Combat Rock (The Clash) – Album Review

Not Counting “Cut The Crap” (1985), “Combat Rock” Was The Final Album By The Clash. It Was Produced By Glyn Johns, And It Saw Release In 1982.

Not Counting “Cut The Crap” (1985), “Combat Rock” Was The Final Album By The Clash. It Was Produced By Glyn Johns, And It Saw Release In 1982.

This was The Clash’s final album. And no, I haven’t forgotten that thing released by Strummer and Simonon backed by a bunch of scabs in 1985 named “Cut The Crap”. “We Are The Clash”, my ass. That was a tremendous blunder, and the band knew as much – no tracks from it were included on the otherwise career-spanning “The Clash On Broadway” (1991).

“Combat Rock” was conceived as the direct sequel to the ambitious “Sandinista!”, an album that many felt had been weighed down by Strummer’s own aspirations. He clearly wanted to move the band into other styles (with black music topping the list), and Mick Jones wanted to stick to rock & roll. Those differences could not be reconciled, and Jones was to leave the band after touring “Combat Rock” – an experience that included opening for The Who during their whole farewell tour, and playing to highly disinterested audiences at that.

Originally, “Combat Rock” was to be a double album named “Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg”. However, when experienced producer Glyn Johns was called in to oversee the recording he convinced the band to release a single disc.

Everybody hated “Combat Rock” at the time. Shareef didn’t like it, and neither did the punks and the press. The charge was that the band had “sold out”. That only made sense if you looked at the singles that were issued: “Know Your Rights”, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “Rock The Casbah”. The first two were simple songs in the worst sense of the word, and the other was a funky number that became their biggest seller in the US. It was a more respectable song than the other two, but the finger-popping melody made for instant criticism by people who wanted the band to stick to their rebellious selves. They once had fought the (unsanctioned) release of the poppy “Complete Control”. Now, they were willingly releasing a radio-made song themselves.

In actuality, “Rock The Casbah” was largely the work of drummer Topper Headon. He played the drums, bass and keyboards on that song. According to the rest of the band, The “Casbah” riff was one he had been toying with for ages. When recording Combat Rock, he went into the studio one morning and put all those instruments down. Strummer came up with the lyrics after reading how people would be lashed on Iran for owning rock records. Much later down the line, he reportedly cried when he learned that American pilots used the expression “rock the casbah” as a euphemism for their bombing missions in Iraq.

The argument that the band was selling out made just no sense when one played the full album. To begin with, there was precious little radio-friendly music there. In fact, there was virtually no rock & roll to be found anywhere.

Don’t spin “Combat Rock” looking for variations of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” because you are not getting that. You are getting reggae on “Car Jammin’”, the world beats of “Sean Flynn”, the pop of “Inoculated City”, the funk of “Overpowered By Funk” (complete with an impersonation of Tarzan!) and even a collaboration with poet Allen Ginsberg. Continue reading

Rough Mix (Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane) – Album Review (Part 2)

(Read the introduction to this album here.)

Doing a quick recap, Ronnie Lane handled the folksy bits on this record whereas the Birdman doled out the rock numbers. It is Pete the one to start it all with the delirious sketch “My Baby Gives It Away”. He knows he is singing utter piffle, and he sings it so brazenly and the accompaniment is so joyous and upbeat that it is not as Dave Marsh says: Pete is not sounding as if he were having fun. He is having the time of his life in a studio in a long, long time. The song goes from silliness to silliness set to the steady beat of Charlie Watts and acoustic guitars that are strummed as if they were the cue for the listener to smile.

Ronnie takes the lead and supplies “Nowhere To Run” and “Annie”, with the instrumental title track sandwiched in between. I do like “Nowhere To Run” – its melody is good, but the lyrics are a bit hazy and it is tricky relating to them. “Annie”, on the other hand, is one of these songs about lost love that are impinged with so much sensibility that the melody (and words) paint concrete images into just anybody, young or old. Continue reading

Rough Mix (Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane) – Album Review (Part 1)

Rough Mix (Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane's Collaboration) Stole The Accolade Of Best Album Released In 1977. Pistols, Clash & Costello Eat Your Hearts Out!

Rough Mix (A Collaboration Between Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane) Stole The Accolade Of Best Album Released In 1977. Pistols, Clash & Costello Eat Your Hearts Out!

Produced by Glyn Johns and issued in 1977, this collaboration between Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane was voted album by the year by Rolling Stone. Wenner’s gang were not the only ones dazzled by it. Pete’s record company gave the album little promotion, certain that he was to leave and form a supergroup with Lane. The Who had just signed a new contract, and the album did nothing but highlight how much Pete needed a change of scene.

Rough Mix is blistering in terms of sidemen: Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Boz Burrell, Ian Stewart… Pete could have snapped his fingers and have a new band within seconds. And it would have been a more fulfilling band than The Who to him at that point for certain.

The album itself is not really a collaboration in the sense of the two former mod champions sitting down and writing an album. (“What?! And split the royalties?!” Pete joked to Ronnie at the time). Rather, Ronnie had some songs, Pete had some songs and together they came up with “Rough Mix”. They only sing together in the penultimate track, “Heart To Hang On To”. They also shared a writing credit for the title track, an instrumental were Clapton and Rabbit Bundrick have their way.

There are no videos of Pete and Ronnie playing together. There is, however, this one of Eddie Vedder singing with Pete in 1999. They mix up the lyrics, and Vedder is a bit off. But it is the best that I could find for you:

Continue reading

It’s Hard (The Who) – Album Review (Part 2)

Read the introduction to this review here.

The songs on The Who’s final record with Kenny Jones have a distinctive characteristic: many were written “to order” by Pete. That is, Roger and John requested that certain issues were touched upon and that is why we have a song about the health system (“Cook’s County”) and one about war (“I’ve Known No War”). These work in tandem with John’s “Dangerous”, about urban violence and security.

“Cook’s County” has the sad merit of being hailed by fans as one of the worst songs ever recorded by the band. The other is “Armenia, City In The Sky”, though to be fair that one was penned by Pete’s chauffeur at the time, Speedy Keene. ”I’ve Known No War” is better as it has a longer running time in which motifs are established and both the instruments and the vocals peak, culminating in an orchestrated fade.

The title track was actually reworked from an opera of Pete about each person being a soul under siege, and it has some mixed wordplay. But it is mostly compelling when taken as a whole. Continue reading

It’s Hard (The Who) – Album Review (Part 1)

The Who's Final Studio Album With Kenny Jones

The Who's Final Studio Album With Kenny Jones

Three years after Keith Moon had passed away, Pete must have been regretting they ever carried on. His attitude had changed for sure, as he began pumping out solo releases which in hindsight were to be the place to turn to if you were looking for The Who’s zest. Because The “New” Who on record and The “New” Who on stage were completely different entities.

Live, Kenny had to replicate Keith’s arrangements, and he was quite capable of doing that (they never, ever did “Happy Jack” with Kenny, though). As a studio drummer, it was a different story. He could drum excitingly enough for any band (“You Better You Bet” and “Daily Records” are clear examples), but nobody could ever hold a torch to Keith’s inventive performances in the studio. That wasn’t Kenny’s fault, certainly. And to be fair, Keith could never have played military drums like the former Small Faces drummer did on “Cry If You Want”. But he was under so much pressure and attention that it must have been unbearable. And Roger was hostile to him from day one. Continue reading

The Who By Numbers – Album Review

John Entwistle Drew The Cartoon. Try Connecting The Dots - It Works!

John Entwistle Drew The Cartoon. Try Connecting The Dots - It Works!

In the ’70s, music was characterized by an inner conflict that tore at ideals and hurled them against the blackest confines of the human psyche. As a seeker of truth, Pete Townshend surely would have a lot to say. The Who was always – always – there in times of need. The album The Who were to release after Quadrophenia was to expose Pete’s vulnerabilities like nothing else. It was him who needed someone. And the horrible realization that he was not finding that person or people within his band was what listeners were to come across on “The Who By Numbers”.

The setting in which the album was conceived was as troublesome as the ones in which “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia” came to the world. This time, Roger and Pete were playing verbal ping pong on the press, and their views on The Who (as entertainers and as artists) were never painted in such black and white terms before or since.

Pete’s already-manifested impression that the band was caricaturing itself had entrenched by this point. His new set of songs dealt with that in a tortured way. The one jovial tune on offer was to be “Squeeze Box”. It was to become a Top 20 hit, in fact. That was certainly disheartening – something truly akin to another brick in the wall of vacuity.

A sense of futility populates the album: Pete questions the relationships with his fans and friends at every turn, and the facades he always studied were becoming far, far too brittle. Everybody could see through disguises by this point. Continue reading