The Clash were once the only band that mattered

Joe Strummer in 1982. Photo by Frank White

Less than a month after the album’s sessions were completed, the first single, “White Riot,” was released on March 18. The single, in a new mix enhanced by the addition of a wailing siren heard at the song’s beginning and an alarm bell going off toward the end, reached No. 38 in the charts. The album followed on April 8. Though well-received in England, CBS initially decided not to release the album in the U.S., claiming the raw sound was not “radio friendly.” Frustrated American fans began ordering the U.K. album instead, with import sales reportedly topping 100,000, prompting CBS to finally release the album in 1979.

But the U.K. and the U.S. versions are very different, with songs cut from the U.K. version, replaced by newer songs (by then already released in the U.K.) for the U.S. version. The U.K. version’s running order is as follows: (Side One) “Janie Jones,” “Remote Control,” “I’m So Bored with the USA,” “White Riot,” “Hate & War,” “What’s My Name,” “Deny,” “London’s Burning” (Side Two) “Career Opportunities,” “Cheat,” “Protex Blue,” “Police & Thieves,” “48 Hours,” “Garageland.” On the U.S. version, the running order is: (Side One) “Clash City Rockers,” “I’m So Bored with the USA,” “Remote Control,” “Complete Control,” “White Riot,” “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” “London’s Burning,” “I Fought the Law” (Side Two) “Janie Jones,” “Career Opportunities,” “What’s My Name,” “Hate and War,” “Police & Thieves,” “Jail Guitar Doors,” “Garageland.” Initial copies of the U.S. album also included a bonus single, “Groovy Times”/“Gates of the West.” The U.S. version of the album reached No. 126 in Billboard.

The new tracks featured the band’s latest drummer, Nicky “Topper” Headon, who joined the group after the February 1977 sessions. Despite stating his intention to leave, Terry Chimes was in the photographs shot for the album’s cover, but was cropped out of the final image chosen for the record. He is credited as “Tory Crimes” (the Tory Party is Britain’s Conservative party) on the sleeve). Headon had briefly played in the London SS. Ironically, his previous band, Fury, had been offered a deal by CBS, who felt that Headon wasn’t a strong enough drummer, so he was kicked out. But he clicked with The Clash and was soon off and running with the group on its first headlining engagement, the “White Riot” tour, that began May 1, a punk package tour that also included The Jam, The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, and The Slits.

A May 9 gig at London’s Rainbow proved to be a landmark date, the moment when punk decisively crossed into the mainstream. The Rainbow was a legitimate theater, not a club, and where early Clash shows had featured no more than three dozen people, they now faced an audience of more than 3,000. “That was the night punk really broke,” said Strummer. “The audience came and filled it. Trashed the place as well, but it really felt like — through a combination of luck and effort — we were in the right place doing the right thing at the right time. And that kind of night happens once or twice in a lifetime.” For the Clash, there was no looking back.

Now Drastic Plastic hopes to recreate the visceral thrill the band’s original fans received on first listening to The Clash. For Neil Azevedo, the reissue brings back memories of when he first bought the album in 1980 at a record store in a strip mall in Lincoln, Neb., while his friend picked up the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind The Bollocks” album.

“We took them home to my room in my parent’s basement and were subsequently f**king blown away,” he says. “And that was it, I never bought a metal or Top 40 record again. I fell hopelessly in love with music after understanding how powerful it could be. It shaped my thinking, my career and my politics in terms of feeling the need to be a concerned, aware citizen and effect social change when and where I could. We felt as though we were part of this bigger thing that made sense and was powerful and moral. Perhaps it sounds hyperbolic to suggest that listening to The Clash made me a better person, defined me as a person, but that’s exactly what I’m saying. And it’s true.”

It will mark the first time the U.K. version has been released in the U.S., in a limited edition of 5,000 copies pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Subsequent releases will include vinyl reissues of The Clash’s second album, “Give ‘’Em Enough Rope,” the 10-inch “Black Market Clash” EP, and the U.S. version of “The Clash.” All reissues are pressed from the original masters. Reissues of “Combat Rock” and “Sandinista” are also being considered. “London Calling” is available on vinyl through Sony/Legacy.

“Our mission here at the label, our guiding star if you will, is to recreate the original music experience physically, visually and audibly while offering an authentic — albeit 21st century — sound in terms of clarity and sonic quality,” says Azevedo. “We have endeavored to recreate an artifact that reveals a glimpse of the social and political movement that was the energy of 1977 England, not to mention one of the great records of all time. We feel we have risen to the challenge, and what I most want your readers to take away from that is the curiosity to listen to this recording. If they’re familiar with it, they are going to be genuinely surprised by the sound. If they’re unfamiliar with it, well, what a potent treat awaits them.”


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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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