Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Clash - The Clash

Welcome to another edition of Seventies Saturday.

The quartet of English rockers who made up the Clash released their self-titled debut album in their home country in 1977. The record, with its mix of musical styles, did very well and peaked on the charts at number 12. As an import, it was very popular in the United States, especially among the college radio stations. Two years later, the Clash was re-released in the US with some changes to the content (four tracks were dropped and five others were added), going to number 126 on the Billboard charts. It achieved Gold sales status in both countries.

Critically, the debut received positive response. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as number 77 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time. Spin magazine ranked it number 3 on its 50 Most Essential Punk Records list. Mojo magazine did that one better, putting it at number 2 on its Top 50 Punk Albums list.

My older brother who was a senior in high school when the US version was released, was and still is a huge fan of the band. I can’t recall if he had the US version of the record or an import (knowing him, he had both). Still, the track order I most likely heard very often over those next four years whenever he was home from college was likely the US one, so that’s the way I’m going to break this one down for my review (no offense meant to all my European readers…).

Side one opens with “Clash City Rockers”, which as a single went to number 35 in the UK. The song has themes of positive thinking and self-purpose. I’ve always thought that the background vocals on the chorus were reminiscent of early Beatles, but the song clearly has a punk attitude through and through (especially Mick Jones’ and Joe Strummer’s whaling guitars).

Though it originally started out as a love song, a misheard title morphed the next track into “I’m So Bored with the USA”. Obviously, the lyrics trash many things in American society in the late 70's (drug problems with soldiers, US world politics and even popular television shows). The chorus is one I find myself instantly singing along to, even though I've lived in the US all my life.

“Remote Control” was the band’s commentary about cancelled concert tours, the police and record companies. This is one of the tracks I didn’t hear as often; I think my brother skipped over it a lot. I do like the beat though, especially near the end.

Charting at number 28 in the UK, “Complete Control” was written in response to the band not agreeing with some of the actions of their record label. The song talks about the state of punk music and takes swipes at record companies and managers. This one has a nice spin on the classic guitar riffs of the time, including one of the earliest uses of the term “guitar hero”.

“White Riot” was an appeal to the white youth of the UK to find worthy causes to protest as the black youth of the UK already had. The song is fast paced and is often compared to the style of music being done by the Ramones over in the US; it comes in under two minutes, much like many Ramones songs do. As a fan of both bands, this was one my brother played quite often.

“(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” opens with a heavy guitar before moving into a slower ska groove. The lyrics tell the story of an all-night reggae concert that turned out to be a disappointment. They then move on to commentary about the British punk scene and finally the social decline of the country. The single went to number 32 on the UK charts. I’m a fan of the reggae sound, and I like how the Clash married that style with their own brand of punk.

“London’s Burning” voices the frustrations of England’s traffic congestion. With this one, I really have to listen carefully to pick up the words (I’m often like that with a number of British accents, but I’m cool with that as I like the different inflections based on region).

Sonny Curtis wrote and recorded “I Fought the Law” back in 1959, but it wasn’t released as a single until 1966 where it went to number 9 on the Billboard charts. The Clash’s version was also released as a single and went to number 29 on the UK charts. I really like their take on this rock classic; it was also a favorite of my brother as he would crank up the volume sing it at the top of his lungs in the car (still does to this day).

Side two kicks off with “Janie Jones”, a song about a former UK pop-singer turned London madam. I’ve always been a fan of the beat on this one. It too has that rapid fire approach on a relatively short track, but even a little bit goes a long way here.

“Career Opportunities” paints the picture of economic and unemployment issues in England in the mid-70’s. The chorus is very catchy, especially how it changes up the tempo a bit. I like that.

“What’s My Name?” was another of the tracks I didn’t hear a lot back in the day. For completeness I have it on my iPod, but I’m not a mega fan. It is good - just not memorable for me.

I‘m hearing a little bit of Beatles’ guitar sounds in parts of “Hate & War”. Other than that, the song doesn’t do an awful lot for me either.

“Police & Thieves” is the Clash’s interpretation of the Junior Murvin reggae song from 1976. The song is about gang war and police brutality. I really like the “oh yeah” echoes in the background as well as the steady, repetitive rhythm of this six minute song (longest track on the album). It is another one my brother played quite often.

“Jail Guitar Doors” was originally a B-side in the UK and was added into the US release. It actually is the least “hard” of the songs, perhaps because it is on the only track where Mick Jones handles the vocals solo. The opening has a bit of a funk feel to it.

The album ends with “Garageland”, a celebration of the band‘s roots of sorts (“we‘re a garage band, we come from garageland“). You think the song is going to be different, but the punk comes through loud and clear with the chorus. It is a nice book end to the opener “Clash City Rockers”.

Many of these songs take me back to the late 70's and early part of the 80's. I recall hearing them a lot when my brother was driving me around town; he had a cassette mix of favorite songs from the band including many of these.

Overall, I’m a fan of the Clash as an album. Most of the songs are fairly short so you get a good mix, though the band shows they can work out a longer track quite well. I probably would have trimmed the listing down by a couple or three but that’s just me wanting to make things a bit tighter.

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