The Clash were once the only band that mattered

Photo courtesy of CBS

Just seven months after the Clash’s first show, Rhodes secured the group a deal with CBS Records; the band signed the contract on Jan. 27, 1977. A few weeks later, on Feb. 10, the Clash entered CBS Studio 3 to record it first album. Having yet to find a new drummer, Terry Chimes agreed to come back for the sessions. Strummer insisted that Mickey Foote, who’d been the sound mixer for the 101’ers and The Clash, serve as producer — or more accurately, to make sure CBS didn’t foist a producer of its choice onto the group.

The band worked quickly, recording Thursdays through Sundays through Feb. 27, completing the album in 12 sessions. The group was anxious that the songs not sound overly produced, and while the music does lack the roughness of the band’s live performances, the album still has a brash freshness that’s invigorating. The Clash eventually got off to a rolling start with “Janie Jones,” with a near-rockabilly beat that gives way to a barrage of guitar riffing, telling the story of a man stuck in a dull job who only lives for rock ’n’ roll, dope and visits to Janie Jones, a famous London madam. “I’m So Bored With The USA” attacked American culture, with references to Watergate and the prevalence of cop shows on TV “’Cause killers in America work seven days a week.”

“White Riot” is one of the band’s finest moments, a whirling frenzy that clocks in at less than two minutes. Some misinterpreted the song’s demand for wanting “a riot of my own” as a racist call-to-arms, which the band strongly denied, explaining it was meant to point out that while blacks had their own culture, whites were reluctant to confront their problems, preferring to exist in a world where “Everybody does what they’re told to” as the song puts it.

The album’s most daring track stylistically was a cover of Junior Murvin’s reggae number “Police & Thieves.” The band members were all fans of reggae, but hadn’t thought of putting a reggae song on their album unless they could do it well. The respectful cover not only showed off the band’s diverse musical skills, it helped broaden their audience. Fine Young Cannibals’ lead singer Roland Gift later recalled how the track made him feel punk was equally open to blacks as whites.

One thought on “The Clash were once the only band that mattered

  1. The Clash saved me from an absolutey boring life of being a high school teacher, married with two small children living in Lost Causes
    New Mexico. They were fresh, vibrant, angry, a bit snotty and British
    and there-in lies the difference between US & UK punk. The Ramones were also my favorite and I remember hearing the Sex Pistols LP the 1st time!!! WOWOWOWOWOWOWOW…British, not Scarsdale. I still have a sealed copy of London Calling…anyone? For me, the Beatles defined the 60′s, The Clash the 70′s and Video Killed the Radio Star…Ciao

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