Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus 7. The Clash

Top 102 Albums. Minus 7. 
The Clash - The Clash

"Everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!"

Things have been a little quiet here among the smoke and darkness at Vapour Trails so I felt it was time to set the speakers shaking again and what better than a bit of 100% proof punk rock 'n' roll to shift the cobwebs.

I did think for a while that Sandinista would be #myclashchoice but every time I listen to this it inspires a wave of optimism - a rare enough event around here to warrant making a splash about it. But Sandinista is a cruelly undervalued album which sounds like it was tuned in to the future and there are always surprises in the wayward generosity of it's thirty-six tracks.

Back to the album in question here. As an all round non-believer I am usually batting for the skeptics but here I am happy to punch the air in youthful credulity. All it really takes is rough voiced fervour and  a choppy tsunami of highly strung guitar riffs. And a THEM and an US, but not the U.S. That's boring.

"Then you said you'd given it up
Gone an' kicked it in the head
You said you ain't had none for weeks
But baby I seen your arms
Baby I seen your arms"
But escape into excitement can be just as boring, and junk, cars, sex and even rock 'n' roll can be dead ends. Experiment quickly becomes habit and then the dead hand of boredom can leave its tracks. But even boredom can burn, and there is a smile and a snarl in the way The Clash try to keep up with, and keep in with, the crowd they are also leading. They don't seem sure if they want to get wrecked for the weekend ("Monday is comin' like a jail on wheels") or have a revolution. Or maybe both? What they do know is that lots of people are living lives they don't want. But they're too scared to say.
"Let them know / Let them know"

Working stiffs, bored teenagers, rioters and judges, businessmen and guttersnipes; all manner of people appear in these songs often in opposition with each other. The tension generates a sense of movement and excitement. It's like listening in on an argument on a bus at night, with everyone joining in with opinions, asides, advice and the odd drunken roar from the back. "Johnny, Johnny". Ah, it's a prophylactic joke. Stops you acting your age. Cue adolescent sniggering.

The Clash's efforts to mesh punk and reggae produced a great, raw version of Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves. It seemed to capture the times. It still does. The enemies were the thugs, in or out of uniform. What would we do, who would we be if we weren't paralysed by fear. Barriers were falling, even if barricades were being erected - "I want a riot." Anything for some excitement. Anything to throw off the weight of a played out tradition and re-invent Britain. Or at least start a punk rock band and ride the wave of excitement until it crashes on the shore.

Without being escapist the album is as much fun as can be inscribed in a twelve inch vinyl disc.

Pull on those skinny jeans, lace up those Doctor Martens, spray paint a t-shirt and pogo until you fall through the floor.

Exercises: "Do you think I'm a raving idiot / Just got off the boat?"
Discuss the use of racist, colonial, anti-immigrant phrases in the work of the politically radical punk rock band The Clash.


  1. Great choice, Séamus, but I much prefer the U.S. version because it also has "Clash City Rockers," "Complete Control" and "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," three of my all-time favorite tracks by the band (esp. when their import singles were tough to find across the pond over here). I actually think London Calling's a more cohesive, "better" album in a way, but this LP has more Clash songs I would totally miss if I had to settle for owning only one album by the band. Luckily, no need for such fiscal restraint re: music I bought as a teen. These raw, blaring guitar attacks made being a teenager so much more bearable than it would have been had I had to stick with the bland muzak of today's teens!

    1. Richard, I think that the UK version is more cohesive and I loved the fact that their singles weren't on the albums - and I love my 7" Clash singles. I bought the 'Singles' on cd and think of the US version as a compilation album rather that a 'proper' Clash album but fully understand that if it was first one I owned I'd feel different. It has the baggage of existing only because CBS America refused to release the original album as they thought it wouldn't sell and then watching it become the biggest selling import album ever in the US. And no 48 Hours, Cheat, Protex Blue or Deny!
      White Man in the Hammersmith Palais probably my favourite single, at least while listening to it, although Complete Control was the first I owned and has a particular place in my heart. The b-side City of the Dead has what was a favourite verse - "What we wear is dangerous gear / It'll get you picked on anywhere / Though we get beat up we don't care / At least it livens up the air." It seemed to encapsulate the desperation of the search for excitement and reminds me of 'punks' at the time who were unable to get in anywhere and ended up hanging around all night long.
      London Calling is great but always seems less exciting to me.

  2. thanks for writing this. my response is too complicated to lay out on your blog...

    1. I'm intrigued now Anthony. Plenty of space for complicated responses here - as a comment or post or whatever!

  3. Great to have the Top 102+ back. I wonder why Topper is not on the album cover?

    1. Topper replaced the drummer on this album Terry Chimes after an infamous audition of 250 drummers. He left before the album was released so he is not on the cover where he is credited as Tory Crimes.

  4. Totally agree with Sandinista being a much decried & underrated album, but do love this one, it can always chuck a youthful grin/snarl on my face & get me bouncing round the room to the embarrassment of my daughter (worth it for that alone)

    1. I find the effect multiplied nicely if I di it when my daughter's friends are present.

  5. This is one of my all time favorites. I agree with Richard that London Calling is my all time favorite Clash album, but but this one is certainly worthy of being called great.

    I find it impossible to decide between the US and the UK versions. Both are almost beyond compare.

    1. Although I have huge admiration for London Calling, I love this one more. I think partly because they are not quite as confident and accomplished. There's less of the myth and more of the people who created it, I think.