Thursday, July 26, 2007

No. 77: The Clash

Band: The Clash
Album: The Clash
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Drawing from musical influence as diverse as Lee "Scratch" Perry and The Ramones, the Clash's eponymous debut is a striking collection of protest songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's an argument as to whether this record or "London Calling" is the best Clash album. I prefer this one, but "London Calling" is not a bad choice.
Best song: It depends on the version. The American version of the album (released nearly two years after it was released in the UK) has "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," probably the band's best song. Really, though, "(White Man)" is from "Give 'Em Enough Rope," so let's say "White Riot."
Worst song: "Protex Blue" is kind of fun, but not great.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

The Clash aren't the first punk band (that's probably the Ramones), nor are they the first big British punk band (Sex Pistols). They are, however, the best punk band.

Punk rock, is by its definition, pretty immature. The Sex Pistols record is barely coherent, the Ramones' work was mostly simplistic jokes about children. Modern punk builds off this, mostly relying on nudity and fart jokes in their videos (Blink 182, early Green Day) or gutter punk, "fuck Bush!" politics (Green Day's latest record).

The Clash weren't like that. Their first record -- recorded when principal songwriter Joe Strummer was a scant 25 -- is filled with intelligent (for a musician )revolutionary politics, unabashed enthusiasm and clever music. The record spans the gamut from a copped Sex Pistols riff ("I'm So Bord With The U.S.A.") to a rebuttal to a reviewer ("Garageland") to a Lee "Scratch" Perry cover to a young man's complaint about the economy ("Career Opportunities").

Some of the songs were horribly misunderstood ("White Riot" is not a White Pride song) and some remain misunderstood to this day ("Hate and War). Still, when the band launches into "Police and Thieves," it's easy to see why this album is great. Few bands could bounce around ska and reggae and then fall right into "48 Hours" -- as punk as it comes -- as soon as the reggae stops.

The guitar work of Mick Jones and Strummer is classic punk. Gritty, pointed and rhythmic, The Clash's guitar sound was more complex than that of the Ramones while more musical than the Sex Pistols.

Smart, hard and clever, "The Clash" is one of my favorite albums. It's fantastic.

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