American Pop 33

AMERICAN POP : Punk Rock Iconoclasts : THE CLASH ‘Spot of Tea with the Queen’

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                                                 THE CLASH


Joe Strummer    (Lead Vocals / Guitarist  /  Ankara, Turkey)   

Mick Jones         (Guitarist / Vocals  /  London, England)  

Paul Simonon    (Bassist  /  Thornton Heath, England)   

Nick Headon      (Percussion  /   Kent, England

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                                                          1976  –  1986     


(Fills. Jams. Guests. Sessions)   

Terry Chimes       (Percussion 1976, 1977, 1982–1983)   

Keith Levene        (Lead Guitar 1976)  

Rob Harper         (Percussion 1976–1977 )    

Pete Howard       (Percussion 1983–1986)  

Nick Sheppard    (Vocals/Guitar 1983–1986)    

Vince White         (Guitar 1983–1986)

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EXAMINING:  ‘The Clash’   ‘Punk Rock – The Casbah’ Legacy 

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                                        Self Titled  ‘THE CLASH’  Debut Album   (1977)  

Reasonable attempts at estimating the largess, magnitude, and transcendent influence of  iconic British Punk Rock band ‘The Clash‘, would be a considerable exercise, requiring daunting levels of effort. This was a band that influenced more future rock bands, the music they chose to create, and the attitude they chose to exude, than arguably any rock band in modern history.  Indeed, with a flair and brilliance resembling that of the famed ‘Halley’s Comet‘, ‘The Clash (formed in 1976) made their entrance onto the music scene with an impact much like the proverbial ‘Bull in a China Shop’. With the caveat that they were breaking down existing musical norms, while at the same time, ushering in the new. This was a band of understated complexity. A reality made manifest through their multi-tiered cultural influence. Indeed, from fresh elements of sound, to bold statements in fashion, to reinforcing classical notions and brand ethos, of the ‘punk movement’ and ‘attitude’, The Clash’without reasonable doubt,   left their mark emblazoned in the concrete Punk Rock’s pantheon of greatness.  

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Any  thoughtful look behind the music industry curtain, and through the graffiti hype of its facade, one would likely discover that in braking down the aggregate, the net total of  ‘The Clash’s’ musical excellence, and influence, added up to considerably more than the price of admission to the ‘hole in the wall’ show venues they often vandalized, or even the transcendent gravity of their legendary October 13th 1982 live concert performance at New York City’s Shea Stadium. (Performance was recorded and later released as ‘Live at Shea Stadium’)

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The Clash Backstage Shea Stadium (1982) 

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(L to R) Andy Warhol, Susan Blond, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer NYC (1979) 

Then, one day in the middle of the 1980’s, the dominoes fell. A change meteor with the name ‘The Clash’ emblazoned on its side, suddenly appeared as if foretold by prophecy. Indeed, inside the flash of one moment, they came. Before the next flash they saw, and kicked-ass … and then before the last camera flash of  1986 … Gone.

The world famous pioneers of punk rock were gone … Disbanded.

 Just like that … almost 10 years to the day. 

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The end of ‘The Clash’s’ musical odyssey meant the beginning for the Punk Rock stewards of history. Persons from the die-hard punk community assumed the responsibility of regaling future generations of puck rockers with anecdotal stories of ‘the’ greatest punk rock band of all-time, The Clash. Complete with nostalgia inducing tales of  belligerent escapades, police blotter misbehavior, largely born of alcohol fueled mischief. Humorous in hindsight, realities that became synonymous with the Punk Rock Attitude and lifestyle.  

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RETROSPECT: (10) Years (6) Studio Albums Platinum Sales …  (1) Triple LP Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 2.52.09 AM

ALBUM: (#3)   LONDON CALLING  (1979) ... Is Heard Around the World

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Historically, speaking ‘The Clash’ is widely credited as one of the seminal players, aka, pioneering bands of the internationally recognized, Punk Rock’ movement. With  roots originating from the soil of British Punk Rock’,Post Rock, as well as the ‘New Wave Punk’ movement that enjoyed the zenith of its popularity during the late 1970’s. In the decades that have transpired since the heights of the ‘Clash’s’ powers, music fans and critical observers can easily identify the musical influence of ‘The Clash’ woven in the DNA of emerging musical sounds and/or genres, including the likes of: ‘Dub-Step‘, ‘Neo-Funk’, ‘Grunge Rock’ and something called ‘Neo Rockabilly’.  

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The transcendent success, both critically and commercially of The Clash’ 1979  studio release ‘London Calling’  was immediately observable.  This album was consequential for a number of reasons, not the least of which, was that it promoted ‘The Clash from a good band with a growing fan base, to a world-renowned, certainly famous band, now flush with cash, notable gravitas, along with the obligatory trappings of success. It was around this time that they began to earn their reputation for not for profit hooliganism. Indeed, ‘London Calling’ turned out to be an extraordinary musical effort. Widely commercially celebrated, it would go on to be ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as “The Best Album of the Decade (1980’s)” 

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STRANGE but TRUE:  the CLASH  vs.  CBS records … Executives.

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The rumors are true. ‘The Clash’ did not in fact hit artistic pay dirt on every studio effort released to the public. If you’ll allow  American Pop to enter into the record – Exhibit: A. ‘Sandinista’ (1980)  this album was released during the final weeks of 1980 specifically, December 12th. This was ‘The Clash’s4th studio album. It was also  the band’s  1st  album release to fall egregiously short of commercial expectation. Years later, a re-examination of the album garnered it an improved reputation, which we suspect has plenty to do with a combination of nostalgic fondness, forgiving critical analysis, and improved eyesight …  in hindsight.  However, at the time of the ‘Sandinista’ album release, representatives of the hard-core punk community, began uttering stomach grumbles, and music critics were not nearly as forgiving.  

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It’s definitely worth mentioning that ‘Sandinista’ was packaged marketed and released in 1980  …  and sold as a Triple Album’ (LP)  At first blush we were tempted to question the competence of CBS record executives using terms like ‘inexplicable’ when discussing this decision. However, as it turns out there is a story behind the oddity in this  album’s packaging.  It was ‘The Clash’ themselves who were responsible for the decision to release and sell essentially (3) albums in (1) for the price of  (1 – 1/2) 

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If this begs the question ‘why the hell did they do that?’ in your mind, you’re not alone. With that said the answer to that most obvious of questions is alarmingly simply … because they could.  Indeed, ‘The Clash‘ unilaterally made this decisionwhich was of course, all manner of odd for 1982, as it remains in 2018 … This is of course, assuming that you can A. Find a brick and mortar record store. B. Find  physical vinyl album

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 According to ‘Clash’ frontman, Joe Strummer, there was a good reason for the bizarre natured Three (3) LP release packaging. (Actually, wether or not it a ‘good’ reason is an arguable assertion) As the story goes, members of ‘The Clash’ agreed to give CBS record executives the gift of a well deserved, ‘middle finger’ in the form of the bands insistence on releasing ‘Sandinista’ as an obnoxious ‘Triple’ (3) album.  This ‘power trip’ action taken by ‘The Clash’ was due to the  residual friction fallout between the band and CBS record execs, dating back to prior to the release ofLondon Calling‘.  At the time, the band was quite keen to the idea of  releasing ‘London’ as a Double (2) LP.  For their part, CBS execs were not keen … at all, CBS execs flatly nixed the 2-LP idea, out of hand. Citing commercial viability concerns.  ‘The Clash’ were light on the kind of weight they would later gain, was left with no consequential say in the decision. The band remembered. Then, in a controversial, record label politics move,  CBS green-lights the release of  ‘The River’ by Bruce Springsteen  … as a Double (2) LP within the same calendar year as ‘London’. A move which, as frontman Strummer,  ‘Pissed us off’ …  no shit Joe.  

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ALBUM:  (#5)      COMBAT ROCK  … ‘Birth of Commercially Viable Punk’  

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At the time of their highly anticipated 5th studio release, ‘Combat Rock’ on May 14th  1982,  ‘The Clash’  were proverbially flying high, having already earned reservations to the priceless … namely, a seat in the ‘Punk’ section on top of the music world. They had also earned a lot of money. The commercial success of ‘London Calling’ three years earlier continued to buoy the band’s popularity.

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Lead Singer Joe Strummer

At the advent of the 1980’s, ‘The Clash’ had become an unmistakable international super band that was certainly enjoying the vine ripe fruits of its success.

And then … life got even better. It took about 68 seconds following the release of Combat Rock, before it was clear that with this album, ‘The Clash’ had produced a truly remarkable assembly of music. It is not unreasonable to suggest that ‘Clash’ band members never imagined, and almost certainly never expected, the coming reality that explained  ‘Combat Rock’ was destined to become a world-wide smash hit record. In fact, the historical timeline instructs us that ‘Combat Rock’ , was the legendary group’s 5th studio album in just over 6 years time. Their 3rd album release in 3 years. Moreover, it was the 2nd  of their last 3 albums to earn astronomic record sales, reaching the rarefied plateau of RIAA Certified Double Platinum in the United States alone.

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Interestingly, the genesis of  ‘Rock the Casbah’ and its historic existence can be traced back to a spurt of the singular creativity of  ‘Clash’ drummer, Nick ‘Topper’ Headon. Indeed, it was Headon who wrote and composed the music for the single that has become iconic, doing so in the recording studio alone …  Headon began riffing off of the underlying piano sound, then methodically worked in the percussion and bass elements.  Heldon ended up recording the lion’s share of the ‘Casbah’ instrumentals on his own. The next day frontman Joe Strummer was at first a bit skeptical, but eventually contributed his all too memorable ‘Rock the Casbah’ chorus as well as the lyrical refrain ‘You’ll have to let that raga drop’. Both were lyrical elements that Strummer had earmarked for different song ideas. 

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The Clash circa 1982  

In retrospect, it makes all the sense in the world that ‘Combat Rock’ is the original home of their most iconic smash hit single, Rock the Casbah’. This song has become synonymous with ‘The Clash’ and the music video, shot thematically in a Texas oil field, using bizarre prop elements, has become pop culture iconic. It also exists in history as the band’s only song to hit the U.S. top 10 charts, reaching #8  

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Adding to the album’s gravitational mystic and unshakable legend, was the outsized success of its musical sibling, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’. An absolutely  killer track that for a time, rivaled ‘Rock the Casbah’, in terms of popularity. It also stands as the band’s only song to hit #1 on U.K. charts.  

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‘Combat Rock has become the instantly recognizable star musical attraction that has come to define the legend of ‘The Clash’ Indeed, this album remains very popular to this day. ‘Combat Rock’ has also remained widely admired, both critically, and commercially, and enjoys near universal critical consideration as the band’s masterwork’ example. The brass musical ring from a 10 year run through history.   

Three years later, in 1985, the band released their 6th studio  album, ‘Cut the Crap’. Sadly, this would be their last studio album and final recorded album. ‘The Clash’ ended their musical journey less than a year following the release of ‘Cut the Crap‘. The band officially called it quits in the year of our lord … 1986.   

After all of the proverbial smoke that had congregated in, then expelled out of the lungs of the punk generation, had cleared. All of the international tours completed,. Once littered bar room floors, now vacant, orphaned by consumed alcohol. Indeed, the disappearance of illicit narcotics readily acknowledged as a result of lusty ingestion. Indeed, by the late 1980’s, it was becoming clear that the punk era was coming to a close.

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Before we close, it should be noted that American Pop does not wish to alarm our readers unnecessarily, or propagate hysterical alarm. However, out of concern for public safety, we urge our readers should remain vigilant while remarking, and/or giving praise to ‘Rock the Casbah’ and the album that spawned it, ‘Combat Rock’. Doing so within ear shot of ‘Punk Rock Purist Guy’ .has been known to incite violence. That’s correct. ‘Punk Rock Purist Guy’ is always spoiling for a fight, and looking to cause plenty of trouble. This is the way of the ‘Punk Rock Purist’ guy.  You’ve been warned. 

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