The Clash

The Clash was an English rock band that released five albums between 1977 and 1982 on CBS. Their classic lineup featured singer, lyricist, and rhythm guitarist Joe Strummer, who co-wrote most of their songs with lead guitarist, composer, and second vocalist Mick Jones. Bassist Paul Simonon completed the original lineup, which welcomed drummer Topper Headon after the first album.

They debuted with The Clash, a cornerstone UK punk release with the anthems “White Riot,” “Hate and War,” “London’s Burning,” “Career Opportunities,” and the early rock–reggae crossover “Police and Thieves.” When CBS lifted “Remote Control” as a single, The Clash snapped back with “Complete Control,” a broadside on the music industry.

The Clash released two non-album 1978 singles — “Clash City Rockers” and “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” — in anticipation of their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, a UK No. 2 record with the epic rockers “English Civil War,” “Last Gang In Town,” “All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts),” and the personal ballad “Stay Free,” plus their first Top 20 hit “Tommy Gun.”

In 1979, The Clash revived “I Fought the Law,” a renegade 1966 hit by the Bobby Fuller Four. They explore new styles on the double-album London Calling, which embraces ska (“Guns of Brixton”), zydeco (“Hateful”), skiffle (“Jimmy Jazz”), and rockabilly (“Brand New Cadillac”). London Calling charted globally and spawned the fan-favorites “Clampdown,” “Death or Glory,” “Lost In a Supermarket,” and the title-track. The unlisted dance-rocker “Train in Vain” became their first US radio staple.

The Clash mine reggae and dub on their 1980 single “Bankrobber” and fourth album Sandinista!, a three-record set with political takes on rocksteady (“The Call Up”), funk (“The Magnificent Seven”), and Caribbean pop (“Washington Bullets”). Their 1981 funk-rap single “This Is Radio Clash” became an early MTV staple.

In 1982, The Clash reached their popular zenith with Combat Rock, an assortment of hybridized music forms like rockabilly–punk (“Know Your Right”) and reggae-rap (“Ghetto Defendant”). Headon left just before his composition “Rock the Casbah” became a US Top 10 hit. Strummer’s poignant soundscape “Straight to Hell” and Jones’ retro rocker “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” drove album sales through late 1983, at which point Jones left the band and formed Big Audio Dynamite.

In 1985, a reconstituted five-man Clash released Cut the Crap, which spawned the hi-tech single “This Is England.”

Members: Joe Strummer (guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass, vocals), Mick Jones (guitar, vocals, 1976-83), Terry Chimes (drums, 1976-77, 1982), Keith Levene (guitar, 1976), Topper Headon (drums, vocals, 1977-82), Pete Howard (drums, 1983-86), Nick Sheppard (guitar, 1984-86), Vince White (guitar, 1984-86)


The Clash formed in June 1976 when guitarist–singer Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon teamed with ex-101ers frontman–guitarist Joe Strummer.

Jones hailed from London SS, a garage band that rehearsed throughout 1975 and recorded one demo but never played a concert. The band was managed by Bernie Rhodes, an associate of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who insisted that his boys would have the strongest possible impact if similar bands formed in their wake.

As the Pistols picked up steam, London SS fell apart. Bassist Tony James hooked up with William Broad, an aspiring singer who frequented gigs as part of the Bromley Contingent, the Pistol’s main fan posse that included young scenesters Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Havoc. James and Broad linked with singer–model Gene October in the band LSD, assembled by haberdasher John Krivine, who ran the King’s Road boutique Acme Attractions, an up-street competitor to McLaren’s S&M/punk boutique SEX at World’s End. (LSD would play one gig opening for Throbbing Gristle at the infamous COUM Transmissions exhibit in late 1976. James and Broad, who’d now taken the stagename Billy Idol, split from October to form Generation X. October’s band morphed into Chelsea.)

Elsewhere, London SS guitarist Brian James and drummer Rat Scabies (aka Chris Millar) were taken under the auspices of Andy Czezowski, who worked as McLaren’s accountant. He linked the pair with bassist Ray Burns and vocalist David Lett, who respectively adopted the stagenames Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian. A prospective fifth member, American singer–guitarist Chrissie Hynde, quickly dropped out of the new band, which became The Damned.

Meanwhile, Rhodes continued managing the remnants of London SS, which now consisted of Mick Jones and two late-arrivals, bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Terry Chimes. The camp had their eye on singer–guitarist Joe Strummer, whose 101ers topped the Pistols on an April 3, 1976, bill at London’s Nashville. Strummer was instantly proselytized by the Pistols’ devil-may-care aesthetic. Following the release of their May 1976 Chiswick single “Keys to Your Heart,” Strummer disbanded the 101ers and joined Jones and Simonon in their new group.

The band rehearsed in Chalk Farm, London, initially with Strummer’s drummer friend Pablo LaBritain, who surfaced in 999 (a spinoff of pub-rockers Kilburn and the High Roads.) They settled on Chimes and added a fifth member, guitarist Keith Levene (then nineteen), a onetime Yes roadie. They considered calling their band The Weak Heartdrops or The Psychotic Negatives before Simonon suggested The Clash, inspired by constant media use of “clash” as an action–conflict buzzword.

Early Shows

The Clash played their first concert on July 4, 1976, at Dingwalls in Sheffield as the opening act for the Sex Pistols. Five weeks later on August 13, they played their second show before a private audience in Camden. On August 29, they played London’s Screen On the Green supporting the Sex Pistols with fellow openers The Buzzcocks, a Manchester group formed by two of the earliest northern Pistols converts.

In early September, The Clash dismissed Levene, who played that autumn in the short-lived Flowers of Romance with Pistols fan Sid Vicious and Clash associates Palmolive (Strummer’s then-girlfriend) and Viv Albertine (a Chalk Farm presence). (In 1978, after the Sex Pistols folded, Levene formed Public Image Limited with Pistols frontman John Lydon).

On Monday, September 20, 1976, The Clash performed as part of the 100 Club Punk Special, a two-day showcase of unsigned punk bands. The Clash played Day 1 along with Subway Sect (who Rhodes took under his wing), Siouxsie & The Banshees (their debut), and headliners the Sex Pistols. Day 2 featured The Damned, The Vibrators (backing veteran guitarist Chris Spedding), The Buzzcocks, and French band Stinky Toys.

During October and November, The Clash tackled London’s club and university circuit, where they played shows with Roogalator (10/29: Fulham Town Hall) retro rocker Shakin’ Stevens (10/16: University of London Union), and multiple dates with Subway Sect. In late November, Chimes left the band. The Clash hired drummer Rob Harper, a journeyman who played in the unsigned Cafe Racers with a young Mark Knopfler.

Harper’s two-month Clash tenure covered their slot on the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy Tour, an ill-fated December blitz with The Damned and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers. The tour dwindled from twenty schedules dates to six after local councils banned the show in light of controversy sparked by the Pistols’ profanity-laced December 1 appearance on ITV’s Today programme, hosted by Bill Grundy.


On January 1, 1977, The Clash headlined the Roxy, a venue in Covent Garden opened by Andy Czezowski for London’s punk scene. The Clash played two shows (9.30 and 12.30) supported by Chelsea. Despite previous shows by Generation X and Siouxsie & The Banshees, this was the official opening gala of the Roxy, which hosted scores of new talent (The Adverts, The Cortinas, The Only Ones, Penetration, The Police, The Slits, Squeeze, X-Ray Spex) in the coming months.

Aspiring filmmaker and early Pistols documentarian Julian Temple filmed the Jan. 1 event and released the footage in 2015 to the BBC. Clash footage also appears in The Punk Rock Movie, a multi-act document of Roxy performances by club deejay and cameraman Don Letts.

The Clash

The Clash released their self-titled debut album on April 8, 1977, on CBS. It features twelve Jones–Strummer originals and a thirteenth (“What’s My Name”) co-credited to early member Keith Levene, plus a six-minute cover of the recent Junior Murvin single “Police & Thieves.”

Mick Jones sings “Protex Blue” and harmonizes on “Remote Control” and “Hate and War” with Joe Strummer, who sings the remaining tracks. Five songs — “What’s My Name” “Career Opportunities,” “Protex Blue,” “48 Hours,” and “White Riot” (the debut Clash single) — fall under the two-minute mark.

Musically, The Clash balances speedy buzzsaw cuts (“Janie Jones,” “I’m So Bored with the USA,” “White Riot,” “Protex Blue”) with mid-tempo harmonized riff-rockers (“Remote Control,” “Hate and War,” “London’s Burning,” “Garageland”). The Murvin cover initiates their embrace of reggae-rock, a mainstay on subsequent Clash albums.

1. “Janie Jones” (2:03)
2. “Remote Control” (3:00)
3. “I’m So Bored with the USA” (2:25)
4. “White Riot” (1:56)
5. “Hate and War” (2:05)
6. “What’s My Name” (1:40)
7. “Deny” (3:03)
8. “London’s Burning” (2:12)

1. “Career Opportunities” (1:52)
2. “Cheat” (2:06)
3. “Protex Blue” (1:42)
4. “Police & Thieves” (6:01) is a reggae song written by Junior Murvin and producer Lee Perry, first released by Murvin as a 1976 a-side (spelled “Police & Thief”) on the Jamaican label Wild Flower. In the UK, Island Records issued the song as a 1976 standalone single. It also appears on Murvin’s 1977 Island release Police & Thieves.
5. “48 Hours” (1:34)
6. “Garageland” (3:12)

Sessions occurred across three weekends between February 10 and 27, 1977, at CBS Studio 3 with Clash concert soundman Mickey Foote and engineer Simon Humphrey, whose credits in the ensuing months include albums by The Drones (Further Temptations), The Vibrators (Pure Mania), and the second Cortinas single “Defiant Pose.”

CBS art director Rosław Szaybo designed The Clash cover, which shows a xeroxed image of the trio by American rock photographer Kate Simon, who pictured the band on a Camden alley stairway near their Rehearsals Rehearsals space. Szaybo also designed visuals to 1977 CBS–Epic titles by Boxer (Absolutely), Cafe Jacques (Round the Back), Crawler (self-titled), David Essex, Judas Priest (Sin After Sin), Lone Star, Moon, and Sailor. Kate’s photography appears on concurrent albums by Bunny Wailer and Richard Hell & The Voidoids (Blank Generation).

The Clash rear cover shows a xeroxed photo credited to one Rocco Macauley at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival riot. The credits list drummer ‘Tory Crimes’ (aka Terry Chimes, who served as their stand-in drummer for the album’s sessions but didn’t rejoin the band, hence their appearance as a trio on the cover.)

“White Riot” preceded The Clash by three weeks (March 18) as a single backed with the timely exclusive “1977.” The “White Riot” single (1:55) begins with a siren in lieu of Mick’s “1-2-3-4” intro on the album version. Despite scant airplay, “White Riot” reached No. 38 on the UK Singles Chart

1977” (1:40) Joe makes a bleak forecast of the current year due to finances (“‘Cause I been too long on the dole and I can’t work at all”) and clashing street tribes (“Danger stranger, you better paint your face”). He dismisses the heroes of yesteryear (“No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones”) and notes the influx of street violence in London’s posher areas (“knives in West 11… sten guns in Knightsbridge”). He spurns the upcoming Silver Jubilee and extends his bleak forecast through the next seven years, which ends at 1984, a vaunted year due to George Orwell’s 1948 dystopian novel.

In mid-May, CBS lifted “Remote Control” as the album’s second single backed with a live rendition of “London’s Burning.”

The Clash reached No. 12 on the UK Albums Chart and peaked just outside the Swedish Top 40. The American branch of CBS vetoed the album’s stateside release. However, The Clash gained traction as an import as word of the band spread across the US, where the album eventually sold 100,000 imported copies.

Early copies of The Clash came with a red sticker that buyers could redeem for a copy of Capital Radio, a limited-edition EP available through the New Musical Express. It contains two segments of an interview conducted on the London Underground by NME journalist Tony Parsons, plus two exclusive songs: “Capitol Radio” and the instrumental “Listen.”

Capital Radio” (2:08) Joe refers to Euston Tower (“There’s a tower in the heart of London”), the site of Capitol Radio, then London’s only legally sanctioned radio station. He’s unimpressed with the station’s playlist (“They don’t make the city beat”) and non-support of the new wave (“They’re making all the action stop”). He laments the psychedelic-era pirate station Radio London (“beaming waves from the sea”) and the bureaucracies that currently govern London’s airwaves (“now all the stations are silenced ’cause they ain’t got a government license”). He complains about wasted airtime given to listener call-in gossip and chastises Aiden Day, Capital’s then-Head of Music.

White Riot Tour

In late April, The Clash hired drummer Topper Headon (b. May 30, 1955), a Bromley drummer who first toured with Mirkwood, a post-psych boogie act that self-released an album in 1973 before his tenure. He recently played in a local act that opened a UK date for Motown legends The Temptations. Headon played his first show with The Clash on April 26, 1977, at Le Chartreux Cinema in Rouen, France.

On May 1, The Clash launched the White Riot Tour, a month-long, 25-date UK blitz with The Jam, Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, and The Slits. The tour commenced at the Guildford Civic Hall and wrapped on May 30 at the California Ballroom in Dunstable.

When the tour hit Liverpool (May 5: Eric’s), audience members Pete Wylie and Julian Cope met and arranged a subsequent meetup, where Wylie introduced Cope to fellow aspiring musician–singer Ian McCulloch. They formed The Crucial Three, a short-lived act that presaged their separate pursuits as bandleaders in Echo & the Bunnymen (McCulloch), Teardrop Explodes (Cope), and Wha! (Wylie).

On May 13, CBS lifted “Remote Control” as the second single off The Clash, backed with a live version of “London’s Burning.” At the order of management, The Clash interrupted the tour for a May 14 stop in Amsterdam, where they played a taped show at the Brakke Grond Flemsih Cultural Centre.

The Clash scheduled a new wave festival for July 17 at the Birmingham Rag Market. However, the local council cancelled the event, which booked The Slits, Subway Sect, The Saints, Tom Robinson Band, Cherry Vanilla, Snatch, and Stinky Toys. The Clash showed up anyway for a meet-and-greet with fans and played an impromptu forty-minute show at Barbarella’s, where they borrowed equipment from local metal act Warhead.

“Complete Control”

On September 23, 1977, The Clash released “Complete Control,” a rant about conflicts with their record label. The b-side, “City of the Dead,” is a brisk pogo rocker with sax work by C.C. of Gloria Mundi. This single marks Topper Headon’s vinyl debut.

Jamaican soundman Lee “Scratch” Perry produced “Complete Control,” which Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote as a broadside toward controlling aspects of the music industry (labels, managers, concert promoters). The title derives from a comment made by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes and references CBS’s release of “Remote Control” as a single without the band’s consent.

Complete Control” (3:10) Joe rants about the decisions of CBS staff (“They said Release Remote Control”) and promoters (“fly to Amsterdam”). He contrasts the good-natured vibe of audiences with media sensationalism (“people laughed, but the press went mad”) and laments his lack of power over concert security (“my mates they couldn’t get in; I’d open up the back door but they’d get run out again”). He thinks about the label’s initial promise (“They said we’d be artistically free when we signed that bit of paper”) and directs the final moments to the listener (“This is Joe Public speaking!”) to counter false Clash reports (“they’re dirty, they’re filthy, they ain’t a-gonna last”).

City of the Dead” (2:26) Joe mauls over what to do and where to go each night after a gig. He crashes with strange people in similar situations (“we lie side by side in bed”) and fights his urge to drink (“I wished I could be like you with the Soho river drinkin’ me down”). He references something Johnny Thunders told him during the Anarchy tour (“New York Johnny said You should get to know your town just like I know mine”). He notes the bleakness of city streets (“all the windows stare ahead and the streets are filled with dread”) and the frequency of johns (“slinks through the alley after girls”). He acknowledges the risk of punk but takes it in stride:

What we wear is dangerous gear
It’ll get you picked on anywhere
Though we get beat up we don’t care
At least it livens up the air

The Clash recorded the single in July 1977 at Sarm East Studios (Side A) and CBS Studios (Side B). Jamaican dub reggae musician Lee “Scratch” Perry (The Upsetters) produced “Complete Control” amid work on “Punky Reggae Party,” a non-album single by Bob Marley who, like Perry, took kind to the band’s Junior Murvin cover.

Saxophonist C.C. Smith played on “City of the Dead” just as his band, Gloria Mundi, secured a deal with RCA. Weeks earlier, he partook in sessions by Ultravox for their electro-noir trance ballad “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” which appears on their October 1977 second album Ha!-Ha!-Ha!

“Complete Control” reached No. 28 on the UK Singles Chart. The American music monthly Trouser Press described “City of the Dead” as “Split Enz gone punk.”


In January 1978, The Clash played shows in Birmingham (1/24: Barbarella’s), Luton (1/25: Queensway Hall), and Coventry (1/26: Lanchester Polytechnic).

“Clash City Rockers”

On February 17, 1978, The Clash released “Clash City Rockers,” a five-chord salvo backed with “Jail Guitar Doors,” a re-written number from Joe Strummer’s time in the 101ers. 

Clash City Rockers” (3:55) Joe states the band’s wish to energize audiences (“I want to move the town to the clash city rockers, you need a little jump of electrical shockers”) and notes that in the daily hustle (“see the rate they come down the escalator, now listen to the tube train accelerator”) it’s the band’s mission to entertain:

I want to liquefy everybody gone dry
Or plug into the aerials that poke up in the sky
Or burn down the suburbs with the half-closed eyes
You won’t succeed unless you try

In the penultimate section, Joe invokes the English nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons,” in which different bells represent a command. He attributes these to David Bowie (“Come on and show me say the bells of Old Bowie”), Gary Glitter (“When I am fitter say the bells of Gary Glitter”), and reggae deejay Prince Far-I (“No one but you and I say the bells of Prince Far-I”).

Jail Guitar Doors” (3:05) takes its “Clang clang go the jail guitar doors” chorus line from “Lonely Mother’s Son,” which Strummer wrote for the The 101ers. Joe calls out rock heroes that fell prey to drug busts and religious zeal. He mentions “Wayne and his deals of cocaine” (ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, then incarcerated for drug activity) and “Pete [who] didn’t want no fame; gave all his money away” (original Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green disappeared from music due to money-averse asceticism). He also mentions the pending case of “Keith, waiting for trial, twenty-five thousand bail” (Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards faced prison time for a 1977 Toronto drug bust).

The Clash recorded both sides in October–November 1977 at CBS Studios, where Strummer relayed cues between Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, who fell out briefly after the tour behind “Complete Control.”

“Clash City Rockers” reached No. 35 on the UK Singles Chart. This was their last recording with 101ers concert soundman Mickey Foot, whose last-minute varispeed edit of “Clash City Rockers” rose the pitch (by a semi-tone) to the band’s dismay. (Subsequent reissues feature the original mix.)

On March 30, Paul Simonon and Topper Headen were arrested on the rooftop of the band’s Camden Rehearsals Rehearsals space when staff at the nearby British Rail reported sounds of gunfire. Both were charged with shooting racing pigeons and released the next day on £1,500 bail each.

On April 30, The Clash played before 100,000 in Victoria Park as part of the inaugural Rock Against Racism event, which also featured sets by the Tom Robinson Band, X-ray Spex, Steel Pulse, and punk poet Patrick Fitzgerald. Sham 69 frontman Jimmy Pursey joined The Clash onstage for “White Riot.”

“(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais”

On June 16, 1978, The Clash released “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais,” a reggae rocker backed with “The Prisoner.” This was their third standalone single in the nineteen-month gap between their first and second albums.

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” (3:59) Joe rants about a “midnight to six” concert event with Jamaican stars Dillinger, Leroy Smart, and Delroy Washington. He bemoans their Four Tops-style stage routine and slick sound (“charging from the bass knives to the treble”) and newfound similarities to “pop-reggae” singer Ken Boothe (“no roots rock rebel”). He calls on white and black youth to “phone up Robin Hood and ask him for some wealth distribution.” Regarding the new wave scene, he voices disillusionment with punk (“too busy fighting for a good place under the lighting”) and targets the newer neo-beat and mod revival acts (“they got Burton suits, huh, you think it’s funny, turning rebellion into money”).

The Prisoner” (3:02) Joe drops hints about “the west end jungle code,” where the “day to day saga of working people” involves more than “washing and clipping coupons and generally being decent.” It’s a world where “Johnny too bad meets Johnny be good” and “jam themselves down the tube” where rude boys get rude”rude boys get rude” and “leave before the truncheons.” He defines the prisoner as the “Camden Town [squatter] selling revolution” (militant acts in the name of idealism). He’s hyperventilate (“only free to dodge the cops”) and suggests there’s only one way out (“bunk the train to stardom”). 

The Clash recorded both sides in March–April 1978 at Basing Street Studios with American producer Sandy Pearlman, the longtime manager–producer of Blue Oyster Cult who recentlu worked with The Dictators and Pavlov’s Dog. Simon Humphries engineered the single, which stemmed from the first round of sessions for the upcoming Clash album.

“(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” reached No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope

The Clash released their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, on November 10, 1978, on CBS (UK) and Epic (US). It features eight Strummer–Jones originals, including “Tommy Gun,” a song about killer psychology that became their first UK Top 20 hit. They reflect on their time in Jamaica on “Safe European Home,” the album’s brisk opening track.

Lyrically, Give ‘Em Enough Rope tackles the drug trade and international strife. The Clash toy with barroom boogie on “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad,” inspired by the Operation Julie drug bust. Mick Jones sings lead on the rock–ballad “Stay Free,” where he reminisces about a school friend who served time in prison. Side Two opens with the group-credited “Guns on the Roof,” which concerns the pigeon-shooting incident. Each side closes with a lengthy rock epic: “Last Gang in Town” and “All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts).”

1. “Safe European Home” (3:50)
2. “English Civil War” (2:35) is an adaptation of the American folk traditional “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” published in 1863 as a Civil War anthem by Union Army serviceman Patrick Gilmore.
3. “Tommy Gun” 3:17)
4. “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad” (3:03)
5. “Last Gang in Town” (5:14)

1. “Guns on the Roof” (3:15)
2. “Drug-Stabbing Time” (3:43)
3. “Stay Free” (3:40)
4. “Cheapskates” (3:25)
5. “All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)” (4:55)

Sessions first took place in March–April 1978 at Studio Basing Street and resumed in August–September at The Automatt in San Francisco. Sandy Pearlman produced Give ‘Em Enough Rope in sequence with Some Enchanted Evening, the 1978 live album by Blue Oyster Cult that contains a cover of the MC5 signature “Kick Out the Jams.” Both projects involved engineer Corky Stasiak, who also worked on 1977–78 albums by Angel, Flame, Piper, and Harry Chapin.

Select tracks welcome guest contributions by BOC guitarist–keyboardist Allen Lanier (piano on “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad”), Elephant’s Memory saxophonist Stan Bronstein (“Drug Stabbing Time”), and Rumour keyboardist Bob Andrews (“Stay Free”). Give ‘Em Enough Rope lists four sound engineers, including Kevin Dallimore (Aswad, Judas Priest) and studio veteran Dennis Ferrante, whose recent credits include Derringer, Mandrill, and Sonny Sharrock.

CBS art director Gene Greif designed the Give ‘Em Enough Rope cover, which shows a color-overlaid reproduction of “End of the Trail,” a vintage postcard image by photographer Adrian Atwater of American cowboy Wallace Irving Robertson, who portrays a cadaver pecked by vultures.

The Pearlman sessions produced some eighteen songs, including the ten album cuts and the “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” single plus two b-sides and the shelved tracks “One Emotion,” “Groovy Times,” “Rusted Chrome,” and “RAF 1810.”

The Clash lifted “Tommy Gun” as their sixth single backed with the Jones-sung “1–2 Crush on You,” a rare Clash love song with saxophonist Gary Barnacle.

1-2 Crush On You” (2:59)

“Tommy Gun” reached No. 19 on the UK Singles Chart. In the song’s video, The Clash mime on a flag-draped soundstage where Paul sports a red top and Mick (long hair) dons an ascot and leather vest.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, where it nested for one week under the Grease soundtrack. It later certified Gold for 100,000 units sold. The album also reached the Swedish Top 40.

On February 23, 1979, they issued “English Civil War” as the second single, backed with a non-album cover of The Maytals 1969 reggae tune “Pressure Drop.”

Pressure Drop” (Toots Hibbert) (3:25)

“English Civil War” reached No. 25 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 29 in Ireland.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope became first domestic Clash album in the US, where it reached the middle-third of the Billboard 200. The first-press US version features the band name in bold font and re-titles “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad” (as “Julie’s in the Drug Squad”) and “All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)” (as “That’s No Way to Spend Your Youth”).


On January 3, 1979, The Clash played London’s Lyceum, supported by The Slits, who recently signed to Island. The Clash launched a North American tour on January 31 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC. On February 8, they played San Francisco’s Fillmore with West Coast new wavers Negative Trend and The Zeros. Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Bo Diddley supported multiple dates, including a  February 17 triple-bill at New York’s Palladium with The Cramps.

In his tour diary, Joe observed that in order to break the US market, a British act must “work hard like Elvis Costello, shake hands and smile like The Boomtown Rats, and sound like Dire Straits.” He wrote that The Clash were only capable of the first.

The Cost of Living 

On May 11, 1979, The Clash released The Cost of Living, a four-song maxi-single on CBS. It features a cover of the 1966 Bobby Fuller Four hit “I Fought the Law” and second version of the 1977 rarity “Capital Radio,” plus two outtakes from the Give ‘Em Enough Rope sessions: “Groovy Times” and “Gates of the West” (originally “Rusted Chrome”). Original copies end with “The Cost of Living Advert.”

I Fought the Law” (2:40) originated as a May 1959 a-side by The Crickets, written by Buddy Holly collaborator Sonny Curtis, who joined the band after Holly’s death. In 1966, “I Fought the Law” became a Top 10 Billboard hit for garage rockers the Bobby Fuller Four, whose version peaked six months before Fuller’s death by asphyxiation.
Groovy Times” (3:25)
Gates of the West” (3:26)
Capital Radio” (4:05)

The Cost of Living reached No. 22 in the UK and No. 24 in Ireland.

Summer ’79 Activity

The Clash broke ties with Bernie Rhodes and rehearsed songs for a new album at Vanilla Studios in Central London. On July 5 and 6, they played London’s Notre Dame Hall, supported by Mo-Dettes. On July 14, they headlined a multi-bill at London’s Rainbow Theatre, supported by Aswad and The Members.

On July 26, Epic Records issued The Clash in North America two years after its UK release. This version omits four songs from the original (“Cheat,” “Deny,” “Protex Blue,” “46 Hours”) and adds four sides from their three stopgap singles (“Complete Control,” “Clash City Rockers,” “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais,” “Jail Guitar Doors”) plus the recent “I Fought the Law.” The Epic version retains the original cover art with the logo (brighter red) shifted upper-right.

For their new album, The Clash enlisted producer Guy Stevens, an erratic soundman whose prior credits include 1967–72 albums by Art, Free, Mighty Baby, Mott the Hoople, and Traffic. Most recently, he produced the 1975 album by The Winkies, who briefly served as Brian Eno‘s live backing band.

On September 8, The Clash played California’s Monterey Fairgrounds as part of the 2nd Annual Tribal Stomp, a two-day event with sets by the Chamber Brothers, Lee Michaels, and Peter Tosh. On Sept. 12, they played St. Paul’s Civic Center Arena with ex-New York Dolls frontman David Johansen. Their autumn North American tour covered twenty-one nights, including five dates with Tex-Mex singer–guitarist Joe Ely. On September 20, The Clash played New York’s Palladium, where Paul Simonon (enraged that venue staff wouldn’t let audience members stand and move) smashed his bass on stage. Rock photojournalist Pennie Smith captured this moment as a grainy grayscale action image.

The Clash declined an invitation to play No Nukes, a series of anti-nuclear benefit shows (Sept. 19–23) at Madison Square Garden with Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Doobie Brothers, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Gil Scott-Heron, Nicolette Larson, Raydio, and ex-Orleans singer John Hall.

London Calling

The Clash released their third album, the two-record London Calling, on December 14, 1979, on CBS and Epic. It features fifteen Strummer–Jones originals, including the hit title-track and the popular deep cuts “Spanish Bombs,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Clampdown,” and “Death or Glory.” The 65-minute album also includes covers of fifties UK rocker Vince Taylor (“Brand New Cadillac”), reggae singer Danny Ray (“Revolution Rock”), and The Rulers (“Wrong ‘Em Boyo”).

London Calling is the first of two consecutive multi-album sets by The Clash. Musically, they expand on the strident rock of their first two albums with examples of skiffle (“Jimmy Jazz”), zydeco (“Hateful”), West Coast rock (“Lover’s Rock”), and sixties Spector sound (“The Kard Cheat”). They cross Jamaican rocksteady influences with strands of Dixieland (“Rudie Can’t Fail”) and Latin (“The Right Profile”). Side Four closes with “Train In Vain,” a love-themed dance-rocker that helped make London Calling the first Top 30 Clash album on the US Billboard 200.

1. “London Calling” (3:19) The bassline derives from the 1966 Kinks single “Dead End Street.”
2. “Brand New Cadillac” (2:09) is a song by fifties UK rock ‘n’ roll singer Vince Taylor, who released it as a 1959 Parlophone b-side with his backing band The Playboys. In 1976, “Brand New Cadillac” gained newfound interest when it reappeared as a a-side on Chiswick Records.
3. “Jimmy Jazz” (3:52)
4. “Hateful” (2:45)
5. “Rudie Can’t Fail” (3:26)

Side Two contains one track (“Lost in the Supermarket”) sung by Mick Jones, who harmonizes with Joe Strummer on “Spanish Bombs” and “Clampdown.” Paul Simonon sings “The Guns of Brixton,” a ska track that marked his writing debut.

1. “Spanish Bombs” (3:19)
2. “The Right Profile” (3:56)
3. “Lost in the Supermarket” (3:47)
4. “Clampdown” (3:49)
5. “The Guns of Brixton” (3:07)

Side Three contains one Jones vocal lead (“The Card Cheat”) and the rocksteady classic “Wrong ‘Em Boyo,” which interpolates the 1923 American folk standard “Stagger Lee.”

1. “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” (3:10) is a song by Clive Alphonso; originally performed by Jamaican rocksteady group The Rulers as a 1967 a-side.
2. “Death or Glory” (3:55)
3. “Koka Kola” (1:46)
4. “The Card Cheat” Jones (3:51)

Side Four includes the reggae cover “Revolution Rock” and Jones-sung numbers: “I’m Not Down” and “Train In Vain,” added at the last minute and therefore not track-listed on original copies.

1. “Lover’s Rock” (4:01)
2. “Four Horsemen” (2:56)
3. “I’m Not Down” (3:00)
4. “Revolution Rock” (5:37) originated as a 1976 a-side by Jamaican-born UK reggae singer Danny Ray, who co-wrote the song with fellow reggae singer Jackie Edwards.
5. “Train in Vain” (3:09)

Sessions commenced in August 1979 at Wessex Sound Studios, London, with producer Guy Stevens. The Clash broke for their September–October North American tour and returned to finish London Calling in November. Stevens used aggressive tacticts to coax urgency, fear, and rage in the band’s performances. His unorthodox manner (swinging chairs, waving ladders, berating members) perturbed CBS, which advised against the band’s use of this industry exile. The combined sessions totalled six weeks where the band worked eighteen-hour days.

Strummer shared piano duties with Jones, who plays harmonica on “Train in Vain.” Blockheads organist Mickey Gallagher served as a fifth wheel for these sessions and the ensuing tour. Gallagher hailed from psych legends Skip Bifferty and the spinoff group ARC.

The brass tracks feature the Irish Horns (aka the ‘Rumour Horns’), comprised of Ray Bevis (tenor saxophone), John Earle (tenor and baritone sax), Chris Gower (trombone), and Dick Hanson (trumpet, flugelhorn). Individually, these players hailed from Gnidrolog (Earle), The Greatest Show On Earth (Hanson), and Jess Roden‘s backing band Iguana (Gower).

Wessex Sound manager Bill Price engineered London Calling with assistant Jerry Green amid work on 1979 albums by Doll by Doll and The Records. Price’s prior credits include seventies classics by Trapeze (self-titled), Bill Fay (self-titled), Paul Winter Consort (Icarus), Sparks (Kimono My House), Nektar (Recycled), Mandalaband (self-titled), Camel (Mirage), Caravan (Cunning Stunts), and Racing Cars (Downtown Tonight).

London Calling is housed in a single-sleeve designed by Ray Lowry, who based the graphic layout on the 1956 debut album by Elvis Presley, which also features hand-drawn bold letters (pink and green) against a monochrome backdrop. The cover photo, taken by Pennie Smith at the September 20 Palladium show, captures Simonon and his hoisted bass just before impact. The back cover has a simple layout of credits and concert pics of Jones, Strummer and Headon.

One week before the album hit shelves (September 7), “London Calling” appeared as a single backed with the non-album reggae cover “Armagideon Time.”

Armagideon Time” (3:50) originated as a 1979 a-side by Jamaican singer Willie Williams. The 12″ club version of the “London Calling” single contains a dub version of “Armagideon Time” titled “Justice Tonight/Kick It Over” (8:54).

Don Letts filmed the “London Calling” video, in which The Clash (clad in black) mime in nocturnal port lights on a Thames pier.

“London Calling” reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart while London Calling reached No. 9 on the UK Albums Chart. The album marked their breakthrough in Scandinavia, where it reached No. 2 in Sweden and No. 4 in Norway.

The Clash played two nights of Christmas 1979 shows (December 25–26) at London’s Acklam Hall. On Thursday, December 27, The Clash played London’s Hammersmith Odeon as part of the second night of Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, a four-night series of Cambodian benefit concerts organized by Paul McCartney with sets by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, The Pretenders, Queen, The Who, The Specials, Matumbi, Wings, Rockpile, and McCartney’s all-star jamboree Rockestra.

In North America, London Calling appeared in January 1980 on Epic, which lifted “Train In Vain (Stand By Me)” as the double-album’s sole US single backed with the title-track.

London Calling reached No. 12 in Canada and New Zealand and No. 16 in Australia, where “Clampdown” appeared as the album’s third a-side backed with “The Guns of Brixton.”

In the US, London Calling peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard 200. The album later received Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America for 1,000,000 sold units. At the band’s insistence, the double-album retailed for the price of a single LP.


Joe Strummer and Mick Jones appear on the April 17, 1980, issue of Rolling Stone (No. 315) beside the headline “The Clash: Rebels with a Cause and a Hit Album.”

Rude Boy

On March 13, 1980, Rude Boy premiered at UK art cinemas. The film is a fictionalized rockumentary that chronicles The Clash on their 1978 On Parole and Sort It Out tours and the sessions for Give ‘Em Enough Rope. The subplot involves their association with Clash fan Ray Gange, a Soho sex-shop clerk who becomes their roadie.

Rude Boy features twenty-one Clash songs, including twelve numbers from April–July 1978 live performances. Two come from the April 30 Victoria Park Rock Against Racism event, where The Clash perform “London’s Burning” and (with Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey) “White Riot.” They also perform “White Riot” (along with “Janie Jones,” “I’m So Bored with the USA,” “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”) at their July 4 show at the Glasgow Apollo, where venue staff beat audience members in the exit hall over minor infractions. Amid the fracas, Joe Strummer makes an impassioned plea for peace between attendees and staff.

The Clash retouched the live recordings at Wessex Sound during sessions for Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Studio-session footage of “All the Young Punks” and “Stay Free” appears later in the film, where Gange expresses admiration for the sentiments of the latter song.

Melody Maker journalist and early UK punk supporter Caroline Coon appears in one scene with then-boyfriend Paul Simonon, filmed during a brief intervention in the band’s affairs.

Filmmakers Jack Hazan and David Mingay directed Rude Boy during a year in the band’s entourage. However, The Clash severed ties with the pair when they saw the finished product, which they criticized for its grim portrayal of rock life.


On August 8, 1980, The Clash released “Bankrobber,” a reggae jam backed with “Rockers Galore… UK Tour,” an alternate version with Jamaican singer Mikey Dread.

“Bankrobber” (4:33) Joe sings nursery-like quatrains about “daddy” who robbed banks because “he just loved to live that way.” He clarifies this is all in the past (“He’s gone now”) and reveals how “the old man” reasoned that “a lifetime serving one machine is ten times worse than prison.”

Mick Jones provides ‘sound effects’ on “Bankrobber,” which features Micky Gallagher on ARP synthesizer and piano. In the video, The Clash mime in a dark studio between clips of recent live footage and a vignette of Strummer roaming London as a bank robber.

“Bankrobber” reached No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 14 in Ireland and New Zealand.

In North America, Epic included “Bankrobber” on Black Market Clash, a 10” EP that collects nine non-album tracks. Side One contains six rarities from the 1977–78 period:

  • “Capitol Radio” — the original 1977 version
  • “Cheat” — a track from their 1977 UK debut album excluded from the 1979 US version
  • “City of the Dead” — b-side of “Complete Control”
  • “The Prisoner” — b-side of “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais”
  • “Pressure Drop” — b-side of “English Civil War”
  • “Time Is Tight” — an otherwise unreleased cover of the 1969 hit by Booker T. & the M.G.’s

Side Two gathers their recent experiments in reggae and dub:

  • “Bankrobber/Robber Dub” (6:16) — the recent single combined with a dub version intended for an unreleased 12″ version of “Bankrobber”
  • “Armagideon Time” — b-side of “London Calling”
  • “Justice Tonight/Kick It Over” — from the “London Calling” 12″

Black Market Clash appeared in October 1980 as part of Epics short-lived “Nu-Disk” 10″ series, which also included the Straight Lines EP by New Musik.


The Clash released their fourth album, the three-record Sandinista!, on December 12, 1980, on CBS and Epic. This is their second consecutive multi-album set.

Sandinista! runs 144 minutes with six songs per side, including twenty-six unique originals. They credit each original to “The Clash” instead of the Strummer–Jones partnership. Keyboardist Mickey Gallagher plays throughout and invites his children for two remade Clash oldies.

Musically, The Clash immerse in reggae on Sandinista! with forays into funk, rap, and dub. The most popular songs are grouped on Side’s One (“The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville UK”) and Four (“Police on My Back,” “The Call Up,” “Washington Bullets”). Side Six contains dub versions of earlier tracks on this and other albums.

Side One contains four originals, one blues cover (“Junco Partner”), and “The Magnificent Seven,” credited to Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Gallagher and his Blockheads bandmate Norman Watt-Roy (another Greatest Show On Earth alumnus). Strummer harmonizes on “Something About England” with Jones, who harmonizes with his American girlfriend Ellen Foley on “Hitsville UK.” Headon sings lead on “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe.”

1. “The Magnificent Seven” (5:28)
2. “Hitsville UK” (4:20)
3. “Junco Partner” (4:53) Bob Shad aka Robert Ellen
4. “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” (3:05)
5. “The Leader” (1:41)
6. “Something About England” (3:42)

Side Two contains four originals with solo vocal leads by Jones (“Somebody Got Murdered”) and Simonon (“The Crooked Beat”). On the Mose Allison cover “Look Here,” they group-harmonize with “Rockers Galore” singer Mikey Dread, who co-wrote “One More Time,” a hypnotic bass-vocal reggae track followed by an instrumental dub version.

1. “Rebel Waltz” (3:25)
2. “Look Here” (2:44) Mose Allison
3. “The Crooked Beat” (5:29)
4. “Somebody Got Murdered” (3:34) features Topper’s barking dog Battersea.
5. “One More Time” (3:32)
6. “One More Dub” (3:34)

Side Three contains six originals with one Dread co-write (“If Music Could Talk”). Jones sings “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here),” which interpolates the final verse of the Phil Ochs song “United Fruit.”

1. “Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)” (4:51)
2. “Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)” (4:31)
3. “Corner Soul” (2:43)
4. “Let’s Go Crazy” (4:25)
5. “If Music Could Talk” (4:36)
6. “The Sound of Sinners” (4:00)

Side Four opens with an Equals cover (“Police on My Back”) and proceeds with five Strummer-sung originals, including two of the most popular Sandinista! tracks: “Washington Bullets” and “The Call Up,” the album’s lead-off single. The formal side-closer, “Broadway,” has an unlisted piano–vocal postlude of Simonon’s London Calling song “The Guns of Brixton,” sung by Gallagher’s pre-tween daughter Maria.

1. “Police on My Back” (3:15) is a 1967 song by English bi-racial soul-rockers The Equals, written by their Guyanese-British singer Eddy Grant.
2. “Midnight Log” (2:11)
3. “The Equaliser” (5:47)
4. “The Call Up” (5:25) features Voidoids guitarist Ivan Julian and drill Sgt. Dave Yates.
5. “Washington Bullets” (3:51)
6. “Broadway” (5:45)

Side Five opens with “Lose This Skin,” written and sung by violinist Tymon Dogg, a busking friend from Strummer’s pre-101ers. The remaining tracks are group originals; two co-sung by Jones and Strummer. “Mensforth Hill” is a backward instrumental overdubbed version of “Something About England.”

1. “Lose This Skin” (5:07)
2. “Charlie Don’t Surf” (4:55)
3. “Mensforth Hill” (3:42)
4. “Junkie Slip” (2:48)
5. “Kingston Advice” (2:36)
6. “The Street Parade” (3:26)

Side Six opens with “Version City,” an original sung by Jones and Strummer. The penultimate track is a kids remake of the 1977 Clash song “Career Opportunities,” sung by Gallagher’s sons Luke and Ben. The remaining tracks are dub versions of “If Music Could Talk” (“Living in Fame”), “Washington Bullets” (“Silicone on Sapphire”), “Junco Partner” (“Version Pardner”), and the 1977 Junior Murvin cover “Police & Thieves” (“Shepherds Delight”).

1. “Version City” (4:23)
2. “Living in Fame” (4:36)
3. “Silicone on Sapphire” (4:32)
4. “Version Pardner” (5:22)
5. “Career Opportunities” (2:30)
6. “Shepherds Delight” (3:25)

The Clash self-produced Sandinista! during winter–spring 1980 at four studios: Pluto, Manchester (February), Power Station, NYC (March), Electric Lady, NYC (March–April), and Channel One, Kingston (May 1980). Additional sessions took place in August at Wessex Sound, London. The Pluto sessions also produced their standalone “Bankrobber” single.

The Clash employ fourteen auxiliary musicians and four adult guest vocalists on Sandinista!

“Lose This Skin” performer Tymon Dogg also plays violin on “Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice),” “Something About England,” “Mensforth Hill,” “Junco Partner,” and “The Equaliser,” plus keyboards on “The Sound of Sinners.”

Norman Watt-Roy plays bass guitar on ten songs: “The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville UK,” “One More Time” (and the dub), “Look Here,” “Something About England,” “The Call Up,” “Lose This Skin,” “Charlie Don’t Surf,” and “Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice).” He deputized Simonon at the early New York sessions while Paul was away filming Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, a teen musical drama with actress Diane Lane and members of The Tubes (Feeway Bill, Vince Welnick) and ex-Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook.

Saxophonist Davey Payne (a third guest Blockhead) plays on “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,” “Something About England,” “Lose This Skin,” “Mensforth Hill,” “The Crooked Beat,” and “If Music Could Talk.” The first four also feature trombonist Rick Gascoigne and “1–2 Crush on You” saxist Gary Barnacle (also on “The Crooked Beat”). Gary’s father, Arthur Edward “Bill” Barnacle, plays on the first three. Arthur, Gary, and Rick play on “The Street Parade.”

Onetime Eddie & The Hot Rods harpist Lew Lewis plays on “Junco Partner,” “Look Here,” “Corner Soul,” “Midnight Log,” “The Equaliser,” “Version City,” and “Version Pardner.”

Darts vocalist Den Hegarty sings on “The Sound of Sinners.” Jones’ “Hitsville U.K.” partner Ellen Foley sings backing vocals on “Corner Soul” and “Washington Bullets.”

Jamaican drummer Style Scott (Creation Rebel, Prince Far I) plays on “Junco Partner” and (by extension) its dub take “Version Pardner.”

Additional sessionists include UK percussionist Jody Linscott (Dana Gillespie, Kokomo) and bassist J.P. Nicholson, the Electric Lady engineer. The Channel One sessions feature guitarist Noel “Tempo” Bailey (aka Sowell) and keyboardist Anthony Nelson Steelie.

London Calling soundman Bill Price engineered Sandinista! amid work on albums by The Pretenders (self-titled), Pete Townshend (Empty Glass), and Elton John (The Fox). Assistant Jerry Green also engineered 1980 albums by Mickey Dread, Steve Swindells, and Simonon’s girlfriend, Bay Area singer Pearl Harbour. Jamaican soundman Lancelot “Maxie” McKenzie engineered the Channel One sessions.

Sandinista! is housed in a deep single sleeve with a monochrome group photo in white surround with stenciled red letters. London Calling photographer Pennie Smith took the Sandinista! cover shot, which pictures The Clash before a brick alleyway wall in assorted articles, including an army helmut (Mick), cowboy hats (Joe and Paul), and spiv attire (Topper). Cartoonist Steve Bell did the illustrations that accompany the lyrics on the original inner-sleeves.

“The Call Up” first appeared in late November as the advance single backed with “Stop the World,” a non-album track recorded with Watt-Roy in Simonon’s absence. In the monochrome video to “The Call Up,” the Clash mime in a warehouse decked in cowboy attire (Paul and Mick) and aviator wear (Topper). The final seconds include an aerial shot of Normandy American Cemetery.

Stop the World” (2:32)

“Hitsville UK” appeared as the second Sandinista! a-side in mid-January 1981, backed with the Mikey Dread cut “Radio One.” Stateside, “Police On My Back” was the b-side.

The third and final Sandinista! single, “The Magnificent Seven,” appeared in April 1981 with “The Magnificent Dance,” a dance remix version. Stateside, both songs appeared on an Epic 12″ with “The Call Up” and an extended remix of that song titled “The Cool Out.”

Sandinista! reached No. 3 in Canada and New Zealand and peaked at No. 8 and 9 (respectively) on the Norwegian and Swedish album charts. The triple album reached No. 19 in the UK and No. 24 in the US. As with London Calling, The Clash insisted that Sandinista! retail for the price of a single LP. This meant that the band must forgo royalties on the first 200,000 copies sold in the UK and take a 50% cut on international sales.


Impossible Mission Tour of April and May 1981.

“This Is Radio Clash”

On November 20, 1981, The Clash released “This Is Radio Clash,” a rap-funk track about pirate radio backed with an alternate version titled “Radio Clash.”

This Is Radio Clash” (4:12) Joe beams in with a signal intrusion (“Interrupting all programs”) and introduced Radio Clash “from pirate satellite” with the credo that airwaves should be free to all (“Cashing in the bill of rights”). He previews upcoming Radio Clash news items that won’t air on mainstream stations, like inner-city tribalism (“ghettology as an urban Vietnam”) and Western warfare atrocities (“exhibitions of murder by napalm”). He states intent to tear the sacred (“tearing up the seven veils”) and evade persecution (“please save us, not the whales”) while orbiting living rooms “using audio ammunition.”

The video to “This Is Radio Clash” cuts between TV images and The Clash in New York City, where they walk amid high-rise tenements with concealed items and boom boxes while a random man (NYC graffiti artist Futura 2000) shoplifts spray paint. They cavort across rooftops and fool with knobs as random imagery (subways, street dancers, graffiti artists, reporters, fan queues, war coverage) flashes across the screen. The video culminates with varispeed live footage.

The Clash recorded “This Is Radio Clash” with saxist Gary Barnacle and gave it a pre-release performance (by five months) on the June 5 broadcast of The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. Futura 2000 designed the single’s picture sleeve. The single’s 12″ contains two additional alternate versions: “Outside Broadcast” (7:23) and “Radio 5.”

“This Is Radio Clash” reached No. 9 in Sweden and No. 17 on the US Billboard Club Play Singles chart. The video received moderate rotation on the fledgling US cable music channel MTV, which used the band’s rooftop strut in a station bumper.


Combat Rock

The Clash released their fifth album, Combat Rock, on May 14, 1982, on CBS and Epic. It consolidated their US breakthrough with “Rock the Casbah,” a Billboard Top 10 hit and MTV staple with music composed and performed by drummer Topper Headon, who left the band weeks after the album’s release.

Main vocalist Joe Strummer plays harmonica and piano in addition to rhythm guitar on Combat Rock, which features keyboards and sound effects by lead guitarist Mick Jones, the driving musical force behind the sessions.

Side One contains four group-written songs, including “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” a twelve-bar neo-fifties rocker sung by Mick Jones with backing vocals by Joe Ely. The Strummer–Jones album opener “Know Your Rights” is a punk–rockabilly hybrid (psychobilly) with mock PSA lyrics about the three simple rights of the working class. Topper Headon wrote and largely self-performed the music to “Rock the Casbah,” which features lyrics by Joe Strummer about Iran’s ongoing political strife.

Bassist Paul Simonon sings “Red Angel Dragnet,” a Tex-Mex pastiche about slain Guardian Angel Frank Melvin with a Taxi Driver-inspired soliloquy by new wave mogul Kosmo Vinyl, a longtime Clash–Blockheads associate. “Car Jamming” has a bossa nova-infused chord structure and lines of traffic news and imagery set to the Bo Diddley beat. They use a bossa nova rhythm on “Straight to Hell,” an ambient soundscape about people born into unfortunate circumstances, including Vietnamese children fathered by American servicemen.

1. “Know Your Rights” (3:39)
2. “Car Jamming” (3:58)
3. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (3:06)
4. “Rock the Casbah” (3:42)
5. “Red Angel Dragnet” (3:48)
6. “Straight to Hell” (5:30)

Side Two opens with “Overpowered by Funk,” an extension of recent genre workouts (“Magnifiscent Seven”) with Ian Hunter keyboardist Tommy “Poly” Mandel and a rap by “Radio Clash” participant Futura 2000. “Ghetto Defendant” is a roots-reggae number with spoken-word poetry by American Beat icon Allen Ginsberg. “Sean Flynn” is a kalimba-tribal soundscape with saxophone by Gary Barnacle and lyrics about the freelance journalist (son of actor Errol Flynn) who dissapeared in 1970 in Cambodia.

Jones harmonizes with Strummer on three songs. “Atom Tan” is a minimal post-punk song with scratchy riffs, stop-start rhythms, and lyrics about a nuclear meltdown scenario. “Inoculated City” is a spinning number with a twangy guitar line through cuts across hi-hat rattle and lyrics about the Nuremberg defense. “Death Is a Star” is an ethereal number with Mellotron, brush drums, angelic piano (by Stummer friend Tymon Dogg), and lyrics about executions on celluloid.

1. “Overpowered by Funk” (4:55) An instrumental version of this song appears in Hell W10, a 1983 monochrome silent short film directed by Strummer.
2. “Atom Tan” (2:32)
3. “Sean Flynn” (4:30)
4. “Ghetto Defendant” (4:45)
5. “Inoculated City” (2:43)
6. “Death Is a Star” (3:13)

Early sessions took place in September 1981 at Ear Studios, London, where Jones envisioned Combat Rock as a double-album under the working title Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg. In November, sessions moved to Electric Lady in New York City, where The Clash at Manhattan’s fabled Iroquois Hotel apart from Jones, who stayed with his girlfriend Ellen Folley, who sings backing vocals on “Car Jamming.” They completed eighteen songs (including two versions of “Inoculated City”) for a proposed 77-minute double-album during the Electric Lady sessions, which ran through January 1982.

The Clash broke from studio work for a six-week tour between January and March that covered Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand, where Pennie Smith photographed the band at a Bangkok train track for the Combat Rock cover.

Sessions wrapped in April 1982 at Warnford Studios in Hampshire, England, where veteran soundman Glyn Johns trimmed the album down to a 46-minute single-LP coprised of twleve tracks. They cut five unique songs from the tracklist, including two (“Cool Confusion,” “First Night Back in London”) reserved for b-sides. Three omitted tracks (“Kill Time,” “The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too,” and the instrumental “Walk Evil Talk”) later surfaced on bootleg recreations of Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg. To facilitate the single-LP format, they trimmed intro, codas, and instrumental breaks on six songs, which originally had the following run-times:

“Know Your Rights” (5:05)
“Red Angel Dragnet” (5:12)
“Ghetto Defendant” (6:17)
“Sean Flynn” (7:30)
“Straight to Hell” (6:54)

Select pressings make further cuts on “Inoculated City” (2:11).

“Know Your Rights” first appeared on April 23, 1982, as the advance single, backed with the non-album “First Night Back in London.” Strummer greeted this release with an interview for a Scottish newspaper and vanished on the brink of a UK promo tour.

First Night Back in London” (3:00)

Strummer remained absent as booked UK tour dates passed and Combat Rock hit shelves. Speculations arose regarding his whereabouts and some conjectured that the Clash’s management staged his disappearance as a publicity stunt. In late May, Kosmo Vinyl located Strummer in Paris and persuaded him back to the fold. The Clash played their first concert behind the new album on May 22 at the Lochem Festival in the Netherlands. After that show, Topper Headon quit the band. Original Clash drummer Topper Headon rejoined for the pending US tour.

On June 11, The Clash lifted “Rock the Casbah” as the second UK single, backed with the exclusive track “Long Time Jerk.” The 12″ version swaps “Jerk” with “Mustapha Dance,” an instrumental remix of “Casbah.”

Long Time Jerk” (5:05)

“Rock the Casbah” reached No. 3 in Australia and No. 4 in New Zealand. The song also went Top 20 in Sweden and Canada.

In the “Rock the Casbah” video, The Clash (in combat fatigue) perform near an oil-field pumpjack, where select articles appear on Joe (yellow top), Paul (red beret) and Mick (camouflage veil). Meanwhile, a boombox-toting Arab hitchhikes with a cruising rabbi as bombers fly overhead. The pair stop at Burger King and sashay through city streets and a hotel poolside frequented by band members, including Joe, who reclines with a Dick Tracy comic. Throughout the clip, an armadillo roams through both parties. In the final scenes, the pair descend on a concert queue. Joe removes Mick’s veil and the band reappear on a concert stage. Don Letts filmed the video on June 8–9, 1982, in Austin, Texas.

The video went into high MTV rotation in the US, where Epic issued “Rock the Casbah” as the second Combat Rock single in September. In early 1983, it peaked at and No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In mid-September, The Clash lifted “Should I Stay or Should I Go” as a double-a-side with “Straight to Hell.” It reached No. 16 in Ireland and No. 17 on the UK Singles Chart. Levi’s used the song in a 1991 jeans commercial, which prompted a reissue of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” that reached No. 1 in the UK and went Top 10 throughout Europe.

Stateside, Epic issued “Should I Stay” in July 1982 as the first Combat Rock single backed with the missing Rat Patrol cut “Cool Confusion.” It reached No. 13 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart. Epic assembled a video made of footage from the October 13 Clash show at New York’s Shea Stadium, where they opened for The Who on the banner date of their Who’s Last tour.

Cool Confusion” (2:53)

The Clash performed “Straight to Hell” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” on the October 9th, 1982, broadcast of the NBC comedy sketch program Saturday Night Live, hosted by former Happy Days co-star Ron Howard.

Combat Rock reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, where it peaked for the week of May 22 under the Madness compilation Complete Madness.

Combat Rock peaked at No. 5 in New Zealand and went Top 10 in Norway (No. 7) and Sweden (No. 9). In North America, it reached No. 12 on the Canadian RPM Albums Chart and No. 7 on the US Billboard 200. Combat Rock eventually certified Platinum for 2,000,000 units sold.


Non-album sides:

  • “Complete Control” / “City of the Dead” (1977)
  • “Clash City Rockers” / “Jail Guitar Doors” (1978)
  • “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” / “The Prisoner” (1978)
  • The Cost of Living [EP] (1979)
  • “Bankrobber” (1980)
  • “This Is Radio Clash” (1981)


1 thought on “The Clash

  1. 2018 draft intro: “Initially, The Clash echoed the brisk buzz-saw sounds endemic to London’s late-’70s club scene. As the band’s musical and cultural vernacular broadened, they mastered a range of idioms and arrangements, a maturity heralded by the 1979 production triumph London Calling.”

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