The classic line-up of The Clash. From left to right: Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon and Mick Jones.
When they kick at your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?
The Guns of Brixton
The Clash, AKA "the only band that matters" were a member of the original British Punk Rock movement of the '70s known as the "Class of 77". The band stand with the likes of The Ramones and The Sex Pistols in the pantheon of definitive punk rock bands. Unlike their peers at the time, however, the Clash were no firm believer of the pure Three Chords and the Truth ideology: they were not afraid of experimenting with a diverse range of musical styles, and as such were critically acclaimed musically. In addition to no-nonsense stripped-down punk rock, the Clash were known for their eclectic tastes and experimental approach, besides punk being influenced by and performing reggae, dub, ska, funk, pop-rock, New Wave and soul, among others. They were also simultaneously the second rock band to release a rap track, "The Magnificent Seven" in 1981 (a few months after Blondie's "Rapture"), and the first British group to perform rap music.With politicised songs and committed lifestyles ensuring their fame amongst punk rockers, the Clash were unique for their relative musical sophistication, and thus are often thought as "a punk band with a rock-n-roll sound." The band's 1979 album London Calling serves as their Magnum Opus, often hailed as one of the finest punk rock records (and rock/popular music in general) ever recorded — it is the highest rated punk album of all time in Rolling Stone's list, i.e. the popular yardstick. Also, at one point it was awarded as the best album of the '80s, despite having been released in December 14th, 1979, though this is true for the American release. The band's reputation of not being total assholes in interviews and their strong respect for their audience only adds to the vast amount of richly deserved respect directed at the group.The band broke up in 1986 after a ten year career and went onto other projects. Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite and Strummer embarked on a solo career. There were sporadic collaborations and ad-hoc performances by various combinations of the original lineup but no full reunion ever came about and the death of Strummer in 2002 put paid to any hope of a reformation.
Principal Members (Founding members in bold):
Terry Chimes - drums, percussion (1976, 1977, 1982-1983)
Rob Harper - drums, percussion (1976-1977)
Nicholas "Topper" Headon - drums, percussion, piano, bass, backing and lead vocals (1977-1982)
Pete Howard - drums, percussion (1983-1986)
Mick Jones - guitar, lead vocals, piano, harmonica (1976-1983)
Easter Egg: An accidental one. "Train in Vain" was meant to be released as a promo for NME magazine. When that fell through, they quickly added it to London Calling after the packaging had already been printed. As a result, "Train in Vain" wasn't listed on the album cover. This didn't stop it from becoming one of the band's best songs.
A more deliberate version from the same album: Alongside the usual matrix number, the double LP had a message etched into the run-out grooves one word at a time: "TEAR DOWN WALLS".
Everything Sounds Sexier In Spanish: "Spanish Bombs" includes "yo te quiero y finito/Yo te querda, oh mi corazˇn"note This seems to translate to "I love you and finite/Yo te querda, oh my heart," as, apparently, querda isn't a real word.
Genre Roulette: London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat Rock: Reggae, Punk Rap, proto-Twee Pop, Alternative Dance, Rockabilly, Funk, Ska, Dub, Calypso, Gospel, Acoustic rock, and even some experimental tracks full of random noises...
Godwin's Law: The lines "If Adolf Hitler flew in today/They'd send a limousine anyway" in "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" actually work because the song is about Nazi skinheads ruining an all-night reggae concert.
Refrain from Assuming: The "Stand by me" chorus of "Train in Vain" got so bad that in the States the single was released as "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)." The song itself is a last-minute addition and was not featured at the track listing, which makes things worse.
"Red Angel Dragnet" uses Taxi Driver and introduces it with the lines "Only Travis/Come in Travis". However, rather than using clips directly from the film, they had Kosmo Vinyl recite from the script while doing an impression.
"Inoculated City" includes a Spoken Word In Music sample of an ad for the toilet bowl cleaning product 2000 Flushes - the sample was unauthorized, so some copies of Combat Rock include an edited version of the song that removes it.
Silly Love Songs: While everybody remembers the Anti-Love Song subversion of "Train in Vain," they actually had one song that played it completely straight, released as a B-Side for Tommy Gun. Behold, 1-2 Crush on You. Admittedly, this was written by Mick Jones pre-Clash and only performed by them.
Shout-Out: At about 2:37 in "Remote Control", you can hear Strummer saying "I am a Dalek!", followed by "I am a robot!" and "I O-BEY!", all in the Dalek's usual speech patterns.
In the very beginning of their cover of "Police And Thieves", Joe Strummer can be heard shouting "Goin' through a tight wind!". Interestingly, this was only a year after "Blitzkrieg Bop" from The Ramones (1976) itself came out.
"The Right Profile", about Montgomery Clift, starts "Say, where did I see this guy? In Red River. Or A Place In The Sun. Maybe The Misfits. Or Here to Eternity."
"You owe me a move say the bells of St. Groove Come on and show me say the bells of old Bowie When I am fitter, say the bells of Gary Glitter No one but you and I say the bells of Prince Far-I No one but you and I say the bells of Prince Far-I"
Something Completely Different: "Hitsville U.K.", a sweet love-letter to the then new independent label music scene which name checks a couple of the big players (Rough Trade, Factory, Small Wonder and Fast Product) and features lead vocals by Mick and his then-girlfriend, American actress Ellen Foley. The song's style is completely different to their other work and is often considered to be a forebearer to the twee pop genre.
Sandinista!, the album "Hitsville U.K." is on, is itself completely different from the rest of their albums, including various songs in different genres.
Of particular note on Sandinista! is the song "Lose This Skin," which was written by, sung by, and prominently featured the violin playing of Tymon Dogg, with The Clash acting as his backing band.
Soprano and Gravel: Two male variant. Strummer was a baritone and, especially on the early records, sang his lines in a rough, growly manner. Jones lies on the border of tenor and countertenor, and his vocals were much cleaner as a rule.
Spanish Civil War: The song "Spanish Bombs", from London Calling, was dedicated to the Republican side of the conflict.