The Clash

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but back when I used to teach middle school general music, I used to do a unit every year on the inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  So back in 2003 when the Clash were inducted, I picked up this album for $7 at Used Kids Records and used it for my lesson.  At the time, Joe Strummer had just recently passed, which added a little gravity to the things.  And my friend and colleague, Das Locos Fin, was a huge Clash fan, as well as being a huge punk rock fan, and he gave me a lot of history on the group and on the meaning behind the songs to pass along to the kids.  Regardless, the kids hated it and thought I was torturing them.  Oh well.  I wound up digging the album quite a bit.  It’s raw and noisy, and it’s pretty much a 45 minute blast at the establishment, mocking the police, businessmen, the record industry, England, the U.S.A., and pretty much everything else in “the system”.  It’s pretty much everything rock and roll should be, especially punk rock from one of the seminal bands in the punk rock movement.

Little did I know at the time though that this is the “American version” of the record.  The original “UK version” of the record was not deemed radio friendly enough for American listeners, so initially it was shelved with no intention of an American release.  Eventually, after the modest commercial success in the U.S. of the Clash’s second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope,  the record company decided to release The Clash.  However, to make it more radio friendly, the record company replaced four songs (“Deny”, “Cheat”, “Protex Blue”, and “48 Hours”) with four non-album singles (“Clash City Rockers”, “Complete Control”, “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”, and “I Fought the Law”) and a b-side (“Jail Guitar Doors”), and they also replaced “White Riot” with a re-recorded studio version.  The record company also changed the order of the remaining tracks.  Now, this was a common practice at the time, notably happening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on many of their early American releases, but in this case it completely changed the character of the album.  The original UK version, in my opinion, is much closer to the Clash’s original artistic vision: a short, noisy blast of non-commercial, politically charged punk rock.  The American version, in contrast, a much more commercial album, and a couple of the added tracks actually border on radio-friendly pop rock.

The irony here, of course, is that punk rock has an extremely strict set of unwritten rules, foremost of which is that in order to maintain integrity, a band cannot strive for any sort of commercial success lest they run the risk of being labeled a “sell-out” (are you listening, Billy Joe Armstrong?).  It’s an issue Joe Strummer struggled with, and generations later artists still struggle with it.  Hell, Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and the entire Seattle music scene of the 90s were based on this very ethos.  Now, in this case I don’t think the Clash was selling-out, but obviously the record company was, and ironically one of the songs the record company added, “Complete Control”, is exactly about these kind of money-grab shenanigans. And at any rate, it worked, setting the stage for the Clash’s breakout success with the London Calling record.  For the purposes of the Rolling Stone list, it’s specifically the American version of the album that ranks at #81, but for anyone interested in the original, the UK version is now available stateside.  In fact, I just picked up a brand-new copy for $5.99 at Half Price Books just they other day.  They had it on vinyl too!  Fight the power!  Oh, and as the first ever college football playoff approaches and my beloved Buckeyes get set to play the Alabama Crimson Tide, I would like to remind the world that “I’m So Bored with the S.E.C.”…thanks Schembechlers!

Other lists: “Complete Control” is #371 and “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” is #437 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the London Calling entry (#8) for the Clash’s other RS accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album also fell four spots due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favourite track:  “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.”

Honourable mention: “Complete Control”

Quote: “They said we’d be artistically free when we signed that bit of paper.  They meant let’s make lotsa mon-ee – an’ worry about it later.”