, I was pretty sure it must have been a cover. As some of you quoted upthread, it could have been played by Quo; it is a dumb pop/rock song, but a good-ish one, reminiscent to me of a sort of Monkees-type fun. (and also, a little, of T.Rex, circa 20th Century Boy, also given the Levi’s treatment) All crazy wacky laddishness, most unlike The Clash.

    My own favourite Clash album was/is Sandinista!, although I would possibly agree it could have been compressed into an even better double. Marcello’s post covers just about all I would have to say about them and this track,(and much more obviously!)

    It goes without saying that this is not the one which should have given them their #1, but I’d probably have gone with a 6.

  65. 65
    Mark G on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Returning to the song itself, I do have to say that a lot of MJones’ songs seemed like he was joking/being ironic at the time. So, punk was all about tearing down the barriers and representing, and you’re rewriting “I wanna hold your hand” via the NYDolls/Stones? Hmmm…. must be taking the proverbial.

    If you ever get to hear “Ooh baby ooh (it’s not over)” you will be struck by how it’s actually the backing track of “Gates of the West” as released, with different lyrics.

    To be fair, after the event, stuff like “1-2-crush on you”, “Train in Vain” and this one are perfectly fine songs out of context, they only ‘suffered’ within the ‘revolutionary spirit’, funnily enough.

    It’s just a shame “Train in Vain” wasn’t the one that got the ad-break. but then again, having an ‘irrelevant’ title maybe didn’t help (was it a working title for the backing track?)

  66. 66
    Conrad on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Great summary Marcello, and great thread

    “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” is probably in my all time Top 10 singles, although like many others I have no great liking for Should I Stay, though the riff is fun. It’s the double time bit that puts me off – if Bon-Scott era AC/DC had recorded it they would have had no issue pummelling the riff and building the dynamics more subtly, but I guess they were better musicians.

    “Straight to Hell” generally got the most airplay in 82, certainly on The Top 40 rundowns.

    A 5 or 6 from me. 7 if part of the original double-A

  67. 67
    Tom on 30 Mar 2011 #

    re Swanstep’s “dumb rock” – yes I can hear that, but I don’t like any of those records either ;) More evidence of my anti-dumb prejudices – my grudging 6 for “You Really Got Me”, which now sits happily in the readers top 10 number ones.

    (There was an Ian Penman article in the Wire once about stupid v stoopid which talked about this stuff a bit, my copy is in France tho. I remember thinking, yes, that’s an interesting distinction, but I’m not that keen on either.)

  68. 68
    Cumbrian on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Tom: You gave You Really Got Me a 7 – which seems fair enough to me.

    I’ll go back to Pedants’ Corner now.

  69. 69
    Tom on 30 Mar 2011 #

    I did? Wonder what I was thinking of then!

  70. 70
    punctum on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #67: Actually written by Chris Bohn.

  71. 71

    Was it Penman or Chris Bohn? The latter is a very extremely lovely fellow, but an even bigger puritan than Tom-at-17.

  72. 72

    haha MOAR ROOM NEEDED IN PEDANT’S CORNER

  73. 73
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Re #69: You gave Tired of Waiting a (perhaps slightly stingy) 6.

    Re #58: swanstep’s pantheon of dumb rock, I don’t reckon SISOSIG is up there with Wild Thing, Stepping Stone or Louie Louie (probably still my favourite record of all time) which genuinely sound as if the people playing them are a genuinely a little unhinged, the whole thing constantly threatens to collapse into chaos or errupt into violence. SISOSIG is more on a par with My Sharona – good stomping fun, good to dance to (despite it’s blokeyness I’ve seen plenty women dancing to it*), not quite thrilling. As punctum says at #62, it’s got enough raw edge to give it a bit more oomph than Sharona, Quo et al, though Sharona is that bit quicker…

  74. 74
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #53, Cumbrian, you’re right that you can switch the blokeyness on or off, depending on the surroundings and who you’re with. The loss of control, and the “brakes coming off” will of course come later. I’m not saying that the real ale drinking, shed-dwelling bloke is in any way related (except maybe a generational divide?) to the kind of bloke I described in my post @50. In fact, they’re not the same at all. And the 50’s rebel rocker, that seemed to be the template for The Clash’s image, if they cared about image at all, is at odds with the very same real ale drinking, shed-dwelling bloke who might have baulked at Dylan plugging in during the 60’s, or Dr Feelgood playing anything other than The Blues during the 70’s. But still, the blokeyness is there in spades.

    I wonder how (when Joe Strummer with his Mescaleros might have chosen to stick to their guns and only played their current stuff in that tent in Balado) those nostalgia-seekers would have reacted…shuffled away muttering to themselves…or hung around for an encore that wasn’t to come? It says a lot for Joe that he indulged those Clash fans. The best entertainers know instinctively to give ’em what they want. He may have started as a banner waver, but deep down he was always an entertainer.

  75. 75
    Tom on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #70/71 – thought it wasn’t up to IP’s usual standard! I stand corrected then.

  76. 76
    Tom on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Speaking of Louie Louie, I just got hold of this intriguing beast – though have yet to play it. Maybe this lunchtime.

  77. 77
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Nice to know that, like Iggy, she signed off with Louie Louie: ‘I never thought it’d come to this!’

  78. 78
    wichita lineman on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Julie London’s Louie Louie was on Sounds Of The Sixties a couple of weeks back, I’d never heard it before. You’re in for a treat.

  79. 79
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Is it available online?

  80. 80
    Cumbrian on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #74: It probably is a generational thing. Tying in with some of the other comments about Mojo readers and what have you – The Clash’s blokiness might well have started out as the one thing and morphed in to blokes in sheds over time, probably about the time that these blokes realised they were turning into their fathers themselves.

    On the T In The Park bit, I suspect that every man jack of them would have stayed in the Tent whether they played The Clash songs or not – simply because they were up against Starsailor followed by No Doubt on the main stage and Less Than Jake followed by A on the NME stage (I had to look this up, honest), none of which I can imagine too many 40-50 year olds in 2002 being that into! This, of course, could be my prejudice speaking though…

  81. 81
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2011 #

    A similar thing occurred at Download 2007, Iron Maiden on the Main Stage or Paramore in the Dimebag Tent or Bowling For Soup in the small tent…no prizes for guessing where I went!

  82. 82
    MichaelH on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Not much to add to the Clash debate: I’m agnostic. There are moments where I completely understand why so many people get so worked up about them, but they tend to be the moments where their grasp of rock mythology – their roots in traditionalism – is at its strongest. So, the footage in Rude Boy from the Rock Against Racism show is astounding, and had I been there I’m sure I’d have seized them to my heart. But most of it leaves me cold, and I’m never quite sure why. There’s plenty of punk-era stuff I love, but it tends to be the poppiest – I’d take the Ramones over the Clash every time.

    The thing that baffles me – referred to upthread – is the zealousness of Clash fans, who so often seem to take a shrug of apathy about their heroes as a personal insult. I’ve encountered it several times, but not with fans of any band, and it seems odd: religious devotion seems antipathetical to everything Strummer would have wanted.

  83. 83
    wichita lineman on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Re 81: home?

    Re 82: I have nothing against self-mythology, but it needs to be backed up and believable. Kevin Rowland and Adam Ant are two of my pop heroes, building something new out of the past in their own image and singing, frequently, about themselves.

    The ‘religious’ aspect is connected to their blood brothers mentality, I’d guess, which I can understand.

    I spent the 90s surrounded by Clash zealots, which only made me want to take a pop at their righteous ire – like the fact that “sten guns in Knightsbridge” wasn’t a) spray painted by the group (Sebastian Conran did it) or b) thought up by them (Bernie Rhodes thought of it).

    Bernie Rhodes is the most interesting character in their story.

  84. 84
    Tom on 30 Mar 2011 #

    That Julie London LP turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable stuff – very flute heavy, JL shifting between engaged, sleepy and occasionally just baffled (“The Mighty Quinn” a step too far). Well worth hearing.

  85. 85

    ARTSCHOOL SIDEBAR: A long-ago acquaintance of my sister’s owns (or owned) an “original Simonon”. I never saw it; she says it’s terrible.

  86. 86

    JL should have done an LP of Clash covers: “JULIE LONDON CALLING: Give ’em Enough Torch”

  87. 87
    punctum on 30 Mar 2011 #

    I always thought it a pity that Cornelius Cardew never worked with the Clash, given that in his youth he was a dead ringer for Strummer. People’s Music innit.

  88. 88

    POSH KIDS UNITE AND FIGHT! Actually CC got off on the wrong foot re punk: IIRC he denounced “White Riot” as objectively fascist or some such at a Music and Socialism festival (“festival”) in 1977. I’ve got a write-up in an ancient copy of Musics mag; I’ll try and remember to dig it out.

  89. 89
    swanstep on 30 Mar 2011 #

    @82, MichaelH. But there’s plenty of Clash stuff that’s at least as poppy as anything the Ramones ever did: Death or Glory, Train in Vain, Washington Bullets, Rudy Can’t Fail, Lost in the Supermarket, Hitsville UK for god’s sake. Even sticking to just their covers, from I fought the Law to Every Little Bit Hurts it’s pop-arama surely.

    I’m not an especially zealous fan, but I’m baffled at how someone could listen to the Clash’s best 40 or so tracks and not be somewhat impressed. Maybe the Clash has ended up being poorly served by somewhat hectoring fans that their own hectoring political side attracted?

  90. 90
    DietMondrian on 30 Mar 2011 #

    [pedant] @68 and others – it’s Pedantry Corner these days, not Pedants’ Corner. [/pedant]

  91. 91
    LondonLee on 30 Mar 2011 #

    The Clash are like Ground Zero for every musical/authenticity argument in the book aren’t they? Guess that’s what happens when a band is as strident and open-hearted/naive about their opinions as they were, they made themselves targets. But that first album is still a hell of a record that means a lot to me.

    I never liked this much even before it became such an annoying “anthem” (particularly here in the States where they think London Calling is the greatest “punk” album ever made) and always preferred Straight To Hell – and I say that as someone who generally liked Mick Jones’ voice more than Strummer’s.

    PS: The Sandpipers’ version of ‘Louie Louie’ is wonderful, really slow and trippy.

  92. 92
    inakamono on 30 Mar 2011 #

    This has been a fantastic read.

    I bought the first Clash album the month it was released and there probably wasn’t a day I didn’t play it for the next two years. I think in all I have bought the album five times in either vinyl or CD. It really is hard to express how significant the Clash were to me in their prime. Maybe I am one of those 50-year-olds people are talking about having observed on the Tube, although it would have to be the Marunouchi Line in Tokyo, which is where I’ve been living for the last twenty years. Which, in turn, explains the fact that I didn’t know until today that this song had been used on a jeans commercial. How could they?

    “Should I Stay” didn’t really belong on Combat Rock — it was a Clash-by-numbers thing that sounded like album filler when it was released, the weakest point of the album. It was out-of-date before it was even recorded, and the idea that it went to Number One years later and may have therefore become one of the most recognizable of their songs seems almost sacreligious.

    I can’t really imagine a world where the Clash didn’t exist, but I’d definitely prefer a world where this song never got used to sell trousers, so 3 sounds about right.

  93. 93
    Mark G on 30 Mar 2011 #

    The only “zealot” fans I can think of other than Clash would be The Who.

  94. 94
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2011 #

    I don’t think they did themselves any favours by making Rudeboy: a lot of the time they come across badly, some of the live performances are ropey and Mick Jones looks like Brian May dying of scurvy with his sh1t long hair and waistcoat.

  95. 95

    —-> OASIS!

    All of them — Who, Clash, Wasis — are potentially enormously interesting if you dig into their welter of contradictions; yet all three bands seemed actively to discourage this way to engage with them; to scorn it, in fact, and to dissociate themselves from anyone inclined to listen in such a way.

    (Actually this is a bit unfair to P.Townshend; and haha way TOO fair to Liam G.)

  96. 96
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Re: #89 I’d say at their most pop, the Clash were more so than the Ramones, if only for not being anchored to wall-of-scree power-chord guitar sound.

    Frankly I’m amazed at anyone who’s lived through the torpor of the late nineties complaining about any punk band as a bad example of rock or pop!

  97. 97
    wichita lineman on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Don’t see it with the Who – aren’t fans pretty divided about different eras? Who Sell Out was certainly not generally rated as a great album until pretty recently, Who’s Next or Live at Leeds always getting the nod over their 60s albums. IIRC first record Derrick May bought was Tommy – enigmatically he’s not sure why he wanted it so much

  98. 98
    MichaelH on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #89 I guess I’m thinking of punk that harked back explicitly to 60s pop: maybe the difference lies in Mick Jones’s touchstones being things like Mott, where the Ramones used Phil Spector. Anyway, I’m not a Clash hater – except, once or twice, for effect when I’ve been cornered by a Clash fan insisting on their overarching and all-encompassing greatness – but I’ve never really been able to detect in them the things that inspire so many others. It’s perfectly possible the amount of baggage they come loaded with is what’s neutered any attraction they might hold for me (and believe me, I’ve made the effort: I’ve got most of the albums, got Clash on Broadway, got the live albums, because I keep thinking ‘This time I’ll hear it’): even more than the Pistols, I think, what they represent has come to be more important than how they sound. And when you’re told THIS IS THE RECORD THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING about so much of what they did, what actually comes out of the speakers can be a little underwhelming. This relates to Punctum’s comment upthread about Complete Control: he hears the record that embodies punk musically; I hear some whiny lads complaining about their record company.

    #92 Well before the ad, Should I Stay was the generic Clash song: it was the one on pub jukeboxes, or played at crappy discos, much more so than Rock the Casbah.

  99. 99
    MichaelH on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #97 With the Who I always get the impression that those who call them the ‘Oo love everything unreservedly, and those whose love is less all-encompassing divide into those who (very broadly) like the speedy mod records, and those who like the arena mod records. I believe Johnny Marr refuses to listen to anything after Sell Out (a writer friend once asked him to contribute to a piece about Live at Leeds, and Marr declined, because the Who were terrible after 1967).

  100. 100

    A: I took MichaelH to be contrasting rock and pop, by which usage something rocky CAN”T be an example of popness: because they’re zero-sum opposites. And I think he’s also right that this is how the Clash thought about the music they made, so it’s a perfectly reasonable definitional contrast to bring to bear.

    B: But if you think of rock and pop as parallel (intertwined) qualities, which can both strongly occur in the same song — which arguably the Ramones did, though they were never exactly eloquent theorists in interview, and which is far more the natural assumption these days than it was in the 80s and even the 90s — then yes, what MichaelH says seems to make little sense.

    Insofar as B is now the orthodoxy, the Clash lost the argument, but are somewhat unfairly judged, because their rhetoric was so often out of synch with their praxis.

  101. 101
    Mark G on 30 Mar 2011 #

    #97, I do have sympathy for Marr’s view, and ties with Weller’s “I got Quadrophenia, spent ages looking at the book inside it, never played the records.”

  102. 102

    CSI Themetune Era Who! Waaaaaaaoooorghh!

    *Puts sunglasses on*

  103. 103
    Erithian on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Haven’t got time to air my very limited knowledge of the Clash just now, but this might just be a new record for the fastest century of comments on Popular! – barely 24 hours.

  104. 104
    MichaelH on 30 Mar 2011 #

    re my comment #99: of course I meant to write “arena rock” not “arena mod”.

  105. 105
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Now there’s another divide, the Mod movement’s schism between The Who and The Small Faces, which must have been some kind of East/West London thing, seemed to spill out and neutralise the whole scene, by the time Daltrey had grown his hair long.

  106. 106

    There was a strong “Real Mods don’t listen to the Who” thing, wasn’t there?

    (If not a full-on “Real Mods don’t listen to ANY live music from hereabouts” thing…)

  107. 107
    LondonLee on 30 Mar 2011 #

    There was, I heard one of the Fulham Wasps (the local Mod crew) say exactly that to some young whippersnapper in a pub the late 70s. The Small Faces and Soul music was the thing if you wanted to be a “proper” Mod.

    Though according to my Uncle Pete who was a Mod in the 60s it was just soul, r&b and Jazz. None of these stupid beat combos.

  108. 108
    MikeMCSG on 30 Mar 2011 #

    While being very pro-punk generally I never really got into The Clash – I think mainly because of Strummer’s sing-and-vomit- simultaneously vocal style and their usually perfunctory melodies. I thought both “Straight To Hell” and “Rock The Casbah” were better songs than this but wouldn’t have connected with Levi’s target market so well.

    I wish someone hadn’t mentioned Mojo readers. I’ve been pondering switching from Q to Mojo (haven’t time for more than one monthly) for a year or so now. I was just about to do the deed and now I’m hesitating again.

  109. 109
    anto on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Just to re-tip the balance a bit I do think The Clash are rather excellent. When push comes to shove I prefer them to the Pistols.
    I think they managed to be several bands at once in a short space of time.

  110. 110
    Tom on 30 Mar 2011 #

    Mojo >>>>>>>> Q! Mojo actually likes music!

    The last music mag I bought was a Mojo, for the flight to India. But the Emirates in-flight entertainment menu* meant I didn’t actually open it and I think it’s still sitting unloved in my laptop bag.

    *v Mojoish anyway, they have an extensive range of classic albums m’lud.

  111. 111
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Mar 2011 #

    “Hitsville UK”, their celebration of the ethos of the independent record label, does actually deserve some kind of Nostradamus of Despair medal for prefiguring the USELESS TWEE WEEDY LANDFILL INDIE VOCAL several years before it became de rigeur, and possibly (1981) before it had even actually evolved in nature. It’s the opposite of laddish, the rhythm track is an ably self-conscious Motown ho-hum carbon-copy, and the words are some of the WORST EVER WRITTEN BY A PERSON NOT NAMED MORRISON:

    They cried the tears, they shed the fears,
    Up and down the land,
    They stole guitars or used guitars
    – So the tape would understand
    ,
    Without even the slightest hope of a 1000 sales
    Just as if, as if there was, a hitsville in UK,
    I know the boy was all alone, til the hitsville hit UK

    They say true talent will always emerge in time,
    When lightning hits small wonder –
    It’s fast rough factory trade
    ,
    No expense accounts, or lunch discounts
    Or hyping up the charts,
    The band went in, ‘n knocked ’em dead, in 2 min. 59

    No slimy deals, with smarmy eels – in hitsville UK
    Lets shake’n say, we’ll operate – in hitsville UK
    The mutants, creeps and musclemen
    Are shaking like a leaf
    It blows a hole in the radio
    When it hasn’t sounded good all week

    A mike & boom, in your living room – in hitsville UK
    No consumer trials, or A.O.R., in hitsville UK,
    Now the boys and girls are not alone,
    Now the hitsville’s hit UK

    They really really REALLY never understood pop. Even when they were actually inadvertently making it (ie certainly not in this song).

  112. 112
    hardtogethits on 31 Mar 2011 #

    #58. I’m sure you really don’t believe that.

    You say the lyric “says that that’s complicated by a trouble factor”. For starters, no, no, it doesn’t. Putting that to one side however, the first verse sets out the conditions (and arguably the reasons) for staying, the second the reasons for leaving. Then, in summing up, the singer assesses that the “trouble” of staying is twice that of going. It’s perhaps not too late to introduce other concepts to augment or counterbalance the “trouble”, but the singer does not and then restates his “trouble” calculations on two further occasions.

    If the singer requires more information, he should say so; it is not really appropriate to furnish someone with information which is known to be incomplete and ask them (in so many words) to make a quick decision based on that incomplete information. It would then be abundantly unfair to pretend that the aggressive demand for an instant decision had actually been a request for more information on which a decision could be based – though the singer doesn’t do that.

  113. 113
    Ed on 31 Mar 2011 #

    More than any other band, perhaps, the Clash throw into sharp relief the difference between “liking the music” and “being a fan”. It’s like sexuality, where self-identification doesn’t always fit perfectly with behaviour. I like a lot of the songs, and love a few (‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ and ‘Complete Control’, like everybody, maybe ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and ‘Straight to Hell’, too.) But I would never dream of identifying myself as a Clash fan.

    Like MichaelH and 23 Daves, the Clash have brought me as close as I have ever come to physical violence over questions of taste. At a dinner party in Islington (yes, I am afraid so) I ventured some mild mockery of ‘Guns of Brixton’, which is still my least favourite Clash song. I have learned to love the bassline, but the vocal and lyric feel like misery tourism, and make a particularly embarrassing contrast set against the honesty and insight of ‘White Man’. Anyway, when I suggested as much, two of the other guests – solvent white males in their forties – rounded on me with such ferocity I thought we were going to have to take it outside. Relations have never really been restored, some years later.

    It’s the gang thing, of course, but it amazed me how powerful it still was.

    Another thing: are all the gang members male? That is far from unusual for rock fans, of course, but again, the Clash seem to take it to another level. I remember reading a memoir by a woman who claimed she fell asleep at a Clash gig. That doesn’t really sound very likely, but you have to admire it as a statement.

  114. 114
    Snif on 31 Mar 2011 #

    “I remember reading a memoir by a woman who claimed she fell asleep at a Clash gig.”

    There was a very funny anecdote in the first issue of Q I ever bought, from a woman who went to a Clash gig, but had an epileptic fit. She came to in the dressing room with Jones, Strummer et al craning over concernedly, asking “Are you alright?” “Whew, she’s alive”, ” We’ve rung your mum” …she finished watching the gig from the wings and waved to friends in the audience. For some reason that “We’ve rung your mum” still makes me chuckle.

    Not a major Clash fan, liked “Train In Vain” better, but remember Paul Weller slagging it off a some kind of proof that they weren’t “authentic” (then again he’s always been a grump par excellence).

    PS When it comes to music magazines, how does The Word stand? I quite like David Hepworth’s blog, but that doesn’t mean the magazine’s likely to be any good…opinions?

  115. 115
    LondonLee on 31 Mar 2011 #

    #113. Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like ‘Guns of Brixton’ – a quite ridiculous song. I think of it as their Bruce Foxton record.

  116. 116
    Ed on 31 Mar 2011 #

    @114 That’s a great story, which reminds me of what is by far my favourite aspect of the Clash: the Lester Bangs tour diary, which I think is in ‘Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung’. (From memory: I can’t find my copy right now, and it is not on the web, AFAICT.)

    It is wonderfully written, of course, but more than that, it is a revelatory bit of reporting about the character of the band members, who seem like really lovely people. As Bangs observed, in a world of arrogant idiot rockstars, that was particularly special. It completely redeems the band, and nullifies any churlish griping that I or anyone else may be tempted to throw at them.

    And thinking about it, if Bangs was even half-way to the truth about them, then a lot of the militant fandom for the Clash becomes completely understandable.

    “We’ve rung your mum”… That’s going to make me smile for a long time, too. Bless ’em.

  117. 117
    Mark M on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Re 116: Yes, it’s in Psychotic Reactions, Mick Jones asking Bangs to let (then fanzine writer) Adrian Thrills stay in his hotel room…

  118. 118
    wichita lineman on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Re 104: No, no, “arena mod” is the perfect description for that era of the Who. Can I pinch it?

    The Small Faces… how could I forget? I wrote a piece for the Guide in the late nineties – whenever the Without Walls beat group series ran – and suggested that the pendulum of pop opinion had swung so far in the Small Faces’ favour that their catalogue was now overrated (others in the series included the Troggs and Herman’s Hermits, who, of course, I gave a big thumbs up to).

    This did not go down well with Heavenly acolyte Big Bob (the clue’s in the name) or Paolo Hewitt (a lovely man, otherwise), both of whom brought this up with rather aggressive humour every time I saw them for the next few years. One day I think I might get a smack in the face for it, from a disgruntled ‘mod’ I’ve never met before. The Guardian still put them on the cover of the Guide, rather than the Troggs, bah.

  119. 119
    pink champale on 31 Mar 2011 #

    the small faces are overrated x1million as far as i can tell.

    great review and thread. i totally get the case against the clash and have made it myself from time to time. and i think a lot of their records are fairly humdrum. but for all i know i shouldn’t, there’s a bit of me that can’t help responding to naivety and mad conviction and last gang in town nonsense and when it all came together right i think the clash could be pretty incredible. for me those tend to be the records where they are overreaching themselves most fearlessly and ridiculously, ‘guns of brixton’, ‘straight to hell’, ‘safe european home’. i think their ‘police and thieves’ is pretty good, btw – the way it takes on a completely untouchable original reminds me a lot of the beatles’ version of ‘you’ve really got a hold of me’*. on the other hand for all the good bits that others have identified, sisosig is just too ordinary – my sharona is a great comparison.

    *plus it soundtracks a completely hypnotic sequence in punk doc DOA where a consumptive seventies kid painstakingly constructs and then goes crazy on a rope swing in some desolate urban wasteland.

  120. 120
    swanstep on 31 Mar 2011 #

    @112. I think the rough outlines of what I said earlier are correct (and required by basic charity): the trouble/double trouble comparison is a factor within the go/stay decision not a pair of all-out judgments about those options. I’d add to my original note just that the singer could also be regarded as having a good estimate of t and as looking instead for info about the other baseline factor (and its associated inequality).

    In general, I think people here are holding Clash lyrics to unreasonable standards (for the sake of the argument I suppose). Most of their songs have some fine couplets (e.g., SOSOSIG’s Exactly whom I’m supposed to be/Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?), while much of the rest is at least serviceable…

  121. 121
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Stay.. go..

    Which seat can I take?

  122. 122
    thefatgit on 31 Mar 2011 #

    To round off the Posho thing: Former Ugly Rumours guitarist and singer features in YouTubePoopish cut-up of this very song!

    [unfortunately unable to link to YouTube at work :(]

  123. 123
    Mark M on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Re 25 (belatedly): Julien Temple has been terrible through much of his career – and I say this as one of the very, very few people who saw Pandaemonium – but I do think Oil City Confidential is terrific, and I wish I’d seen the whole of the Detroit thing, too.

  124. 124
    pink champale on 31 Mar 2011 #

    the detroit thing is teriffic, though you’d have to try quite hard to point a camera at the ruins of detroit and not come away with someting haunting, poetic, etc. the best thing he’s done aside from that is, back when bbc2 had people introduce its film, mumble a fey intro to a saturday night double bill of the outsiders and rumblefish in the late eighties, having a big effect on 14 year old me. er, the films, more than the intro.

  125. 125

    ALso: EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY

  126. 126
    Tommy Mack on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Re: ‘We’ve phoned your mum’ – anyone else smile at the bit in When You’re Strange after the riot at the Doors gig (not the Miami one) where Jim Morrison’s dabbing the girl’s bleeding forehead and telling her ‘I think you’re going to be ok, it’s already coagulating!’: typically verbose, atypically…nice

    Last Gang In Town(again): what I was trying to say before is that people who say they hate rock cliche always argue that it’s the same boring stuff again and again, but when you probe what they’d like to replace the cliches with, 9 times out of 10 it’s something worse, or in the case of most indie, nothing in particular. For example, I’d rather see Grace Jones wearing some preposterous get-up than Joe Punk in a leather jacket, but I’d rather see Joe Punk in a leather jacket than Joseph Indie in his day clothes because he’s too sneery and precious to wear the leather jacket, but can’t think of anything better to do (or would feel silly or fake or showbiz doing so).

    Guns of Brixton is ace schoolboy-gun-fantasy swagger rock. I hope your mates gave you a proper kicking for dissing it ;-)

  127. 127
    TM on 31 Mar 2011 #

    That middle paragraph probably comes across a bit harsh. Just seems that the people hating on the classic rock stuff are never the people doing something better.

  128. 128
    wichita lineman on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Oil City Confidential – also a hard story to screw up. I enjoyed it enormously but it had plenty of irritating touches. I LOVED The Filth And The Fury when I first saw it (very loud, at Screen On The Green for added authenticity) but re-watched recently and thought much of it was quite embarrassing: J Lydon saying “the thing is, Julien…” in the dialogue – big no no!

  129. 129
    wichita lineman on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Re 127: “The truth of it is, I didn’t know how much I loathed rock and roll, how much I deeply resented it. That was part of the motivation behind PIL – that deep resentment, and a longing for new forms”, said Keith Levene. He definitely contributed to something better.

  130. 130
    lonepilgrim on 31 Mar 2011 #

    re 129 Maybe I’m being contrarian, but as much as I love ‘Metal Box’ I’m not sure that Keith Levene’s mission has been that successful. Much of his approach to guitar playing was tidied up and appropriated by The Edge for one.

  131. 131

    U2’s triumph has been to trap us in an Eden that has Sandinista! and Metal Box as its unbanished Adam and Eve.

  132. 132
    LondonLee on 31 Mar 2011 #

    With Unknown Pleasures and Scared To Dance as its Cain and Abel?

  133. 133
    lonepilgrim on 31 Mar 2011 #

    …and Siouxsie as its Lillith

  134. 134
    thefatgit on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Here’s that link I mentioned, my post #122

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1vwKZiDsY4

  135. 135
    Ed on 31 Mar 2011 #

    #115 Dead right. See also: ‘Little Miss Strange’. The worst thing the JHE put on vinyl, by several light years. Sounds like a rejected out-take from the sessions for ‘Listen to the Flower People’.

  136. 136
    Mark M on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Re 128 – I think you’re being a touch tough on OCC: they are plenty of great stories that get turned into deeply dull documentaries (there were a whole bunch in BBC4’s reggae season). And it’s properly cinematic, too…

  137. 137
    Erithian on 1 Apr 2011 #

    I agree with Mark on that, Wichita – “a hard story to screw up”, maybe, but the use of archive footage of Canvey Island and its historic context in the 1953 flood was superbly handled. I have some fellow feeling over that episode – Erith & Belvedere’s ground was submerged and hundreds of families were left homeless for weeks, but that paled into insignificance next to the effect on Canvey.

    BTW “Siouxsie as its Lilith” – I was scrolling upwards past that post and for a moment I thought you were talking about “Frasier”! She would have made a good Lilith in that as well.

  138. 138
    Mark G on 1 Apr 2011 #

    There were genuinely surprising things on that doc, particularly John Wilkinson’s appearance on Blue Peter as a well-informed teenager/youngster.

  139. 139
    MichaelH on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Jon Savage is interesting on the Clash/Pistols division, and the gang thing. He doesn’t much care for the Clash because, he says, they were always surrounded by heterosexual blokey men and no one else, and did nothing to quell the atmosphere that created. Whereas the Pistols, certainly less overtly progressive in their politics, had plenty of women and gay men in their entourage, making for a less regressive atmosphere around them.

  140. 140
    MichaelH on 1 Apr 2011 #

    PS Has anyone seen Julien Temple’s film about the UK Subs? That must be a treat.

  141. 141
    wichita lineman on 1 Apr 2011 #

    OCC – I was being a bit harsh, but I was thinking of stylistic ticks more than the interviews. Erithian, I can’t see how any documentary maker could have left out the Canvey flood – it’s all anyone knows about the place apart from Dr Feelgood and Concord Rangers.

    Re 140: I assumed that was an April Fool… thought I’d google it just in case… bloody hell! Anyone seen it?

  142. 142
    Ed on 2 Apr 2011 #

    @139 Simon Reynolds coins / borrows a good word for that Clash fanbase: “homosocial”.

  143. 143
    Erithian on 2 Apr 2011 #

    The Clash were responsible for the first punk record I didn’t like!

    I’d read a lot about punk before hearing any, since Sounds was ploughing into it for much of 1976. And there they were one week on the cover, with the headline saying something like: “Are you ready Pistols? CLASH are coming! “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun” – that’s just one of the things these reprobates have to say”. Then, having enjoyed New Rose, Anarchy and the like, I heard Complete Control and was very underwhelmed by what just sounded a racket. But then came that great 1978-80 period when the Clash (and the Jam) were putting out terrific singles every couple of months. Tommy Gun, English Civil War, I Fought The Law, London Calling, Bankrobber – while I never became one of those committed fans who are being recalled in this thread, I was something of a convert. And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, on the eve of my interview at London University, the last song I heard on the radio was London Calling, which was a good omen!

    But if, to use the Beatles analogy we were using with “Innuendo”, the aforementioned five singles are “Revolver” peak-period, SISOSIG is a piece of White Album overindulgence. I always preferred Strummer’s vocal passion and rawness to Jones’ somehow unconvincing drawl, and this sounded pretty lame next to their best moments. Like the tom-tom rolls in the faster bits though.

  144. 144
    LondonLee on 2 Apr 2011 #

    Though for all their last-gang blokiness I always thought Mick Jones’ voice sounded ever so slightly fey and camp. I saw them live in 79 and will never forget him introducing ‘Protex Blue’ by saying “This is a song about sex” in a voice that sounded like Larry Grayson.

    ‘Bankrobber’ was a stupid song too.

  145. 145
    thefatgit on 3 Apr 2011 #

    Bankrobber maybe stupid, but it was probably the first record that pointed me in the direction of dub. Lee Perry, Burning Spear, King Tubby et al, opened up a cavern of bass and reverb, where echo chambers stretch and distort reggae into interesting new shapes and forms. I even bought UB40’s Bagariddim, with guest appearances from Chrissie Hynde and Pato Banton, reworking tracks off Geoffrey Morgan and Labour Of Love. If only they had stuck to that formula, instead of the anodyne I Got You Babe. The Clash’s work with Lee Perry definitely opened up some interesting doorways.

  146. 146
    swanstep on 3 Apr 2011 #

    Vaguely relatedly, the Clash of course did a great cover of I Fought the Law. I knew the original only slightly and perhaps never knew that it was by Bobby Fuller. Well, I just watched Wes Anderson’s film The Fantastic Mr Fox with my nieces. It ends with a phenomenal track ‘Let Her Dance’, which the credits told me was by Bobby Fuller. It soundtracks the foxes and other animals dancing in the film, and my nieces and I got the message and were instantly up and boogieing to it. Anyhow, if you haven’t heard the song, I’d say ‘track it down’ – it’s evidently a mostly lost gem (at least until Anderson used it in the film – it must be well on the way now to being a new standard), and may mean that Fuller’s other stuff is well worth exploring: the two songs I know now are basically brilliant. The film’s pretty solid too (assuming you can stand all of Anderson’s stylistic tics yet again) with a nifty score from the ubiquitous Alexandre Desplat.

  147. 147
    MikeMCSG on 4 Apr 2011 #

    # 110 Thanks Tom, have now done the deed. The clincher was the current Q issue. When the only band featured I am even vaguely familiar with are the terminally boring Foo Fighters it was time to let go.

  148. 148
    MichaelH on 4 Apr 2011 #

    #146 One of the great pieces of rock appropriation is Bobby Fuller’s seemingly complete annexation of I Fought the Law. Because it’s not his song. It was originally by the Crickets. The Clash took Fuller’s arrangement and lyrical tweaks (the Crickets rob people with a zip gun, not a six gun), but it’s still the Crickets’ song.

  149. 149
    wichita lineman on 4 Apr 2011 #

    Bobby Fuller was an out-and-proud Buddy Holly nut though, another Texas native, and I always think the Bobby Fuller Four give us a clue as to what the original Crickets might have sounded like in ’64/’65 if fate hadn’t intervened.

    I read that Fuller’s gruesome and unsolved death is being made into a film, which somehow ties it into the Manson killings. Hmmm.

  150. 150
    swanstep on 4 Apr 2011 #

    @148, MichaelH. Ah, thanks for that clarification.
    @149, wichita. I, obviously, only just found out about Fuller’s mysterious death. Unbelievable and a huge loss to music it seems. According to Fuller’s wiki page all sorts of conpiracies have been bruited in connection with it – some linking it to Manson, some to Sam Cooke’s death later… And wiki’s list of artists who’ve explicitly referred to Fuller’s death in their own music over the years is impressive. That I never noticed those tributes before is less impressive!

  151. 151
    pink champale on 4 Apr 2011 #

    oh. I’ve just looked at wiki too. i’ve long believed what was told as fact in an early 90s nme ‘great pop stories’ freebie booklet, that bobby:
    i) went out celebrating the success of ‘i fought the law’;
    ii) danced with mafia boss’s woman;
    iii) was taken out to the car park and pumped full of gasoline;
    iv) to death
    but seems it ain’t so. or at least hasn’t been properly established as so. next i’ll find out that the same booklet’s surreally pointless mark e smith buys a dictaphone story is also a wild fabrication.

  152. 152
    wichita lineman on 4 Apr 2011 #

    Re 151: I think that’s still a likely explanation – moreso than links to Manson and Sam Cooke! It was obv the work of someone who knew they’d literally get away with murder. He was at a party taking acid the night before (think this is fact) and may well have recklessly danced with the wrong girl – much as the singer of Jay & The Americans’ Come A Little Bit Closer did, only with less deadly results.

  153. 153
    Mark G on 4 Apr 2011 #

    I have a Bobby Fuller 4 Live e.p. and it’s a wonderful thing.

    #151, I’ve heard (ok, read) MESmith’s Dictaphone story from himself, so it may well be a true one.

  154. 154
    Steve Block on 5 Apr 2011 #

    Too many comments to work out if this point has been raised, but I find it amusing that Tom talks of The Clash being the Last Gang in Town and completely fails to spot the gaping irony which therefore exists in the title of the song. Only The Clash can get to number one so far after their heyday with one of their least great singles and manage to subvert that by, granted, perhaps unintentionally, pointing out the artist is not always in control of their legacy: the imploring need of the singer, Jones, to be told whether to stay or to go, “Come on and let me know”, is answered by the audience placing this at number one on the charts. Like it or not, it’s there. A definite 8 from me, I bought it and it is a double A with BAD II’s Rush.

  155. 155
    Ed on 12 Apr 2011 #

    This thread has been picked up at the very excellent D-squared Digest blog, here:

    http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/search/label/intrinsically%20risible%20people%20%28non%20Denis%20MacShane%20category%29

    One of the commenters over there draws a parallel between the Clash and Bruce Springsteen, which seems about right.

  156. 156
    Erithian on 12 Apr 2011 #

    Well, Bruce seems to be a bit of a fan – he started his 2009 Glastonbury set with “Coma Girl”, from the posthumous Mescaleros album “Streetcore”, then a couple of days later started his Hyde Park set with (a fairly ropey version of) “London Calling”. You can imagine he’d have got on with Strummer circa ’78.

    Indeed here’s what Joe thought of Bruce: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jun/14/bruce-springsteen-joe-strummer-glastonbury

  157. 157
    Hessy on 24 Jun 2011 #

    Knocekd my socks off with knowledge!

  158. 158
    Tommy on 10 Jul 2011 #

    This is kind of what I was trying to get at in my earlier posts:

    “We assumed he[Pharrell Williams]’d have all these synths and beats,” sez HP, “but he has all this enthusiasm for rock music, because he only just discovered it.”

    http://www.thehivesbroadcastingservice.com/band.php

    “Lady Gaga went to see Iron Maiden and, whilst talking about the show, summed up how communal metal can be. Elitist dickheads, please bring a pencil and take notes.”

    http://www.metalhammer.co.uk/uncategorized/lady-gaga-sums-up-metal-better-than-99-of-people/

    – that the people who profess to hate rock for it’s blokely conservatism are never the people who are actually doing anything more progressive and inclusive. The cool people are happy to embrace it on its own terms. Rock haterz I’ve encountered generally seem to be fans of stuff even more regressive and conservative (i.e. indie) than the stuff they profess to hate.

  159. 159
    punctum on 11 Jul 2011 #

    You were doing pretty well there until you fell through the trapdoor in your last sentence.

  160. 160
    Tommy on 11 Jul 2011 #

    You patronising sod! :-P

  161. 161

    […] nine years after its original release, introduced me to a debate I didn’t know: the band is reviled in certain British quarters for its last-gang-in-town mythos (read the comments on Tom […]

  162. 162
    thefatgit on 2 Dec 2013 #

    Here seems a good place to say RIP Junior Murvin. The Clash introduced a wider audience to Junior. “Police and Thieves” not only a great reggae song but also a great protest song. Kinda cut up about this…

  163. 163
    tm on 3 Dec 2013 #

    Sad day indeed. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of The Clash’s Police and Thieves though.

  164. 164
    Erithian on 9 Nov 2014 #

    Remember the woman who was reviewing her husband’s “stupid record collection” one album at a time? Turns out she quite likes The Clash: http://alltherecords.tumblr.com/

  165. 165
    Mark G on 9 Nov 2014 #

    Yeah, a couple years ago I got one (the proper UK version) for a fiver, and played it at home for the girls and they all loved it. It was a lot less tinny/lofi than I remembered.

  166. 166
    hectorthebat on 23 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 228
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 228
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s (2012) 55
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 78
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 39
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 93
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 704
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 6
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 294
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 49

  167. 167
    Girl with Curious Hair on 26 Mar 2016 #

    I’m really late to the party here, but reading this has been like a support group. I thought for years I was the only person who never got the Clash. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    They’re actually responsible (albeit indirectly) for my only music-related break-up…

    I was 16 (and therefore an idiot, yes). I was seeing a boy in a band. He had the leather and the sneer, and he’d worked his way back from the Libertines to the Clash, and he’d become rather fixated with them. Fair to say he really bought into that “only band that matters” line.

    I made the mistake of introducing him to my father… now my father was a real gent, and he made a genuine effort to bond with this boy over their shared love of 70s rock. My dad was an Anglophile growing up in 70s and 80s Communist Yugoslavia, where he told me the only rock you could get was sneaked-in prog and rock. All the dinosaurs. Clash Boy saw my dad’s Stones and Floyd and Gensis, and sneered at it like only a teenaged purist can. All of that shit was old and ancient. The term “old farts” might have been used. Only the Clash mattered.

    My dad took it like the gent he was, but later, on the way to the tube station (which was… you’re going to love this… HAMMERSMITH!), I got tired of Clash Boy’s posturing when he said something to the effect that he pitied my dad, because 1972 was a long time ago. So was 1979, I said. He didn’t like that. Words were exchanged. I threw his scarf at him. (NB: you can’t throw a scarf furiously and keep your dignity. So don’t do it during an argument.)

    None of this has anything to do with the Clash themselves, I know, and I’m not trying to project one dick’s behaviour onto a band and their output, but as other people have said in this very thread, they do seem to have provoked something in their fans. Maybe this is the folly of youth but I really don’t see the difference between the Clash and the other gangs of white, guitar-bludgeoning blokes who were apparently the enemy just because they came from a different part of the same decade. I can listen to them and appreciate them and suppose that yeah, objectively they’re a Good Band, but shorn of their 70s punk context they mostly just sound like another rock band to me.

  168. 168
    Phil on 26 Mar 2016 #

    they mostly just sound like another rock band to me.

    The Clash bought into the myth of Rock’N’Roll in a very big way – as well as the myth of being the Best Band In The World. They never really cited any band past or present as their peer, but I think if you’d said they sounded just like the Who in the mid-60s, the Faces in the early 70s or Mott the Hoople in the mid-70s, they wouldn’t have rejected the comparison. And some of the later stuff – London Calling & after – is distinctly loose & un-rock-like, making the anathematising of everything before them even more absurd. They don’t sound much like Genesis at any point – but maybe that was because prog was different from everything else, not because punk was.

  169. 169
    Paulito on 27 Mar 2016 #

    Don’t most of the acts that make up the classic pop pantheon lose something when stripped of their historical context, though? Much the pleasure I get from listening to the Beatles or Joe Meek or Kraftwerk lies in casting my imagination back to the era in question and getting a sense of how mind-blowingly innovative their material was at the time. It’s the same with the Clash and even more so with the Pistols (‘God Save the Queen’ is a great example – it obviously doesn’t sound nearly as incendiary 40 years later if listened to bereft of the contexts of Jubilee Year and of the pap that largely surrounded it in the charts. Much of its residual thrill lies in being able to listen to it while imagining the shockwaves it created on release).

  170. 170
    Girl with Curious Hair on 27 Mar 2016 #

    That’s a very good point, and again I totes accept I might be being harsh just because I’ve got a personal axe to grind… I totally agree that a lot of stuff works better within its historical context.

    I think the key is realising that context exists, though. The problem is when you get somebody like Clash boy and his ilk (he’s not the only offender I’ve met, sadly, though he was the certainly only one I ever took home to my dad) who refuses to accept that – the Real Music Has Guitars and Attained Perfection In 197X argument writ large. Sullen conservation that’s all the more annoying because the conservative in this case is so utterly convinced of his righteous cause, so utterly incapable of seeing that he’s exactly what he claims so noisily to despise. Meet the boss same as the new boss indeed.

  171. 171
    Tommy Mack on 29 Mar 2016 #

    Girl With Curious Hair: I don’t believe I’ve said Hi yet, so welcome!

    I’ve listened to the first Clash album a few times over the last weeks (the IMO superior US version with their superlative ’77/’78 singles added in) so I’ve been thinking about them a bit. They’re a band who always seem to divide opinion: here’s the thing, nearly every criticism I’ve heard of them rings true on some level (maybe that’s why their fans get so angsty when to hear them maligned!) but all of it seems irrelevant when I hear the music (in the right mood, there’s plenty of times I think ‘why do I even like this ugly, clangerous racket?’ – and certainly, many times in my youth I was that surly, sour line-in-the-sand prick. I once threw a salt cellar at my best mate’s head when he slagged off Jonathan Richman. I’ve mellowed a little since then…)

    The Clash are The Watchmen: Rotten’s got superpowers and Siouxsie’s got superpowers. The Slits have got superpowers and The Undertones and Buzzcocks have melody as their superpower but The Clash, they’ve got no superpowers (at least in the early days) but they became superheroic through sheer force of will. Loads of the songs on the first album should be crap by all rights: clangerous power-chord racket churned up by a bunch of would-be thugs (“The truth is only known by guttersnipes” indeed) BUT BUT BUT… there’s just something magnificent in the up-and-at-’em fervour of it.

    In his autobiography, Johnny Rotten says that The Clash always played everything too fast and knackered themselves out mid-set but part of the charm of the first album is that it sounds like they’re playing everything as fast as they can. White Riot is one of the few early punk singles that sounds genuinely out of control, like a runaway mine-cart. Not that that makes it better than more accomplished records pulling less obvious moves but it does give it a certain something. It’s like their cover of I Fought The Law: you could easily say that they round all the idiosyncrasies off the BF4 version, replacing it with a meat and potatoes pub rock sound and at face value, it’d be hard to dispute but put it on and to my ears anyway, it stills sounds like a magnificent rocket-fuelled chase soundtrack.

    Later they’d make better records that pulled together all sorts of disparate influences without ever rounding off the rough edges that sound so great to my ears and so unpalatable to others but even their straight-up rock stuff, they might have been cooking with the same meat and potatoes ingredients as a lot of the other 70s rock bands but at their best it feels like they were currying the meat and potatoes into something thrillingly spicy while others where boiling them in tepid water.

    That’s how I feel tonight anyway. Tommorrow I might stick them on and think ‘what’s this ugly, messy crap’!

    Phil @ #168: I’ve often thought if there’s a problem with punk then it’s the same problem as with prog: that both started out as a way of breaking rules, as a new way of doing things but developed their own constricting orthodoxies.

    Paulito @ #169: I think it’s the opposite way round for me: if I can get some sort of kick from the song/record itself then I can effortlessly pitch myself back Quantum Leap-style to 1959, 1967, 1989, whenever but if the record doesn’t do it for me, while I can still imagine others getting excited by it but it will only ever be in the third person. Mind you, it’s the same with new records: if it doesn’t do it for me, I can understand what’s exciting others but I can never feel it.

    Obviously this is a fluid not a rigid thing: you can listen to a record 100 times without ‘getting’ it and then one day something suddenly clicks. Or someone says something which allows you into their head to hear it through new ears. That’s one of the most important functions for me (and Marcello said something similar on facebook last week) of great music writing: opening up new standpoints from which to hear the music, to allow the reader not just to understand to experience, through the quality of the writing, what the writer experienced listening to the music.

  172. 172
    Phil on 30 Mar 2016 #

    In those days, when we thought that three or four years was about as long as any band should keep going, it was generally agreed that the Clash had lost their edge and turned into rock dinosaurs, but there was some debate over when – certainly before Sandinista!, but would you disqualify London Calling? all of it? Then there were the hard-liners, who drew the line before Give ‘Em Enough Rope; some people even looked at the first album and said Huh, CBS – sellouts!.

    What everyone would agree, though, is that there was a time before the Clash were boring. And that’s worth saying, because – I still believe – when the Clash were good, they were very good indeed. Specifically, they were very punk indeed. I remember watching a ten-years-on punk compilation on TV in 1987: the Pistols were amazing, some other punk bands were some other punk bands, and right at the end Joy Division showed what was coming next, with effortless poise and lack of cool (Barney was wearing a jumper…). But the Clash! They were fast and loud, but more than anything they looked as if they wanted to be fast and loud but couldn’t necessarily hack it – but they were going to do it anyway. Such energy, such a shambles. I couldn’t take my eyes off Joe Strummer, even (or especially) when he lost the song completely and ended up lying flat on the stage, hitting it with his fist.

    The next day at work my friend asked me
    “Did you see the punk thing last night?”
    “Yeah, it was good.”
    Did you see the Clash?

  173. 173
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2016 #

    #172 – on of my favourite clips of them is the version of What’s My Name (one if their best straight-up punk songs) from Bellevue on So It Goes. Strummer staring into the camera: “‘Ere we are on TV / what does it mean to me? /what does it mean to you? / FUCK OFF!” and then he trips over the mic stand and knocks himself out on the drumriser. I mean, written down it just sounds pathetic and teenage (which I guess is why they’ve become such a magnet for surly aggro types) but watching it, aged 15 (even in 1996) there was something brilliant about the chaos and hostility.

    Main problem with London Calling is it’s mastered far too quiet. That and maybe a couple of the trad-rock plodders from the second half of the album.

  174. 174
    Phil on 30 Mar 2016 #

    #173 – that was the very clip! But I’m pretty sure it’s ‘fuck all’. And the idea of saying you don’t give a damn about being on TV, let alone saying it & knowing the audience would think so too… different times.

  175. 175
    Tommy Mack on 30 Mar 2016 #

    Ah, that makes a bit more sense!

  176. 176
    Tommy Mack on 31 Mar 2016 #

    #173 the irony is that modern audiences probably genuinely give far less of a fuck about their faves being on TV than Clash fans did in 1977. In fact, in 2016, TV must rank pretty low in the rankings for ‘portals that allow us access to our pop heroes’

  177. 177
    Paulito on 2 Apr 2016 #

    @171: That’s a great bit of writing about the Clash, which eloquently sums up my own oft-changing feelings about them. Sometimes they annoy me and other times I just love to hear them. They’re flawed, certainly – they could be both pretentious and incompetent, occasionally at the same time – and some of their material just doesn’t come off. But the flaws and the misfires are made up for many times over by their passion and vitality, by their (mostly successful) attempts to broaden and deepen their sound with influences from dub, funk etc, and by about two dozen songs that remain stone cold classics.

  178. 178
    Adam Puke on 12 Sep 2016 #

    Girl With Curious Hair @167 – that’s a curious modern-ish phenomenon you’ve touched upon. I completely understand younger people enjoying the music and fashion of previous decades (there is loads of good stuff there after all, open to all sorts of recontextualisation) but re-enacting ideological battles of the past as they perceive it, completely out of context, seems bloody weird to me.

    It reached a bit of a peak in the 00s- loads of young punky/metally types moaning about THE MODS ruining their local music scenes. C’mon lads, it’s not Brighton Beach 1964 any more.

  179. 179
    DanusJonus on 14 Sep 2016 #

    I’ve been away from this site for a good year now, though within a minute of returning my interest and need to contribute was piqued.

    RE: The ‘What’s My Name’ discussion recently, Tommy Mack, I guessed from previous discussions and revelations you’d made that our ages were similar, now I have confirmation!

    The Rotten quote about them playing too fast made me instantly think of the So It Goes clip. Tommy, I take it from your 1996 reference that you saw it on the ’40 years of Granada’ pop and Tony Wilson’s ‘They turned up four hours late for sound check, which causes a riot in itself, which led to the end of the Belle Vue being used as a music venue’? I too was 15 when I watched this, taped it and played it daily that summer.

    Most of the views about The Clash I’d have put forward have already been made; I have veered between supine adoration and resentment over the years. I think the fact they were knowingly a band who wanted their fans to buy into their creed and created an entrancing style/presentation to go with it is particularly relevant. In that respect, as Girl With the Curious Hair mentions, the Libertines were an easy starting point for a raft of ‘Clash boys’ who appeared in the early 00’s. (I take it the Spoiler Bunny is very much still around?)

    I also believe that the differences between Jones and Strummer’s personalities perfectly aided their songwriting, in the way that Lennon and McCartney’s differences did (NB: I’m making no comparison beyond that by the way).

    Tommy Mack – Did you not think that the clip of the Pistols doing ‘ Anarchy’ live on the ’40 years of Granada pop’ documentary was more spectacular? I’m trying to think who else was on it and I think The Stones Roses doing Waterfall on the Other Side of Midnight was also there. Interestingly (well, maybe not), John Squire was obsessed with The Clash and you can see the ‘live your life through my band’ mentality in much of what they did. Ditto Barat/Doherty in the Libertines.

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