The Clash - The Clash - Review
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critics' view

Your yob of 1977 had a big choice to make. Do they battle thoughtfully with The Clash or viciously with The Pistols? The Clash made their debut on 4th July 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan in Sheffield. By the turn of the year, punk had become a major media phenomenon in the UK. On 25th January 1977, the band signed to CBS Records for £100,000, a remarkable amount for a band that had played a total of about thirty gigs and almost none as a headliner. The debut single, “White Riot”, was released in March 1977 and reached number 34. Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon had been involved in the riots at the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976. Their clarion-call to the disaffected white youth was to stand up like their black counterparts. The song was a two chord wonder – fast and crude but really saying something: “Are you taking over, or are you taking orders? Are you going backwards, or are you going forwards?” The Clash would fight wars on many fronts – to the sound of police sirens, the war against racism in the establishment had so begun.

The debut album came hot on the heels of the single, arriving in April. The line-up was Joe Strummer (24, lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Mick Jones (21, lead guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (21, bass guitar, vocals) and Terry Chimes (20, drums). Poor Terry was re-christened for all-time as “Tory Crimes” on the album’s notes. Unsurprisingly, it would be his first and last Clash album. Clearly, this was a band keen to make a statement at every opportunity. This set was straight out of garageland, red through and through, and bursting with energy. “Career Opportunities” expressed discontent with the lack of opportunity for Britain’s youth of the day: “I hate the army an’ I hate the R.A.F., I don’t wanna go fighting in the tropical heat, I hate the civil service rules, And I won’t open letter bombs for you”. The line “I won’t open letter bombs for you” is a reference to a former job of Clash guitarist Mick Jones, opening letters for a British government department to make sure they weren’t rigged with mailbombs. “Do you wanna make tea at the BBC” always makes me laugh. Protest laced with humour is surely the way; sarcasm is a most effective form of wit as far as I’m concerned, don’t let the squares tell you otherwise.

Elsewhere, the band’s embracing of England’s Jamaican subculture was a masterstroke. First fruits of this dalliance came via the album’s only cover, Junior Murvin’s “Police And Thieves”, which was one of those amazing historical moments in music, where one single gesture proves be completely inspirational for a generation. One Jerry Dammers was certainly paying attention. The song, addressing Jamaican gang war and police brutality, was seen to represent every bit as well in England 1977. Murvin’s first commentary was “They have destroyed Jah work!”. No Junior, they were spreading Jah word! The protest movement is alive and well, now with added flavours. If only they had been a tad more vicious…

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