Sunday, June 04, 2006

Artist Spotlight #3: The Clash: The Only Band That Matters

before you get started reading begin this download of
Clash Samples

1977-05-13 Leicester UK
I'm So Bored With the USA
1980-03-05 Passaic NJ
Train in Vain
1982-06-04 Bonds Casino
Charlie Don't Surf
1982-11-27 Jamaica
London Calling
from Tommy Gun Japan/London 1982
Should I Stay Or Should I Go
Joe Strummer & the Mescalaro's w/ guest Mick Jones
Rudie Can't Fail

isn't that the best album cover ever? first
the band broke through after opening for the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy in the UK Tour. British CBS records signed them in February 1977.
recognize any of the fans in this picture?

i first saw them at the last show of the Pearl Harbor Tour of America in February 1979. they were getting a lot of airplay on a local alternative radio station and a friend dragged me to the show. concert was held in an old movie theater, used to be an Odeon but was called the Rex by 1979. only concert held there as it became to expensive to replace the chairs.
don't recall a ton about the show, except that while standing in the lobby it occured to me that 'punk' was the best thing that ever happened to the less aestically pleasing among us. you'd have had better luck finding an 'in tune' guitar than a nice looking chick. fortunately, there was one of each in the building. the guitar was on stage and the chick was seated next to me in the balcony. (not that it mattered, 'cause i was getting married in May but it's always nice to have a room with a view).
by the shows ends the Clash were no longer in charge of the stage as it had been rushed and the final song was done by audience members and Joe.

here's a much more detailed review of that show, stolen from the 'net:

"Joe is very talkative throughout, apologising for the poor sound early on and at the start of the encore says “We wanna kinda apologise, we arrived in Canada about 2 weeks ago feeling full of beans, now we’ve had it if you know what I’m trying to say”. But if The Clash were worn out at the end of the tour there is no sign of it here: its highly charged and intense throughout.

Joe wins the audience over after Bored with The USA, the storming set opener, “Turn on the house lights, listen who’s the promoter? Calling Mike Cole, listen you big guys, you’re never gonna stop them dancing, they just wanna stand there and dance”. He then tells the bouncers “you’ve gotta watch for anyone going down” How many Toronto audiences had heard a band say that to the security before?

The PA sound problems improve during Tommy Gun, which Joe introduces with “ This is Topper, Britain’s answer to Bruce Lee!” To requests for White Riot Joe jokes, “that’s an old song, so Bing Crosby still has fans even in Toronto! There’s a tape change before Stay Free, which loses some of Mick’s introduction.

Capital Radio is preceded by “This is what (Toronto Radio) Q107 sounds like, just a farting noise all day, so this song is now entitled thank you Radio Q107, we are your mindless robots”.

The encore cranks up the intensity even higher and White Riot breaks down halfway through after a stage invasion. Fans shout out the chorus, and then someone grabs the microphone and screams “God Save The Queen!” The taper or someone nearby says “unbelievable” as the crowd shout for me.

The house lights come on and the recording ends with the first bars of a song that would inspire The Clash to record one of the best cuts on London Calling; Vince Taylor’s Brand New Cadillac."

and here's a piece by Alan Cross who is the author of CFNY's great History of New Music:

"Joe Strummer was once asked about his greatest musical inspirations and his answer was simple: "black men," he said. And he was serious. The Clash would soon pick unlikely touring partners, including Bo Diddley and Grandmaster Flash.
The attitude in that song requires a little explanation. The middle and late 70s were a tough time for young people in Britain. The country's finances were in trouble, so the labour government of the time had invoked some severe austerity measures. These measures hit the working classes very hard. Public sector and government workers were hit, too. Wages, benefits, working conditions, they all took a hit. Naturally, this created some serious social turmoil. Strikes and lockouts. High unemployment. Falling standards of living. And a general sense of despair and alienation, especially among young people. There was that institutional racism we talked about earlier. Some authorities were being quite enthusiastic when it came to using an anti-vagrancy law from 1824 to harass young blacks.

And there were fascist elements creeping in from the margins. Organizations such as the national front were looking for scapegoats for the problems faced by the white working class. Their targets? Immigrants. This was the social environment into which The Clash was introduced.

The band did what they could. They insisted that the price of their albums and their concert tickets be substantially lower than the prevailing rate. And they sung about the problems of the day. To bored and alienated kids in Margaret Thatcher's England, The Clash seemed to be in touch with exactly how they were feeling. Another interesting thing about that first album: even though the band had a planet-wide record deal, CBS decided not to release this record in North America. It was the disco era and a bunch of fraidy-cat executives thought that The Clash was just too raw and abrasive and too crude for American tastes. So for two years, north American fans were forced to buy the higher-priced British import version. 100,000 copies were sold that way, making it (for a time) the biggest-selling import ever. CBS finally relented in 1979, but the result was a watered-down version with a different tracklisting that was supposed designed for American tastes, whatever that meant.

Then again, The Clash did have a rep as criminals. Their shows often turned violent and venues were damaged. On June 10, 1977, Joe and topper were arrested for spray-painting "The Clash" on a wall. Then they were fined $100 for stealing a pillowcase from a Holiday Inn. And then they were fined $800 for shooting at some expensive racing pigeons. And Mick Jones got into trouble over cocaine possession.

The second Clash album was entitled "Give 'Em Enough Rope" and was issued on November 10, 1978. One of the surprising things about this record was that it was produced by the guy who was best known for making Records with Blue Oyster Cult. That, obviously, rubbed a few hardcore punks the wrong way.

The album sounded different, too. The amateurish energy that was all over the first album was gone. Things were a little more polished and cleaner. Still, the record burns with righteous anger and is filled with new musical options for punk. Joe Strummer's lyrics covered everything from civil war to the drug trade to Palestinian terrorism. Love songs? Forget it. This idealistic, left-leaning stance was refreshing, but it no doubt limited the band's appeal with a wider audience.

But The Clash didn't care. They had to do what they felt was right. Here, for example, is a song based on an experience the band had in Jamaica while staying at the pegasus hotel in Kingston. While walking around the docks one night, they had an interesting experience with some rastafarians that they'd rather not repeat.

Here's what Joe Strummer said to rolling stone after the release of Give 'Em Enough Rope:

"We've got loads of contradictions for you. We're trying to do something new; we're trying to be the greatest group in the world, and that also means the biggest. At the same time, we're trying to be radical? I mean, we never want to be really respectable? And maybe the two can't coexist, but we'll try. You know what helps us? We're totally suspicious of anyone who comes in contact with us. Totally. We aim to keep punk alive."

Things would change drastically for The Clash with the next album. It would the record that would not only assure The Clash's reputation for all time, but it would also become one of the most influential Records of all time. And Joe Strummer was, obviously, a huge part of it. By the time The Clash got around to recording their third album, The Clash's tastes had moved beyond the traditional punk boundaries. Ska, reggae, calypso, disco, garage rock, rockabilly, even this new thing called "rap", were all poached to help create a unique Clash sound. The band reached their creative peak in 1979 with a double record that featured nineteen songs, some of which were inspired by a recent north American tour while others came about just by listening to the music in the streets of their new headquarters in the Pimlico area of London.

The album also followed Britain's famous "winter of discontent". From late 1978 through to mid-1979, the country was paralysed by a serious of massive strikes and labour actions. It was so bad that the army had to be called out to provide scab labour.

On the other hand, the tide had turned against growing racist sentiments. In 1978, The Clash headlined the "rock against racism" concert, which saw 100,000 people march through the streets of London, denouncing racist ideas, movements and policies. That event was a turning point in the attitudes held by young people in the UK. Some of the anger on The Clash's third album was fuelled by their recent split with manager Bernie Rhodes and all the lawsuits (and debt) that followed.

The album was recorded over just a few days. In fact, twelve of the nineteen songs were bashed out over three days in August 1979. The record, which had the working title of the new testament, was produced by Guy Stevens, who was much more concerned with feel than technical perfection. On the first day in the studio, Guy told the band to warm up with a song called "Brand New Cadillac". "Go ahead and warm up," he said. "We'll start in a moment".

But as The Clash started playing, Guy rolled the tape machines. When they were done, he said Aright! That's done. Let's move on to the next one!" The Clash were kind of confused. "You can use that take," they said. "It's all wrong!. Listen to the tempo. Look how we speed up as the we get closer to the end".

Stevens just smiled and said "All rock'n'roll speeds up. Next song, please".

-Alan Cross"

Pearl Harbour Tour of North America 1979

Jan 31 Commodore Ballroom, Vancover, Canada

Feb 7 Berkely Community Centre California

Feb 8 Geary Temple (Fillmore), San Francisco CA

Feb 9 Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica CA

Feb 13 Agora, Cleveland OH

Feb 15 Ontario Theatre, Washington DC

Feb 16 Harvard Square Theater, Cambridge MA

Feb 17 Palladium, New York NY

Feb 19 Agora Atlanta

Feb 20 The Rex Danforth Theatre, Toronto, Canada

Yet more stolen stories of the last night of the Pearl Harbour

"Last night of the Pearl Harbour tour; a highly successful tour both artistically and in terms of establishing a growing reputation and following in the USA.

Pearl Harbour produced some of the best Clash concerts ever, and this was another triumph.

... and onto the Take the 5th tour

On The Take the 5th tour in September/October The Clash would be playing large auditoriums, but this was a converted cinema with the toilet doubling as a dressing room! Strummer recalls, “ The PA sounded like it was filled with hamsters on coke! Even though it sounded rough we really enjoyed it and the crowd stormed the stage at the end. There were just 2 bouncers trying to hold the crowd back”"


sheva said...

There was nothing - NOTHING - like a Clash show. Thanks, Marcel!

sheva said...

LOL - now the pic opens for me! And there he is, our Shane, in (much) younger days. Nice one!

ryan the duke said...

haha, that IS shane.. great pic!

sometimes i wish i was born in a different time.. reading this, well this is one of them. as it stands i've never been able to fully grasp the likes of the sex pistols and the clash, though i obviously hold nothing against them..

as it is, i enjoy joe's solo work more.. he was still more inspired by "black men" than anything else.. there's a lot of reggae-rock on his later albums as well.

Paolo Vites said...

you lucky bastard :-)

great mp3s, thanx

SRKMike said...

"The Clash: The Only Band That Matters"

Drop the "Cl" and "sh" around the a, replace with "J" and "m" and you'd be correct.

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