This week of September 11 and beyond will be temporarily known as Year 1 A.C. -- After Clash. Or so fans, record label folks and other ‘boosters’ of the group would like you to believe. Remember, this was once the group marketed as ‘The Only Band That Matters.’ They were also a band whose first album wasn’t released in the US until two years after its official UK release (with many tracks switched out) for being too raw for US listeners, who -- to be fair -- were busy assimilating the finer points of Yacht Rock at the time.
Thus, in the end, the marketing ‘overreach’ likely turned off as many midwestern listeners, who preferred modesty to hype (unless your name was Led Zeppelin, then by all means take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I got...). Those who stuck by these Super-British Rockers and listened past their abrasive British accents -- why can’t they all be like that charming Rod Stewart lad? -- discovered a band that turned out quite excellent.
Though, technically, the band broke up sometime after the now fully-denied Cut the Crap album, history now teaches us that Combat Rock was their real sayonara and that we were all fans of the group since the import-only days.
Thus, in 2013, Sony Music looking for ANYTHING people might purchase with those ever-shriveling US dollars took comfort in the catalog of --not REO Speedwagon, not Blue Oyster Cult, not Journey! but -- the Clash.
Sound System, designed by bassist Paul Simonon, isn’t just a collection, but a boutique item (Paul’s Boutique?) that currently sells for $177.29 at Amazon and includes all of the group’s albums and a bunch of outtakes and videos. For those willing to settle for the five albums, there’s a 5 Album Studio Set for $39.28. Not quite there? Then there are two different greatest hits collections depending on whether you’re a super-casual fan or just a casual one.
So, of course, I thought I’d set the record further askew by jotting down the 25 (then it became 30!) tracks that to me are far more ‘essential’ than “Rock the Casbah” and even “White Riot,” the debut single that may be iconic, but that’s been played so often that I’ve retired it in favor of a few overlooked tracks.
30) This is Radio Clash: OK, I give you this one. It’s always struck me as kinda funny that bands often have hits with songs that sound little like their albums. The public is like a high-maintenance girlfriend who loves you for you but then insists on changing everything about you.
29) Pressure Drop: The Clash were one of the few bands who made a decent run at reggae, though some folks might point me to side freakin’ six of Sandinista! to argue the point further.
28) Cheat: Yanked off the US version of the first album, “Cheat” is exactly the kind of angry, demanding blast that people would imagine punk rock sounded like before hearing a note of it.
27) Career Opportunities: Considering the levels of unemployment and the US public’s disdain for people on the dole, this track would seem particularly poignant. Not everyone, after all, can rely on their old man’s money.
26) One More Time: Sandinista! was a problematic album, with many stylistic choices leaving people to wonder what it was about. I mean, London Calling doesn’t sound anything like it. But this track comes close, so it’s a crumb.
25) Bankrobber: Again with the reggae! Funny how every band wishes they could be another band. The Wailers these guys ain’t but they still manage a rough charm.
24) Garageland: Funny they left this one on the US version of the debut (the green album, kids), considering no one in America pronounces the word garage the way Brits do. Confusion reigned for the culturally sheltered.
23) The Magnificent Seven: Think of how odd this sounded as the leadoff track of Sandinista! when it first came out. First, the Stones with “Dance (Pt.1)” and now this? Or it just shows how segregated music had become. What’s that dance groove doing in my peanut butter?
22) Somebody Got Murdered: I admit I’m still coming to terms with much of Sandinista! This one is most Clash-like. I don’t know if the songs I don’t remember expose my limits or just aren’t very good.
21) The Prisoner: In many ways, my favorite Clash record was the 10” Black Market Clash. In these days of Super Deluxe This, Expanded That, it’s nice to have some odd grab bag record with no logic, just b-sides, import-only sides and weird experimental junk at the end.
20) Rudie Can't Fail: London Calling was such a perfectly-paced album that cutting it up into individual songs feels like heresy. But since we can’t just place the entire album at the front of the line, we’ll have to break it into bite-size morsels.
19) Train In Vain: I think anyone older than 14 must’ve understood what a hidden track was, but to the pre-teen section of their audience, we scratched our heads and wondered. OK, the song’s right here at the end of the album! It’s not listed but that was a typo, right? Hidden? But it’s here!
18) Lost In the Supermarket: I’m of two minds with message songs. I like songs that tell a story of sorts and I like critical jabs as much as anyone but I’m never sure if it’s too clever when you mix the two. Obviousness bugs me. Which is why I always tell my readers to assume everything I write is a lie and that it’s not. I’m much easier to get along with in person, I promise.
17) (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais: To US ears this song is a classic from the first album, while it was an actual charting single in the UK.
16) Safe European Home: Critical consensus says the second album - Give ‘Em Enough Rope -- was the weak link in the chain, but screw the critical consensus. The good songs on this album sound as great as any and don’t go blaming the production for any faults the album might have. Can’t we just admit that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones might be at fault for something?
15) I Fought the Law: This song is a virtual ready-made, a perfect expression of powerlessness turned into an anthem for guys who want to be seen as outlaws who pay a price.
14) Police On My Back: Even better, here’s the anthem for the paranoid and for the falsely accused. Like anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy, I, too, fear being caught in a legal snafu where the big money condemns me to a life on the run! Reporting from Borneo...
13) The Call Up: Here’s an obvious message song that despite its obvious nature doesn’t appear to get through to the people that need to hear it the most. Know your limits!
12) Straight To Hell: Saw this performed on Saturday Night Live and was young enough to be thoroughly transfixed and confused. The loneliness in the mix, the solemnity of the vocal, what the hell was going on? Watching it today, it still looks weirder than most things on TV from 1982. Too bad it’s now 2013 and there’s cursing all over my television programs! Cursing, you hear me?
11) Capitol Radio One: It lead off Black Market Clash and was pulled from Super Black Market Clash. Now, that’s progress.
10) The Guns of Brixton: Paul Simonon wasn’t a key player in the band’s songwriting, so when he decided to write something, everyone listened. If your third in command writes something this good, you’ve got a potentially deep bench. Don’t shut him out.
9) Clampdown It’s sadly apparent that things have to get so much worse before they ever get slightly better. That the lower-middle class often mistakes the upper-middle class as the enemy is something the upper-upper class count on for their amusement. Weirder still, the Clash appeared to interest upper-middle kids more than blue collar kids where I grew up. Or maybe the jury of my peers just liked telling me they hated them.
8) Death or Glory: I’m sure Clash albums sound remarkably thinner than their modern competition. Even with modern remastering bringing songs to life in new ways. Fact is, rock ‘n’ roll was frequently junky-sounding and long before the Eagles turned it into a museum of dead sound, bands attempted to make their records sound like the crazy energy of a live concert. Live or Memorex is just another story.
7) Koka Kola: Ranking “Koka Kola” ahead of “Death or Glory” was on purpose. “Death or Glory” reeks of self-importance, of fulfilling a mission. “KK” sounds like they’re having a good laugh giving the Mad Men the business. You can hate Marketing 101 all you want, but it’s Marketing 401 that got the job done for the Clash and every other franchise that’s out there. Che Guevara, anyone?
6) Guns On the Roof: I guess this is what people meant when they said the second album sounded too much like heavy metal. Punks forbid their music ever sound like it was premeditated. But what isn’t?
5) Spanish Bombs: The Clash were very good at being catchy. Politics might not be your bag -- chances are, it isn’t, especially dated politics -- but tuneful melodies never go out of style and a lazy sod like myself is OK with that.
4) I'm So Bored With the USA: It’s a catchy title. In the more than 35 years since the song was written, the US has likely done even more to make outsiders more bored and more angry at us. Not that the UK is automatically exempt from charges of boredom. Until something better than One Direction can be exported, I remain unconvinced.
3) Clash City Rockers: Much of the Clash myth came from its three key players. Their three-man army (and Terry or Topper) created a gang that young people who like such things can relate to. You don’t need Yoko Ono to blame for breaking up that ol’ gang of mine, just maturity. Even I admit it looks a little weird when DiMartino, Kordosh, Johnson, Radish, Willman, Grein and myself all don our paratrooper gear and parade around the office as “The Y! Music 7.” Lyndsey, Wendy and Tiffany don’t even try to topple our fort!!
2) Stay Free: If one song by the Clash causes the proverbial lump in the throat, it’s this one. And if you’re in your local bar tonight, have a drink on me.
1) London Calling: No big surprise putting this here, but the song is massive. It’s not just a song or a performance, it’s a record and a moment in time. From the beeps to the swooshing bass to the chopped up guitar chords to that sense of ominous, pending danger, “London Calling” is a song you could spend your entire life chasing, only to keep falling down and short.