cream of the crate: cd review #26 – the clash: the singles
cream of the crate: cd review #26 – the clash: the singles
CD Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"Unlike many other punk bands from the 1970s, the Clash took raw anger as a starting point, not an end. They were rebels with a cause." - (Rolling Stone)

Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews.  
The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50
and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.

This is number twenty six in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD’s in my personal collection.

The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

This weeks review is a CD released in 1991, and although it does count as a compilation, I do have a vinyl copy of London Calling which deserves a review for it’s quality of material, but the CD of all their released singles makes it critical for examination.

This CD by The Clash and is simply and appropriately titled “The Singles”.

Released on the Columbia label by Sony (468986 2) it consists of 18 of the best Clash tracks, all released as singles in the UK and USA and, thankfully, all in chronological order.

cream of the crate: cd review #26 – the clash: the singles
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Other than a selection of material that I would rate as good to very good to excellent, sadly there are no booklets or decent liner notes to supplement the CD.

It does have a fold out gloss sheet, that has some under exposed pictures of The Clash, I guess underexposing the pics makes the band seem a bit angrier . . . . or something!

One sheet doubles as the CD cover, and a listing of the tracks is on the rear panel.

cream of the crate: cd review #26 – the clash: the singles
Insert rear – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

To be truthful, the general presentation is pretty poor and while fans of the genre might rightly cry out, “Hey, that’s what punk was about – being anti-establishment, doing it cheap, doing it dirty”, my reply would be – Bollocks! (with apologies to the Sex Pistols).

The punter deserves better and if you are going to re-release material, and most excellent material I must say, then do the punter and the group a favour and provide us all with something that is memorable and information that assists the generations that followed, like assisting to understand the nature of the group and the music.

Read as much as you like, I am of the firm belief that “Punk music” (more appropriately called “Punk Rock”) was inevitable and extremely necessary.

The 1960’s, particularly the latter five years, was a period of real experimentation.  The music of this time was breaking new grounds and raising popular music to it’s rightful place as both a music and art form as well as representing the enormous social changes happening.

Part of this was to fashion music that rejected the 3:00minute pop form, while discovering the richness and textures of harmony, melody and rhythm.

The problem came in the early 1970’s, when the ‘drug culture’ began to become one of the prime drivers of the music, and while I’ll be the last to criticise that in which I willingly participated, the inevitable extension to the fresh experimentation of the 60’s was the ever growing endless ‘noodling’ of groups.

At the best this noodling meant 30 minute solo’s, but at the worse was endless pap and self-indulgence.

Was it any wonder that by the late 1970’s the youth of the very country that had given birth to the greatest pop group of all times, the Beatles, we utterly fed up with those endless pieces of mindless guitar drivel.

Add the endless re-hashing of the Beatles and ilk styles of music and change was screaming out.

So almost simultaneously in both the USA and UK change came. One thing that was wonderful about Punk was, that it embraced a DIY ethic; many bands self-produced recordings and distributed them through informal channels.

Check any decent R&R book and they will all say a similar thing. In the USA we saw the rise of the Ramones (a group I will feature in the future), Television, the Stooges and the MC5, while in the UK we saw the rise of the Sex Pistols, the Damned and, the Clash!

So here we are looking at The Clash and the CD – The Singles.

Mick Jones, Topper Headon, Paul Simonon & Joe Strummer

 

Principal Members
Joe Strummer (1976–86) (lead vocals, rhythm guitar)
Mick Jones (1976–83) (lead guitar & vocals)
Paul Simonon (1976–86) (bass guitar, vocals)
Nicky “Topper” Headon (1977–82) (drums, percussion)

Mick Jones, Topper Headon, Paul Simonon & Joe Strummer

 

Formed in 1976, the Clash immediately set themselves apart from most of the newly forming ‘punk bands’ in as much, as these guys were musicians.

Now one of the aspirations of the early punk music was to show that ‘anyone’ could play regardless of their skill, and many punk outfits made a feature of having no music skill at all.

However the Clash were different and immediately combined elements of rockabilly, reggae, dub and funk into their act.

The genesis of the group can be found back in 1974 when the band’s future members were active in different parts of the London music scene. Gradually they came together with Joe Strummer (real name “Woody” Mellor) being the last of the members to come on board prior to the group performing as the Clash.

All together six other people did play in the Clash, but the list above is in my mind representing the best of the group. The line-up was to change again when Keith Levine left.

Other Members
Terry Chimes (1976, 1977, 1982–83)
Keith Levene (1976)
Rob Harper (1976–77)
Pete Howard (1983–86)
Nick Sheppard (1983–86)
Vince White (1983–86)

It certainly only took a few months for recognition to come, which seemed to coincide with Strummer taking more of the vocals. One music critic described the band as a “runaway train…so powerful, they’re the first new group to come along who can really scare the Sex Pistols shitless“.

Their first album came out in 1977 and was simply titled, “The Clash“.

cream of the crate: cd review #26 – the clash: the singles
The 1977 debut album – The Clash – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Over an eight year period they cut six studio albums, the last was “Cut the Crap“. All albums went gold somewhere in the world with the exception of the last album, which went silver.

However, it should universally be seen that their best album, a real tour de force, was the 1979 album, “London Calling”.

This was a seriously good album that really showed that the Clash may have worn the punk title comfortably, but they were way ahead of almost everyone else when this album was released.

cream of the crate: cd review #26 – the clash: the singles
Joe Strummer – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Yet even with the quality of the album “London Calling” being seen by some as the pinnacle of the Clash, great tracks continued after its release.

In fact the singles flowed freely right throughout the groups life time. What is interesting is that none of their singles went to #1 anywhere in the world, with the exception of “Should I Stay Or Go” which was re-released in 1990 and went to #1 in the UK.

TRACK LISTING

1. White Riot – 1:57
2. Remote Control – 2:58
3. Complete Control – 3:11
4. Clash City Rockers – 3:46
5. (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais – 3:58
6. Tommy Gun – 3:13
7. English Civil War – 2:34
8. I Fought the Law – 2:38
9. London Calling – 3:17
10. Train in Vain – 3:06
11. Bankrobber – 4:32
12. The Call Up – 5:21
13. Hitsville U.K. – 4:19
14. The Magnificent Seven – 4:26
15. This Is Radio Clash – 4:08
16. Know Your Rights – 3:35
17. Rock the Casbah – 3:35
18. Should I Stay or Should I Go – 3:08

I just had to start with the track, London Calling (1979).

The centre piece of that album by the same name, it reeks of energy and passion, with a healthy dose of scepticism, great lyrics and some fantastic musicianship all tied up with a fantastic vocal delivery.

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared, and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
London calling, now don’t look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain’t got no swing
‘Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

[Chorus 1:]
The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river

. . . . . . .

Now get this

London calling, yes, I was there, too
An’ you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won’t you give me a smile?
London calling

I never felt so much alike [fading] alike alike alike

We are enthralled from the moment the downbeat starts, with the guitar and snare drum synchronised, the bass slides in – you cannot help but to jump up and start dancing.

Look this has to be a track that is known by every person who declares they are a music lover and I think anything I say is superfluous except – this is one of the best tracks ever recorded.

London Calling

 

Next I have chosen Hitsville U.K. which appeared on the 1980 Sandinista album.

This really showcases the groups love and appreciation for elements of music that really lay outside the punk genre. This track could easily be covered on a Motown album. In fact Motown was originally called “Hitsville USA”, so the irony is not lost.

It has a wonderful upbeat and the chorus form of singing is perfect and in fact reflects that “Motown” approach to music production.

The female voice singing duel lead is Ellen Foley, the one time girlfriend of Mick Jones, who sings along with her. In many ways it is about as far away from punk style as you can get, and the result was many fans disliked the track.

The great thing about looking back almost 40 years later is that you listen to the music without the ‘environment’ of the times. Sometimes this works against a track, in this case I think it works in the track’s favour.

It’s also a strange track in some ways as the group were touting via the lyrics, a number of indie labels of the day such as “Small Wonder” and “Fast Product”.

Yet they stayed mainstream avoiding these indie labels.

Interestingly, they never played this track live!

Hitsville U.K

 

Mick Jones

 

The third track I’d like to feature is This Is Radio Clash.

Recorded and released in 1981 this track was never released on an album.

That alone makes it worthwhile featuring, but, as they say on those TV ads – “There’s More!”

The most obvious is that it doesn’t follow the traditional verse chorus verse format.

Remembering that this is 1981, rap was really rearing its head and in some ways it could be seen that the Clash were slipping a ‘hip-hop’ style into their work. What IS very obvious is that had written yet another great dance track.

The musical arrangement sees the traditional guitars/bass/drum combo supplemented by a multi-rhythmic sound field where synths and sax combine to really fill that sound field.

The lyrics find the band likening their mission of spreading their views to a pirate radio station bringing music to the masses:

This is radio clash on pirate satellite
Orbiting your living room, cashing in the Bill of Rights

This Is Radio Clash

Topper Headont

 

The final track that really appeals to me is Rock the Casbah (1982) which appeared on the second last studio album, Combat Rock.

The track is in many ways, a simple melodic piece, however, what sets it up as a favourite of many Clash fans is that it is a monster ‘dance-along’ track that features a ‘shout’ chorus, that almost demands the listener/dancer, shout along with the group.

[CHORUS]:

Sharia don’t like it
Rockin’ the Casbah
Rock the Casbah
Sharia don’t like it
Rockin’ the Casbah
Rock the Casbah

But, what does it all mean?

Well one thing is for sure, by now Joe Strummer was composing some great material. We only have to listen to his work post Clash to have that reinforced. In regard to the track, well . . . .

By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy Casbah sound
But the Bedouin they brought out
The electric kettel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar picking thumb
As soon as the Sharia
Had cleared the square
They began to wail

Sharia don’t like it
Rockin’ the Casbah
Rock the Casbah
Sharia don’t like it
Rockin’ the Casbah
Rock the Casbah

The news reports of the day suggested that Iranians were being flogged for the crime of owning a disco album.

So Strummer and the Clash created an amusing fantasy where a disco-hating sharia leader is defied by everyone from the citizens to his own air force. In the song it is the jet fighter pilots who ostensibly play the very music in their planes cockpit while on their way to bomb the Iranian people who are playing the same music, to oblivion.

The make it clear it is Ayatollah Khomeini who is trying to stamp out “that crazy Casbah sound. We also need to remember, this was when that truly crazy ‘mother’, Ayatollah Khomeini, was at the peak of his power!

Rock the Casbah

 

Paul Simonon

 

In 2004 Rolling Stone ranked the Clash number 28 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2010, the band was ranked 22nd on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

According to The Times, “…the Clash’s debut, alongside Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, is “punk’s definitive statement” and London Calling “remains one of the most influential rock albums”

There is little doubt that when Rolling Stone said, “Unlike many other punk bands from the 1970s, the Clash took raw anger as a starting point, not an end. They were rebels with a cause.” – they were spot on!

Yes the Clash were born out of the punk movement and proudly wore that badge. However very quickly their talent, musicianship and particularly the writing of Joe Strummer (who very sadly passed away in 2002), saw them outgrow, maybe transcend the limitations of punk music to take their rightful place as a music trendsetter.

There is no doubt that this was a group that really did leave a legacy.

The Singles CD was re-released in 2007, with an additional track, “This is England“, but for some bizarre reason THIS version was not produced with the tracks in chronological order.

That was a big mistake, because when you listen to the original release which I am reviewing, having the tracks in the order of release allows us to be able to follow the development of the music year by year.

Indeed, tracking the development of the sound of the Clash and as time takes us further away from this remarkable period, via the chronological layout of the tracks becomes even more important.

I won’t say I love every track on the album, because I don’t.

However, any album where “you” (in this case “me”) decide that there are 9 top tracks, and 4 or 5 good tracks out of a total of 18 tracks, means that the album should rate highly, and I do so.

It is readily available on Ebay for between $10.00 and $20.00, so that makes it a good buy but try for that original 1991 version.


VIDEOS:

There are a plethora of Clash videos, so I have picked out three that are tracks from this album that I really like, and, I had to include “London Calling” even though I supplied the music and reviewed it, as it IS their all-time classic!

 

Should I Stay Or Should I GO

 

The Magnificent Seven

 

The Call Up

 

London Calling