In these few days following the election, I (like so many) have lots of feelings. ALL THE FEELINGS. And, whenever one is overwhelmed with powerful feelings of anger and sadness, music always makes things better.
In this case: shouty left-wing British punk. Specifically? THE CLASH.
I have loved the Clash since I was a wee teenager in rural South Dakota. While other angry early 2000s teenagers were listening to Green Day, I wound up in the 1970s, listening to the Clash – with a bit of the Ramones sprinkled in for taste. (I have my good friend Allison to thank for this: she lent me her copy of London Calling when we were fourteen, and it changed my life.)
Fast forward to today, and I would rank the Clash as one of my top five favorite bands of all time. I recently purchased London Calling on vinyl, and it is (no contest) the most-played LP in my collection. So today, I’d like to share (in no particular order, save for the London Calling grouping) my ten favorite Clash songs… because we could all use a little more British punk in our lives.
(DISCLAIMER: YouTube wouldn't let me embed normal versions of any of these songs, so please: just click on the bold song title to follow the links to YouTube. They will be the real deal, and you won't be sorry.)
After singing the praises of London Calling, I must tell you that half of my favorite Clash songs come from London Calling. So here’s what we’re going to do: the first five songs on my list are all London Calling songs, so we'll talk about all those right away. Then we'll move on to the rest of the catalog. "Train in Vain" originally appeared as a hidden track at the very end of London Calling - or, not precisely hidden, as it was a last-minute add after the album sleeve had been printed. I LOVE "Train in Vain" - it's sort of a love song, and I can't resist its bouncy tune, the harmonica, and the iconic voice of Mick Jones.
"Spanish Bombs" was one of my very early Clash favorites, and I still love it so dearly. One of the myriad reasons I love the Clash is that, besides being the amazing punk rockers they are, a lot of their songs are quite educational. "Spanish Bombs" references the Spanish Civil War and late 1970s tourism to Spain. You can also learn a bit of pidgin Spanish if you want to: Joe Strummer sings "Yo te quiera infinito, yo te quiera, oh mi corazón." And good luck getting that out of your head after you listen to it.
Another history lesson in song: "Rudie Can't Fail" is about the "rude boys" in 1960s Jamaica who challenged the status quo of the elders. True story: for years and years, I thought the song was about some guy named Rudy who... well, couldn't fail. Thank you, Wikipedia, for setting me straight.
"Lost in the Supermarket" was written in 1979, but its message holds true today. It's about consumerism and the commercialization of the world - about alienation in the suburbs and the disillusionment of young people. Sound familiar?
"The Card Cheat" is the fifth and final song off London Calling on this list. "The Card Cheat" wasn't all that high on my list until several years ago when it played on the Current while I was living in Minneapolis. I couldn't believe I'd been neglecting this song for all those years. Of the many things I love about the Clash, their instrumentation gets me every time - and this song is a prime example.
This is a cover, and while I do love the 1960s original version, this song was MEANT for the Clash. My absolute favorite part is where they sing the lyric "robbing people with a six gun," and in the background, you can hear six drum hits in an almost waltz-beat. SO GOOD. “I Fought the Law” is best listened to at top volume while speeding. (I mean, speeding? I never do that.)
Like all of my very favorite artists, I have a distinct memory of the first song of theirs that I heard and loved. With the Clash, it was "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" I feel like if you know one Clash song, it's this one. I love the spitting emotion in Mick Jones's voice - we've all felt this way at one time or another, be it about a relationship or a job or what have you. And we all need just the right song to get us through.
One of the things I love most about writing these song posts is that I learn a whole lot about said songs - thanks mostly to Wikipedia, so it all has to be true. I never gave much thought to what "Hitsville UK" was about: I only knew that I loved the melody and the instrumentation. Turns out "Hitsville UK" is about the fledgling indie music scene in 1970s/1980s Britain, contrasting the commercialization of the major labels and artists selling out to them. See? More history education, thanks to the Clash.
I am an absolute sucker for a waltz, and I'm a super sucker for a waltz in rock music (see also: "Waltz #2" by Elliott Smith). "Rebel Waltz," like "Hitsville UK" and "Police on My Back," is from the album Sandinista!, which is just about as wonderful as London Calling. Sandinista! is full of different music styles, including this waltz. The guitar intro is possibly my favorite introduction of all time.
“Police on My Back” is also a cover – it was originally released in the late 1960s by some band I’ve never heard of (the Equals – their only hit was “Baby Come Back”). Like “I Fought the Law,” “Police on My Back” seems meant for the Clash. And also like “I Fought the Law,” “Police on My Back” sounds the best at high speeds. Throughout the song, the guitar part sounds like sirens. How appropriate/awesome.
Ok, so “Redemption Song” isn’t TECHNICALLY a Clash song: it was written by Bob Marley and covered by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros in 2002. The version I love most is a duet between Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash: iconic voices, to be sure. And the lyrics? "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds." True and powerful then, true and powerful now.
There you have it: my ten favorite songs by the Clash, plus one extra. (You should know that there are at least five other Clash songs that I love dearly - but not as dearly as these ten - so feel free to ask me about them!) I really do appreciate you taking the time to read through all this, and I can talk about the Clash until I'm blue in the face, but nothing at all compares to listening to them. So if you haven't yet, please go and listen to the Clash. You won't be sorry.