Three Punk Rock Playlists
Two Digits Throughout History
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty
Rounding out Day Three. I'm exhausted, but I enjoyed working on this. You're forgiven if you gloss over my meandering text, but listen to the music. If music could talk...
- 1970’s punk, excepting three pillars
- The Ramones
- The Clash
- The Sex Pistols
- 1980’s through today’s punk
I could talk all day about The Clash. (I won’t.) They are known internationally as The Only Band That Matters. Mattered, I guess, though they seem alive and well when you’re cranking “Clash City Rockers” at a high volume. I consider Joe Strummer to be, in addition to punk rock warlord, a high prophet and one of the coolest guys not just to rock a Mohawk but ever to roam the planet. The Clash are, and have been since the 1980’s, my favorite band of all time. Bar none.
Joe Strummer (née John Mellor) – sang and played guitar
Mick Jones – sang and played guitar
Paul Simonon – played bass and sang on rare occasions
Nicky “Topper” Headon – drummed (like a mf)
[There were others: Terry Chimes, the original drummer who plays on the first album, and the three younger dudes who stepped in and filled out what would later be called The Clash II when Joe sacked most everyone, a subsequently disavowed record and lineup. But the four above comprise The Clash to most.]
They are all still alive except Joe. Joe Strummer died right before Christmas in 2002 at age 52. I know some folks were bummed at the recent deaths of Bowie, Prince, and others they grew up listening to; I talked to our pal Otis, another huge Clash fan, right after Strummer died. The sentiment exchanged was disbelief. Not just that Joe died from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect right as he was trying to re-form The Clash, months before they would be honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . . . but disbelief that the passing of someone we’d never met saddened us that overwhelmingly. It sucked, it still sucks. Years later, this article depicted people who'd obviously been hit harder by it. Life is short. Live well. Please read this interview and listen to Joe’s BBC words to keep you on the righteous path: Without people, you’re nothing. Amen.
|Whitney and Joe, NYC|
That said, their presence on the airwaves is still nearly completely limited to the Big 4:
- “London Calling” (omnipresent backdrop to any TV show or movie scene where people travel to the UK…ugh)
- “Rock the Casbah” (I’d be sick of it and change the station at first note if it weren’t so damn good)
- “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” still a classic with an oft-sampled Topper drum track
- “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (more on this later)
|If it unspools, use a pencil|
Then Combat Rock hit in 1982, and it was one of my earliest cassette purchases. Wore it out. Side 1 was aces, Side 2 was deuces. Rewind button hit frequently. Thinking about doing that takes me back.
Wish I’d been old/smart/cool enough to see them at William and Mary Hall that year. Dammit.
A somewhat random purchase at the start of the summer proved to be a real highlight and an introduction to a back catalogue that made me think that I was way late to the party, but one has kept me entertained for going on three decades since. The Story of The Clash Volume 1, on two clear cassettes. (Vol. 2 never happened.) First listens of “Complete Control,” “Tommy Gun,” "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” and the like all thoroughly intrigued. Loved it. Put it in the Walkman while I painted. Wore it out.
* * * * *
The Clash formed in 1976 as a supergroup with members from the London SS and the 101ers. The latter band actually had an album of raw but enjoyable materials. "Keys to Your Heart" and "Letsagetabitarockin" entertain but foreshadow very little of what would come next.
The Clash's eponymously titled first record is pure punk rock. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. Give 'Em Enough Rope followed, including Dave's favorite Clash song. Softened some of the rough edges. Once again, no hint at what would follow.
London Calling was released this month, 1979. And then it was on. 19 songs. 2 LP's. 5 million copies sold. Enough has been written on this record. Rolling Stone named it the best album since ever, back when they wrote articles about music. Just get it, sit down, and spend an hour with the volume way up. ("Elevator, goin' up!")
Sandinista! followed the next year, a bloated 3-LP mixed bag of reggae, pop, experimental, dub, children singing, maybe a little punk, what have you. Critiqued less glowingly. Underrated. I sent Otis a list of what it could have been as a single album. Damn fine:
- The Magnificent Seven
- Somebody Got Murdered
- Rebel Waltz
- One More Time
- Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)
- The Sound of the Sinners
- Police on My Back
- The Call Up
- Lose This Skin
- Charlie Don't Surf
- Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)
- If Music Could Talk
Topper gets punted for being a junkie's junkie. "The Human Drum Machine" wallows in his misery for decades. This story here is well told and has a happy ending, but not until after some depravity. One particularly sad scene is told by Topper when he saw Terry Chimes mimicking drums in the video for "Rock the Casbah," released after Topper had been clipped from the band. That song was Topper's own; he'd been in the studio without his mates one day and had laid down the drums, bass and piano (which comprise most of the music in the song). Joe added new lyrics later. Arguably the Clash's biggest hit, "Rock the Casbah" wasn't a Strummer/Jones composition for once, but Topper's brainchild, and watching Chimes at the kit for all the world to see sent him spiraling further downward.
Mick, the Keith to Joe's Mick or the John to Joe's Paul, is sent packing while Paul stays. Follow? Joe and Paul then pick up three young blokes to round out a pseudo-Clash that produces Cut the Crap but loses remaining street cred and is later considered to never have happened, like Rocky V, Jaws 3-D, or Highlander II. (It did produce two songs I enjoy. Guilty pleasure.)
And then they're done. Big Audio Dynamite, Havana 3AM, The Good Bad and the Queen, Carbon/Silicon, and The Mescaleros ensue. Decent to very good. But not The Clash. They told us lightning strikes not once but twice, but they had it in a bottle for seven years and once it was gone, it was gone for good. Especially now that Joe is up in heaven.
* * * * *
Rob knows that I have somewhat obsessively populated my Clash library in the years that followed. Disc and digital acquisitions of every studio album, live material galore, b-sides, rarities, outtakes, demos, compilations of every sort. A bit over the top, actually. (I don't have these.) Here’s what you “need”:
Essential Viewing: I loved The Future Is Unwritten, the documentary about Joe Strummer. Trailer here. Westway to the World and The Rise and Fall of The Clash also entertain and educate. Would like to see the tangentially related London Town, out this year. Pre-release showings in London, NYC, Norfolk, VA, and I fucking missed it. Clarence can fail.
Essential Reading: There are dozens of books about The Only Band That Matters, including at least one with that title. Way too many. Enough cashing in already. I’ve read a few. I liked Last Gang in Town by Marcus Gray, A Riot of Our Own by former roadie and road manager Johnny Green, and the huge neon pink tome simply titled The Clash.
Essential Listening: In the album-buying era, you could do plenty worse than that Story of the Clash Volume 1 grab bag. Clash on Broadway expanded upon that. As far as studio albums, it generally goes without saying that you start with London Calling and travel wherever you want from there. That album brings it well beyond any hype about it.
Honestly, they have five albums, six if you count that the US version of the first album is markedly different than the UK. Throw in Black Market Clash and you have a 7-pack of the best stuff ever composed and compiled. I have tried to shy away from good/bad/better/best when it comes to artistic opinion, but come now, children. This shit is the best. Listening to all this music while penning this post has reminded me just how much that's true.
Anyway… in August of this year, Dave posted a Stranger Things clip at SoD that featured “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” In a tremendously pompous and music snobby retort, someone commented:
“The Clash is indeed the only band that matters. Though I would put SISOSIG at about my 37th favorite Clash tune.Dave, after much consideration, here’s the list. Enjoy. And remember: without people, you're nothing.
I can list 1-36 if you run out of content here.”