Legendary rock band the Clash were masters of many styles. They are known as one of the pillars of U.K. punk and at the same time could write and riff just as comfortably in the genres of pop, classic rock, rockabilly, ska, reggae and even dub.
The Clash were one of the first rock bands to experiment and record with electronic loops.
Reportedly Mick Jones was into emerging hip-hop greats Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa coming out of New York. You can hear their influence on the song “The Magnificent Seven” from the 1981 album Sandinista.
You can almost always hear the reggae influence in the Clash’s songs. The effects bassist Paul Simonon used were classic reggae and at times went even further into dub.
The Clash also echoed reggae’s political tradition of calling out the oppressors.
Both the political stance and Jamaican music influence are really evident on the song “Guns of Brixton” from the gold 1980 album London Calling.
Most of the songs are sung by the elegant, gritty Joe Strummer.
The Clash’s most optimistic-sounding pop song is ironically sung by the somehow darker character – guitarist Mick Jones. As happy as the melody is, the lyrics bring it back to the street.
“You didn’t stand by me. You must explain why this must be. Did you lie when you spoke to me”?
“Train in Vain” is another great song from London Calling.
Joe Strummer was the dashing frontman. On both guitar and vocals, Joe had a bit of the Gene Kelley about him. He was graceful and confident.
Strummer wrote most of the band’s songs. Mick Jones contributed to the writing (like on “Train in Vain”) and played guitar and backing vocals most of the time. Mick’s friend from Brixton Paul Simonon was on bass. The Clash went through a litany of drummers. The most famous was the original Topper Headon.
The Clash were heavily influenced by the Sex Pistols. Strummer left his band the 101ers after seeing them. And it was a Pistols concert that inspired Simonon to play the bass.
They named themselves the Clash after a recurring word from news headlines. In 1976 they had their official first gig opening for the Sex Pistols. Most of their songs were a mix of rock and reggae. One of their first singles was a cover of Jamaican artist Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves.”
The Clash’s best classic rock song has just a bit of punk edge and reggae rhythm – “Should I Stay or Should I Go” from 1981. This track hit number one in the U.K. and was their biggest hit.
Interesting that it’s Mick Jones singing the pop melody again. He always seemed like the band’s bad boy.
The Clash would release five albums before Strummer and Simonon would kick Jones out of the band.
Strummer released one final record under the Clash name with a new lineup called Cut the Crap in 1985. The breakup came just as they were starting to catch on in the U.S.
The Clash’s music would influence some of the greatest rock bands to follow: U2, Stone Roses, X, Dead Kennedys, Public Enemy, Sleater-Kinney and Rage Against the Machine.
Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP radio, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features for Experience Music Project, University of Washington and NPR.