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

Sandinista! (The Clash) – Album Review

Sandinista! (1980) Set The Scene For The World Music Genre That Was To Become Common Currency In The 80s

Sandinista! (1980) Set The Scene For The World Music Genre That Was To Become Common Currency In That Decade

Do you measure how good an album is by looking at how much filler it has, or by looking at the actual number of cuts that are extraordinary? That is the key question many ask themselves when they have to analyze this triple album, issued by The Clash in 1980. The previous release (London Calling, 1979) already had found them pushing boundaries by being a two-record set that included far, far more than the punk offerings that many had already associated with them.

Strummer & Co. were always the kind to stick to the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” ethos, and it was only natural they would continue taking steps forward. This particular step forward is what John Alroy calls an “anything goes” mentality. I think it is best to term it an “anything that speaks to us goes” mentality. Just listen to the single “Hitsville UK”, about a band that does not necessarily succeed but makes people happy for doing what it does (IE, playing music), and the terms of the gamble The Clash had taken this time around become all the more understandable.

The range of styles across the 6 sides of Sandinista! is as encompassing as you can imagine. Note that there are few rock songs around, and the ones available do not necessarily deliver. The one exception is their cover of Eddie Grant’s “Police On My Back”. I do like “Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)” if only because it showcases the band’s ability to tackle important issues (in this case, the tower blocks that blighted England and the living conditions therein), and I can say the same about “Somebody Got Murdered”. But the latter song highlights how far gone Topper was on heroin. He was to take a permanent leave after the next album – in hindsight, the other members of The Clash have equaled his departure with the beginning of the end for them all. Continue reading

London Calling (The Clash) – Album Review

London Calling's Cover Was Shot By Pennie Smith. The Photo Would Eventually Be Voted The Best Rock & Roll Image Ever By Q Magazine.

London Calling's Cover Was Shot By Pennie Smith. The Photo Would Eventually Be Voted The Best Rock & Roll Image Ever By Q Magazine.

A single, seemingly innocuous event might modify the way people approach something forever.That is something nobody could avoid thinking when reviewing “London Calling”, The Clash’s third album. As everybody knows, this album was named the greatest record of the ’80s by Rolling Stone magazine. That is all the more interesting if only because it came out in 1979, not 1980. But that is a different story…

The fact is that there are many people who swear by it owing to that. That couldn’t be avoided, but fans of The Clash are constantly irked by such a situation. It gives their best-loved band popularity alright, but not the kind of popularity that could conduce to a critical analysis of their music and its true merits.

And the music found on London Calling deserves as much of an objective overview as possible. The album (which was a two-record set that retailed at the price of one) marked the moment The Clash started experimenting and letting in more influences into their basic sound.

In actuality, there is only one “punk” song, and that is the title track. It is a masterpiece of sustained tension – the bass is apocalyptic, the guitars emulate a siren near the end, Joe wails his head off… It is one of their better-known songs, and deservedly so. Continue reading

Give’em Enough Rope (The Clash) – Album Review

Give'em Enough Rope's Cover

Give'em Enough Rope's Cover

It is amazing how wrong both the critics and the public can perceive an album when it is first released. The Clash’s second record is a case in point. The album was released in 1978, and it was largely panned. Most of the criticisms I have read focus on the producer that was chosen, a Sandy Pearlman (famous for his work with harder-rocking outfits). The truth is that the album is the most natural evolution of the sound The Clash had presented on their first offering you could ever picture.

In actuality, it is hard to imagine how an album that starts up with “Safe European Home” could cause a bad impression on the listener. The song is one of their best style explorations, melding a call-and-response lyric with a bestial wall of riffage that eventually gives way to a reggae excursion. You know what? That song alone justifies buying the album, especially since it is omitted on “best of” packages. The album as a whole has never got the recognition it deserves. In fact, when the “From Here To Eternity” live CD was issued in 1999, not a single song from “Give’em Enough Rope” was included. Not even “Tommy Gun” (the third track here) was featured. That song showcases that the political vision of the band was advancing both at a steady rhythm and in a focused way. It was Strummer’s homage to mercenaries, and a study on violent types and their motivations. The drums emulate a machine gun all the way through, and the sudden ending makes it all feel as if a grenade had been lodged into the brain of the listener through the song, only to explode at the song’s conclusion. Continue reading

The Clash (US Version) – Album Review

Rocking The Town To The Clash City Rockers

Rocking The Town To The Clash City Rockers

In the same way that the first albums released by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were revamped and even drastically modified for US release, The Clash’s eponymous album underwent the cut-and-paste treatment when it was released in the States in the year 1979.

Every person who has listened to the original album (released in 1977, obviously) arrives at the same conclusion: the original has a more organic flow, whereas the American edition features better individual songs. That is nothing surprising – the US edition ended up resembling a sort of mini compilation of their best songs up to that point. Songs that were added to the American release (which boasted 15 songs, as opposed to the 14 the British release included) featured the hits “Clash City Rockers”, “Complete Control”, “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” and “I Fought The Law”, a song which stuck out like a sore thumb because the production values were so much higher. That is something to take into account – the original LP was recorded in a dilapidated warehouse, and it sounded like that. You put something like “I Fought The Law” in the middle, and it feels like placing a scene from “I Am Legend” into “The Omega Man”. Continue reading

The Clash – General Introduction

I Fought The Law...

I Fought The Law...

There are many misconceptions surrounding The Clash. Regarding them as nothing more than punk rockers frequently tops the list. This happens because they started as that, and because one of their most successful songs from later on is a very loud number (you know which one – the one posing the existential dilemma).

Out of the six albums they were to release, only the first two ones deserve a “punk” label. They are the self-titled record (1977) and the one named “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” (1978). The third one (“London Calling”, 1979) had them diversifying their sound notably, until they experimented as much (or even more) than the Beatles in their triple album “Sandinista!” (released in 1980). The final album by the classic lineup was “Combat Rock” (1982), and it yielded two major American hits: the banal “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and the so-so “Rock The Casbah”. These are the two songs most people associate with the band, and it is a bit shameful because they were capable of so much more than misconceptions arise and it is difficult to set things to right sometimes, even when you are talking to people who are music-educated.

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