Without People You’re Nothing

Joe Strummer died on 22nd December 2002 and I’ve got into the habit of marking it here. God only knows what he’d have made of the events of 2016 but his famous quote that gives this post its title is as relevant as ever.

I finish work today for the Christmas holiday and I cannot remember ever feeling so tired. I’ll be raising a glass to Joe’s memory tonight. This song from Global A Go Go typifies Joe’s multicultural look at the world and his joy in other cultures.

Bhindi Bhagee

His bandmate and friend Paul Simonon turned 61 on the 15th of December so happy belated birthday to him too.

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And They’re Ringing The Bells All Over The City

Yesterday was Joe Strummer’s birthday. He would have been sixty four. His passing in 2002 seems a long time ago now. I’ve no doubt he would have had a lot to to say about the world as it has unfolded over the last fourteen years, more songs to write and records to release, more places to tour, constant offers to reform The Clash. So it goes. This song does a typical Strummer trick, taking the commonplace (a nitcomb), building some versus and a chorus around it with some typically Joe street-poetry touches, and turning it into something affecting and real, a song of devotion.

Nitcomb

Keep The Lantern Bright

It seems like it’s all going to pot at the moment. Maybe Joe Strummer has some answers…

Sandpaper Blues

This is one of those Joe and The Mescaleros songs where the band play three or four musical styles simultaneously and effortlessly (hand drums, African chanting, cowboy music…) and which reaches outwards, out into infinite variety of the world.

‘It’s gonna boom Mariachi
This really fine piece of madera
And this will be the counter
Of the Pueblo Tabacalera
Shape, it up, shape it up, shape it up, shape it up
All around the world

Oh, this keel could save a life
When the storms hit the Pacific
To make it really true
You really gotta be specific

Keep the lantern bright
Keep food upon the table
If you shape it well tonight
As well as you are able’

You Gotta Live In This World Diggin’ The New

On this day in 2002 Joe Strummer died of a heart attack at home after walking his dogs. I think he is still sorely missed, not just by his family and friends (which goes without saying really) but by his fans, his people. 1970s punk has had such a high profile over the last decade, autobiographies and documentaries abound, the clamour for a re-union would have been immense (especially as Paul and Mick both continue to record and perform), and his views on British and world political events would have been sought. Of his solo albums Rock, Art And The X Ray Style, released in 1999, was his step back into the world and it captures the spirit of Joe as much as any record he made since the Clash split up. On Tony Adams he sings about a power cut in New York over thumping timpani and pays tribute to Arsenal’s troubled captain. On Yalla Yalla  Joe and Richard Norris play electro-dub and raise their arms aloft. On Sandpaper Blues The Mescaleros shoehorn umpteen musical styles into four minute highlight with cowboys, African chanting, male voice choirs, hand drums and mariachi and Madeira. On Diggin’ The New Joe sings ‘You gotta live in this world, diggin’ the new’ and that kind of sums up the man up- always looking for the next thing, open to new ideas and experiences. I miss him.

Strummerville

This is a public service announcement…  my top ten Joe Strummer post Clash songs. After some consideration I’ve tried to get a spread from the end of The Clash through to Joe’s last Mescaleros record. Joe’s back catalogue is pretty badly served, with a lot of his solo songs, especially those from a variety of film soundtracks, out of print. A career spanning boxed set or double disc is required. Hellcat put out a three disc compilation of his final three Mescaleros albums plus some B-sides but it was download only. I don’t think Earthquake Weather is currently available either. Someone should sort it all out and put it all together in one place. Some of the rankings here a pretty arbitrary here, I could easily move them around if I did it again.

Ten
Island Hopping (from Earthquake Weather)
A gentle-ish acoustic guitar song with a story of the council chopping down the trees on Mango Street, together with some Latin instruments and percussion. the 12″ version Mango Street is worth seeking out too.

Nine
X Ray Style (off Art, Rock And The X Ray Style)
I think this may be my favourite Joe solo album, proof he was back and his fire hadn’t gone out. X Ray Style has some lovely ruminations on life, people and the universe and some very Joe references to things like rockabilly trains and be-bop guns.

Eight
The Unknown Immortal (off the soundtrack to Walker)
Joe spent much of the late 80s in and around films, with Alex Cox, various Pogues, Jim Jarmusch and others. The Unknown Immortal is Joe reflecting on the nature of fame and greatness, and losing it. From the epicentre of his wilderness years.

Seven
Tennessee Rain (from the soundtrack to Walker)
Another song hidden away on a film soundtrack Tennessee Rain is a lilting, rootsy thing. ‘I wish I was drunk in Havana, I wish I was at the Mardi Gras’.

Six
At The Border, Guy (off Global A Go Go)
An extended dub influenced song with Joe stitching together lines from an old notebook while The Mescaleros organ, guitar and bass cook away slowly. One of my favourites from his solo career that seems to pull a lot of what he did best into one song and let it go.

Five
Sleepwalk (Earthquake Weather)
Joe again full of self doubt, ruefulness and searching for something, vocals buried low in a muddy mix, acoustic guitars plucked and the Latin vibe going on. Joe almost croons on this one, asking ‘What good would it do?’ repeatedly, with no answer.

Four
Yalla Yalla (Art, Rock and The X Ray Style)
Magnificent Richard Norris co-write and production, with acid house and reggae influences lifting it up and Joe’s vocal brimming with confidence again. I saw this one done live at least twice, a great set closer and a real return to form at the end of the 90s.

Three
Johnny Appleseed (From Global A Go Go)
I’ve written about this one before, an almost definitive Joe Strummer solo single with the revving guitars, great playing from the band and Martin Luther King and a Buick ’49. Nice video too.

Two
Burning Lights (from the I Hired A Contract Killer soundtrack)
The greatest of the great lost Joe Strummer solo songs, just a man with a Telecaster and some poetry about losing it. ‘You are the last of the buffalo’ he sings, to and about himself possibly.

One
Trash City (off the soundtrack to Permanent Record)
Cracking three chord riff, clattering drums and pots and pans backing from Latino Rockabilly War and some typically Joe lyrics- ‘in Trash City on Party Avenue, I got a girl from Kalamazoo’ is the starting point and it takes in ‘fifty seven records that you think you oughta own’ and ‘a hotdog in the nightmare zone’. Sounds like the best Joe Strummer song The Clash song never recorded.

Trash City

Bubbling under the top ten were Minstrel Boy, Coma Girl, Sandpaper Blues, and especially From Willesden To Cricklewood which is gorgeous.

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed is one of the highlights of Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros years (and his entire solo career too), a beautifully crafted song with a chugging guitar riff, acoustic and electric, and some great vocal/backing vocal combinations. Uplifting.

Johnny Appleseed was an American pioneer who travelled the west scattering apple seeds. Nurseries and orchards grew up in his wake. He has become a symbolic hero of conservation, kindness and generosity. Johnny was respected by the Native Americans because of his respect for all living things, including insects. Hence the line about bees in Joe’s song- ‘if you’re after getting the honey, don’t go killing all the bees’. Joe also brings in Martin Luther King and a Buick 49 and the question of whether there is a soul. We don’t know, he concludes.

Johnny Appleseed

Distance No Object

Yalla Yalla is one my favourite solo Joe Strummer songs and the one that really marked his return in the late 90s, said that he was back with something to say and a good band around him. The 12″ had a Richard Norris dub mix, a dub of an already pretty dubby song. Joe’s lyrics on Yalla Yalla are classic Strummer, finding romance in unlikely places and mixing up the personal, the political, the musical and London.

Yalla Yalla (Norro’s King Dub)