Shaking Single Engine Planes Traffic King Stereos From Cuba

Opinion seems to be that The Clash’s final album* Combat Rock is a major label attempt to break the band in the States and shift some serious units. The hit singles and the production seem to suggest that this was an album where the Sandinista! style experimentation was off the agenda in favour of stadia and the top 40. Maybe that’s partly true but Combat Rock also contains some songs that only The Clash could have made and only The Clash could think were commercial. Straight To Hell goes without saying. Ghetto Defendant (with Allen Ginsberg) is a reggae blues anti-heroin lament. I’ve written before about the record’s closing song, Death Is A Star, a 6 minute excursion into modern jazz and the nature of fame. Opening song Know Your Rights is a call to arms, a rant against government and police forces, crunching two chord agit-pop. It is followed by Car Jamming.

Car Jamming is a treat, everyone playing their part with some of Joe’s most Strummer-esque lyrics. Topper sets up a tub thumping rhythm and is joined by Mick playing post-punk guitar, both paying some kind of tribute to Bo Diddley but in a very early 80s way. Paul’s bass is a descending roots reggae line, low in the mix. Joe’s lyrics are the icing on the cake- funky multi-nationals, King Kong, Agent Orange, gorillas and hyenas and Lauren Bacall- ‘I swear fellas, Lauren Bacall!’ All as seen from the window of a New York taxi in a traffic jam. And I love the way he closes with ‘ah, yeah, positively, absolutely’, every syllable separated.

*The proper line up’s final album that is, not the rump Clash’s Cut The Crap

Car Jamming

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You Said You Stand By Your Man

Under Bernie Rhodes’ tuition Joe Strummer and The Clash were encouraged to write about the world around them, real things that mattered. Joe said as far as love songs were concerned ”subject covered” and he had a tendency to be a bit sniffy about Mick’s love songs. But as Viv Albertine pointed out in her autobiography Clothes Music Boys in some ways it’s Mick’s love songs that have been among the most enduring of The Clash’s tunes, Train In Vain and Should I Stay Or Should I Go among them.

Train In Vain was a last minute addition to London Calling, added right at the end after the sleeves had been printed (which added to the notion that the group were embarrassed about love songs). It was also intended for an NME flexidisc but that never happened so onto London Calling it went. Train In Vain rides in on a railway rhythm and Mick’s twin riffs- harmonica and guitar- and the country and western inspired lyric, which may be about Mick’s relationship with Viv which broke down around the time of the London Calling sessions. It was also the first single that got into the top 30 in the USA, the country they were bored with and enthralled by. Throughout his time as leader of Big Audio Dynamite Mick barely wrote a love song, in either incarnation of the band- in fact I can’t think of a single one off the top of my head.

I saw on Twitter over the weekend that it is now 6 years since the Mick Jones/Pete Wylie/The Farm tour that played Clash songs up and down the country. It was a great moment to see Mick play Train In Vain and do his little shuffle and grin on stage at The Ritz. Later on Ian Brown and John Squire turned up for the encore, their first appearance on stage together since announcing the Roses reunion. Train In Vain is a great little song, one which always raises a cheer when I hear it.

Train In Vain

BAD Birthday

Mick Jones turned 62 years old last week so this is a belated happy birthday from me. The photo was taken for a music press interview (either NME or Melody Maker) c.1989, after Mick had recovered from a life threatening bout of pneumonia. Those Stussy bucket hats were highly sought after around this time (and still are today).

Mick was on a roll around this time, despite slipping out of fashion, with Megatop Phoenix coming out in 1990, a hit single with Roddy Frame and The Clash hitting number 1 on the back of the Levi’s advert. BAD II’s Rush was on the B-side, a good Mick song and one of the best the second line up recorded. It was a decision which go down very well with Joe and Paul apparently.

This song was the B-side to the E=mc2 single.

This Is Big Audio Dynamite

Any Frontier Any Hemisphere

Traditionally a British camping trip should combine sunburn with hours of pouring rain and this one delivered on both. Friday evening was gorgeous, the tail end of a day where the temperature gauge in my car read 30 degrees when I left work. Saturday afternoon was spent around and in a tarn on top of a hill near Water Yeat before at 3.30 pm the heavens opened and it rained all night. Sunday gave us sunshine and sunburn around Coniston Water followed by more rain of biblical proportions yesterday. But its definitely worth getting away from the world, going offline and spending evenings sitting round a fire drinking booze and talking bollocks with friends, especially so after the events of the past week. A dripping wet tent that needs to be dried out is a small price to pay for living outdoors for a few days.

Back in the music world I’ve been spinning this a few times recently and prompted by my friend Meany offer it for your delectation today, Horace Andy’s cover version of The Clash’s Straight To Hell. I’ve written about Straight To Hell recently, a Strummer song of immigration, refugees, suffering and dislocation. Horace recorded it many years ago but was never happy with the rhythm. A conversation with Eric Blowtorch led to the pair digging the track back out and fixing it (out now, 10% of all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders and a Big Youth dub on the B-side). This is reggae roots style, Horace’s vocal floating over the organ, bass and drums. Campfire music.

Strummercamp

We’re away this weekend, camping up in the Lake District. If we weren’t I’d be going along to Strummercamp, the annual Joe Strummer bank holiday festival held at Manchester Rugby Club in Cheadle. This year’s line up features Spear Of Destiny, The Membranes, TV Smith and Department X, and good vibes with good people. If you’re nearby and at a loose end, day tickets and weekend tickets are still available. Say hi to DJ Gadge if you see him.

Clash time. This is a ten minute unofficial mix of Bankrobber plus it’s versions Robber Dub and Rockers Galore (with Mikey Dread on the mic), flowing into one another. Turn up the bass.

Bankrobber/Robber Dub/Rockers Galore

Want To Join In A Chorus?

The Clash, day five. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious songs but for today I’m going with one of their best songs and a high point of the later years. In Straight To Hell Joe delivers a state of the world address, taking in Thatcherism, industrial decline, unemployment and racism in verse one, abandoned children, cultural imperialism and the Vietnam War in verse two and the lives of immigrants universally in verse three. Mick comes up with the guitar hook and Topper thumps out a sort of Bossa Nova with a lemonade bottle with a towel wrapped around it banged against the bass drum. This is the longer version which was edited down for Combat Rock, complete with extra lyrics- at seven minutes long it is possibly Joe’s finest hour lyrically and vocally. From the Sound System remasters, this is the version you want/need.

Straight To Hell (Unedited version)

Clash Piano

Clash week day four. Two songs from round the old Joanna. When the Clash On Broadway box came out in 1991 one of the unreleased songs was a cover of Every Little Bit Hurts, Mick at the piano and giving it loads with a reverb drenched, soulful vocal. According to the booklet it was recorded during the Sandinista! sessions after Chrissie Hynde had dropped in. Mick and Chrissie used to sing it together and Mick gave it a go in the studio a few days later, with Norman Watt Roy on bass (which dates it to when Simonon was away filming Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains) and Topper splashing away on cymbals and percussion.

Every Little Bit Hurts

Originally sung by Brenda Holloway in 1964 it was covered by The Spencer Davis Group which is where Mick knew it from. A couple of years earlier The Clash had been the subjects of a film, Rude Boy, a semi-fictionalised account of the life a roadie called Ray Gange. The film is a brave but flawed stab at documenting life in 1978-9 in Britain. But it does also feature some of the most incendiary Clash live footage committed to tape/celluloid which still makes the hairs on the back of neck stand up and the blood pump a little faster. In this section Joe finds a piano and starts hammering away while Gange stands around drinking beer. After a minute and a half and some muttering/swearing from Gange about Sam Philips and Elvis Joe breaks into Let The Good Times Roll, a Shirley and Lee song from 1956.

Give ’em a piano and a couple of minutes and both Joe and Mick would reel out the pre-punk songs. What Year Zero?