An Alternative Imaginary Clash Compilation

A week ago JC at The (New) Vinyl Villain published the latest in his imaginary compilation album series, The Clash back catalogue boiled down to just ten songs. A valiant effort at an almost impossible task. It caused quite a bit of discussion and led to me thinking that there are a handful of Clash songs that are so utterly essential for any Best Of The Clash that they pick themselves- Complete Control, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, London Calling, Straight To Hell, Safe European Home. So I thought I’d consider an alternative Clash compilation, taking those songs out. I also decided that I would not include any songs that were the A-sides of singles (so that ruled out White Riot, I Fought the Law and Bankrobber, also automatic shortlisters) and that I’d rule out any of the songs that JC picked (which removed the cream of some of the album tracks- Clampdown, which is essential, Armagideon Time, which is a masterpiece, and Stay Free, which is glorious and heartfelt). I managed to get a list of about twenty and then the head scratching began. This is my album as it stands today. See it as a companion disc to JC’s, maybe in true Clash style a double disc set (for the price of a single obviously. ‘There will never be a Clash album for more than a fiver’ said Joe Strummer)

Side 1
1. Spanish Bombs
A rollicking chord sequence from Mick and Joe’s brilliant lyrics switching between Spain in the 70s and Spain in the 30s, from London Calling. Oh my corazon…

2. Groovy Times
The best lesser known Clash song, from The Cost Of Living e.p. This record shows the band falling for the USA (I Fought The Law and Mick’s Gates Of The West especially) but this song is completely British lyrically with references to boarded up shops, football terraces and early evening ITV. Meanwhile Mick plays acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitar- that’s not punk!

3. Garageland
The closer from the debut and the moment they began to write their own mythology (and respond to press criticism).  A stunningly raw riff, thumping drums from Tory Crimes, the guttersnipe lyrics, 24 singers and 1 microphone.

4. Guns Of Brixton
Because this the greatest bassline of the 20th century and because Paul Simonon was so much more than just the bass player in a punk band.

5. The Street Parade
I love this song, buried deep inside Sandinista. Topper’s drumming and percussion have a Latino feel, there’s a sweet, understated melody and Joe sings about the joy of being lost in the crowd, being swept along anonymously.

Side 2
1. Ghetto Defendant
Combat Rock is a mixed bag- big hit singles with songs that take in funk, jazz, cinematic sounds, all sorts. Ghetto Defendant works, it has depth and groove and weight- Allen Ginsberg as the voice of God, reggae bass and Joe nailing heroin addiction versus rebellion.

2. Death Or Glory
London Calling’s full of definitive Clash songs. This one both holds up and debunks the rock ‘n’ roll myth. The band playing is superb and it contains the still jawdropping lines about gimmick hungry yobs, nuns and joining the church.

3. The Prisoner
The Clash spewed out singles with good B-sides. The Prisoner was the flip to (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, which is possibly their greatest song. The Prisoner is a riot, manic, trebly, breathless. It namechecks Watford Junction, Camden Town, the Second World War, Johnny Be Goode and Johnny Too Bad, the tube and more, all crammed in one short song.

4. Somebody Got Murdered
Mick Jones could write fast, uptempo rockers with sleek guitar lines until the cows came home. This one from Sandinista just edges it although I nearly went for Up In Heaven (Not Only Here). The opening is a rush of drums and guitars, like seeing the city from a speeding car. Joe’s words were based on real life events viewed while staying in New York. Mick sings them like his life depends on it. Many Clash songs have drama, this one especially.

5. Police and Thieves
Any Clash compilation needs a reggae cover version- I’d have gone for Armagideon Time but the rules disallowed it. Pressure Drop, another B-side is good, then there’s Police On My Back. But Police And Thieves is the one, the song that shows the rules of 1977 punk were going to be broken, that cut the tempo of the debut album in half but still kept the pace up. Junior Murvin’s original is light as air. The Clash’s version is heavier. Trash reggae- in a good way.

Groovy Times

There are a bunch of songs from the debut I considered (I’m So Bored With The USA, What’s My Name? for two), most of the rest of London Calling and at least five from Sandinista I could have gone with (Washington Bullets, One More Time, Rebel Waltz, Broadway, Something About England). The back cover of Combat Rock suggests Atom Tan, Inoculated City, Car Jamming. Shorn of Safe European Home and Stay Free, Give ‘Em Enough Rope doesn’t offer that much to me (English Civil War and Tommy Gun were both singles but I don’t think either would get near this compilation). But this ten are at this moment, my alternative imaginary Clash compilation.

That Crazy Casbah Sound

I  have wandered down a Clash shaped alleyway this week so if you don’t like them, you’ll have to bear with me for one more post. The Clash’s approach to Middle East politics may have come across as a bit simplistic on the sleeve of the 12″ but, let’s face it, it can’t have been any worse than the West’s dealings over the last few years. Maybe both sides should just get down to some tunes on a ghettoblaster.  As it is we get it wrong and make a mess time after time. Our government oppose IS but support Saudi Arabia (some of whom fund IS). And while we act in revulsion at terrorist beheadings of British and American citizens, the Saudi legal system executes its criminals by- yup- beheading. And so on and so forth.

Back to The Clash. On Wednesday, after posting Complete Control, I got an email from Dubrobots saying nice things abut the blog and pointing me towards his own 12″ remix of Rock The Casbah, which is a pretty smart job with a stripped down, funky, extended intro and chopped up vox. It would work well played out somewhere. Free download too.

Everyone knows Topper Headon wrote the music for Rock The Casbah, finding himself alone in the studio one morning before anyone else had got out of bed. Joe added some words and job done. It was their biggest hit in the US until the Levi’s advert. The video is a hoot- even though the man who wrote the song isn’t in it, having been sacked and replaced by Terry Chimes.

I  was reading a Clash forum comment thread once, with some people saying they don’t like this song or Should I Stay Or Should I Go mainly it seems because they were hits and had videos, and presumably that just isn’t punk maaan.

Us ’83

There’s no doubt that for $20 (even in 1983 prices) that’s an interesting line up.

This was the last gig Mick Jones played with The Clash, in front of 250, 000 people. The Clash had truculently refused to play hours before their stage time but relented. There was an argument with Dave Lee Roth about the $1.5 million Van Halen were receiving and Joe insisted the organisers, including Steve Wozniak of Apple fame, pay them more or donate more to Clash approved charities. This led to a pissed off Clash taking the stage and the tensions are evident in the clips- the whole thing was recorded- although some of the tension may be internal. Joe and Mick were barely speaking, Mick and Paul rowed on and off. As a result, Mick was playing his 80 minutes on stage in the band he formed. Topper was gone too by this point, replaced by Nick Howard (who had replaced Terry Chimes/Tory Crimes). During the show Joe repeatedly abused the audience and organisers and on leaving the stage (even more pissed off that the dj began playing songs straight away, denying them an encore) the band got into a scuffle with security. During the brawl, in a last display of band unity, Paul waded in to stop Mick getting a kicking (‘cos he’s only a skinny bloke Mick isn’t he’ said Paul). Having said all this, for a band adapting their set and sound to stadiums this is top stuff. Mick, Joe and Paul are tight and the drumming is good enough. Paul looks like the coolest bassist in the world and can clearly play the thing too, without the notes panted on the fretboard like in the early days. However you look at it, it’s a long way from Camden Town in 1976.

There’s some variable quality clips on Youtube. The whole show is there but a lot of it has been filmed by a man watching it on video on his TV in his front room. The two below are straight from the DVD and are good quality.

There’s a new Clash box set in the offing, remastered by Mick and packed in a boom box/ghetto blaster designed by Paul, with demos and extra tracks (that have been available on bootlegs for donkey’s years) and accompanied by all manner of trinkets, retailing at somewhere around one hundred pounds. It is ridiculous. Yes, of course I want it.

Walk Evil Talk