The Clash at 40
SIMILAR to the way I have been celebrating…
the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – rather prematurely as it is not for a couple of months yet – I could not let The Clash’s seminal debut pass by without recognition. My feature of their eponymous album will not be as extensive as the one but no less important. Their debut arrived on 8th April, 1977 and is seen as one of the greatest Punk albums of all time. If London Calling is considered, by many, as The Clash’s most popular albums: to me, The Clash is more important and influential. Considering a lot of today’s music is conceived and produced in the studio and well-to-do areas: the fact The Clash was imagined on the eighteenth-floor of a high-rise council estate is quite wonderful. It gives the subject matter and anger genuine spirit and authority. Mick Jones’ grandmother was renting it at the time – that Harrow Road flat where most of those songs were sparked and started. The album itself was recorded for a few grand at CBS Studio 3 and was an instant smash with critics. If the creation and artwork was expressly London-based, the actual messages of the album could be applied to any town and city in Britain. Even London Calling was not just about the imbalance and division in the capital. The Clash’s debut was a snapshot of modern Britain: those people living in council flats and feeling the lash of James Callaghan’s government. That being said, there is some London folklore and legend in the album. Janie Jones recalls a brothel keeper in the capital during the 1970s. Remote Control addressed and confronts the bureaucrats and dictators who cancelled concerts, police and record companies – observations following The Anarchy Tour.
I’m So Bored with the USA, relevant now as back then was Mick Jones’ annoyance at the Americanisation happening in Britain. Class and race were highlighted in White Riot: a lot of socially relevant and important issues being. Career Opportunities, or lack thereof, was the reaction to the employment market in the 1970s. There was that social and economic divide that compelled bands like The Clash to take action. Until that point, few had delivered such profound and impactful sermons on modern life. If some of the songs are less-than-serious (Protext Blue about a condom machine at Windsor Castle’s toilets) there is that mix of humour and political edge. Police & Thieves was a late decision – after the band discovered the tracklisting was too short – and an inspired one at that. When the album came out, through CBS Records, the reaction was intense. Few bands, up until then, had taken the Punk core and mixed it with genres like Reggae and Rock. Look at the Punk bands coming through at the moment and how many of them source directly from The Clash. Critics like Robert Christgau raved and proclaimed (The Clash) the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll album ever. Many other critics shared that view and were stunned by the talent, intensity and relevance of the album. It spoke about subjects and sides of life many were ignoring. The Clash were unafraid to take politicians to task: attacking those who were doing a disservice to the hard-working, blue-collar folk of Britain. By 1993, NME ranked the album number thirteen in a list of their greatest albums of all time. They put The Clash in their list of the 1970s’ best records: magazines and journalists recognising how essential and forward-thinking the band were.
Years down the line and people are still responding and paying tribute to an album that is near-perfect. You get those records – like Revolver and Rumours – that are beyond criticisms and seem to get five-star reviews from everyone. It is almost unthinkable getting that sort of reaction in today’s scene. The Clash is that defining protest album that cut through the beige-haze of 1970s’ British life and delivered a shot of acid to the boiling pot. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, as the band’s songwriting duo, created a masterful and timeless album that has compelled and confounded through the decades. As it celebrates its fortieth birthday, it is important to preserve its messages and inspire new generations. I know many young bands taking the album to heart – none that get close to the original spirit and impact back in 1977. I guess that is not surprising but that does not mean we should assume The Clash is unbeatable. The anger and motivation the London band felt back then resonates in the hearts of many new artists. What The Clash showed was how a basic, lo-fi album could affect and mesmerise. There is no trickery and studio gimmicks: simply a young band motivated by what they saw around them and the injustices in the political system. It is a gem of a record that kick-started a new Punk revolution in Britain. A masterful record from a band that would go on to create many more great albums – it is debatable whether they sounded as fresh and essential as on their debut. That is a question impossible to answer but one thing is for sure: The Clash remains one of the finest albums from all of music. It celebrates its fortieth anniversary tomorrow; it seems The Clash’s importance is undiminished and ever-relevant. A peerless, staggering album that will…
BURN for many decades to come.