Music: The Clash

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 stands 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 (including some time fronting The Pogues) before founding the Mescaleros. Paul Simonon contributed to the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach. 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 laid to rest 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)
  • Keith Levene - guitar (1976)
  • John Mellor (Joe Strummer) - lead vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica, bass (1976-1986, died 2002)
  • Nick Sheppard - guitar, backing and lead vocals (1983-1986)
  • Paul Simonon - bass, backing and lead vocals, guitar (1976-1986)
  • Gregory "Vince" White - guitar (1983-1986)


Studio and Live Discography:

  • 1977 - The Clash
  • 1977 - Capital Radio
  • 1978 - Give 'Em Enough Rope
  • 1979 - The Cost Of Living
  • 1979 - London Calling
  • 1980 - Sandinista!
  • 1982 - Combat Rock
  • 1985 - Cut The Crap
  • 1999 - From Here To Eternity: Live note 
  • 2008 - Live At Shea Stadium note 


Tropes associated with The Clash:

  • Album Title Drop: Sandinista!, in "Washington Bullets".
  • Angrish: Near the end of "The Right Profile"
  • Affectionate Parody: The typographic design for the now-legendary cover to London Calling is practically a Shout-Out to Elvis Presley's debut album Elvis Presley.
  • The Band Minus the Face: Jones, who was the Face of the Band along with Strummer, got sacked in mid-'80s.
  • Bland-Name Product: "Koka Kola," maybe.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Paul (blonde), Topper (redhead), Joe (chestnut), Mick (raven).
  • Boxed Set: Clash On Broadway
  • Breakup Song: Yes. The Clash, of all people. "Train in Vain." Which was a major hit!
  • British Teeth: Jones is infamous for, and has a healthy sense of humor about, his absolutely horrid teeth.
    • In concert with his current band Carbon/Silicon, Jones will often tell the story of a childhood accident that led to the discovery that all (not some, all) of his baby teeth were rotten and had to be pulled lest he contract a blood infection. He cites this as the reason his permanent teeth grew in the way they did.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Allen Ginsberg on "Ghetto Defendant."
  • Cherubic Choir: The Sandinista! version of "Career Opportunities."
    • Also the version of "The Guns of Brixton" at the end of the Sandinista! song "Broadway"
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Deconstructed and reconstructed in "Death Or Glory"
    "He who fucks nuns will later join the church."
  • Cover Version: e.g. "Brand New Cadillac", "Police On My Back", "Police and Thieves" and "I Fought the Law."
    • Covered Up: "I Fought the Law" and especially "Police on My Back".
  • Eagleland: "I'm So Bored with the USA" is Type 2.
  • 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 THE WALLS".
  • Everything Sounds Sexier In Spanish: "Spanish Bombs" includes "yo te quiero y finito/Yo te querda, oh mi corazˇn"note 
    • Don't forget "Should I Stay or Should I Go"...
  • Former Teen Rebel: The subject of "Death or Glory".
  • "We're a Garage Band/We come from Garageland"
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Spanish Bombs"; "Should I Stay or Should I Go".
  • Greatest Hits Album: The Story Of The Clash, Volume 1
  • Heavy Meta: "Clash City Rockers," "Radio Clash," "We Are the Clash".
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: The odd line "A nuclear error, but I have no fear/'Cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river!" in "London Calling".
  • Jerkass/Jerkass Fašade: Surprisingly averted for an early punk rock band, usually seen as more authentic and violent in their rebelliousness. A good example would be to compare their Tom Snyder appearance and John Lydon's.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "London's Burning"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Is there a jollier-sounding song about hardcore drug addiction than "Hateful"?
    • They tended to enjoy this trope, especially on "London Calling": "Death Or Glory" is an upbeat little number about, uh, how even the toughest rebels eventually sell out.
    • Almost any time London Calling is used on tv - especially in advertising - it's likely to be this.
  • Music Is Politics: "Complete Control"
  • A Nuclear Error: The Trope Namer.
  • Protest Song: Almost everything they wrote.
  • Rap Rock: Trope Maker along with Blondie.
  • 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.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: On the album cover of London Calling. Of course, the hilarity is that London Calling's cover is actually of Paul Simonon smashing his bass.
  • Sampling:
    • "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.
  • Second-Person Narration: "The Guns of Brixton"
  • 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."
    • The cover of London Calling was a direct reference to the cover of Elvis Presley's debut album Elvis Presley (1956).
    • "Car Jamming" mentions Lauren Bacall.
    • From "Clash City Rockers":
    "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.
  • Stage Names: John Mellor is Joe Strummer. Original drummer Terry Chimes was credited in the liner notes for The Clash as "Tory Crimes", a shot at the Conservative Party in Britain, who are also known as the Tories.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Paul Simonon on "The Guns of Brixton", "The Crooked Beat", and "Red Angel Dragnet"; Topper Headon on "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe"; Nick Sheppard on "North and South".
  • A Storm Is Coming: "London Calling"
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Mick Jones was fired, he was replaced with Mick Jones-lookalike Nick Sheppard.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Joe Strummer and Mick Jones went on a song-by-song basis on every album (except their final album Cut The Crap, which was entirely Strummer due to Jones' firing). Although Strummer got the majority of songs, Jones sang lead on some of their most recognizable tunes (notably "Train in Vain" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?").
  • Three Chords and the Truth: After all, they were part of the punk rock movement. By the time of London Calling, they had largely ditched this aesthetic.
  • Title of the Dead: "City of the Dead", B-side of the "Complete Control" single.