The Sex Pistols may have provided the shock-value dynamite for the punk explosion in 1970s Britain, but it was the Clash who channeled the energy of that explosion into a discrete form of music. Or rather, they channeled it into several... [more]
The Sex Pistols may have provided the shock-value dynamite for the punk explosion in 1970s Britain, but it was the Clash who channeled the energy of that explosion into a discrete form of music. Or rather, they channeled it into several forms simultaneously; they diversified the space of punk. The Clash patched together reggae, rockabilly, ska, pop, and punk within one album, or even within one song. A synthesis of several styles soldered together with an impeccable sense of rhythm, and edges roughened by thick cockneyed accents: such was the music of the Clash, which ripped punk from its nihilistic ground and replanted it in fertile soil.
They began in the shadow of the Sex Pistols, opening for them in London in 1976 for a few concerts. But it became immediately obvious that the Clash were far more than a scrawny animal biting at the Sex Pistols' heels; while their music was undoubtedly hard-edged, it was also subtle and rhythmically interesting. Even more, their first album, "White Riot," had a more developed message. Far from following in the wake of the Sex Pistols' onslaught of negations, the Clash articulated an ethic and an ethos of political action. They gave meaning to punk, they infused it with value. In 1978 they headlined a Rock Against Racism concert, spawned in part by their single "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais."
And this was no mere facade, no mere superficial attempt to win a socially viable image. The Clash didn't simply attach a set of slogans to their songs; their politics of equality were exemplified at the level of the music itself. "London Calling," their 1979 double album, is a veritable polyglot of muscial styles. The Clash played everything from ska to New Orleans R&B to reggae to punk and pop on this album, and they nailed each style on the head. They demontrated an ethic of intercultural communication, an ability to understand and appropriate an entire range of genres without ambiguity or irony.
"Combat Rock," the album that brought them fame in America, showed that they hadn't exhausted their repertoire in "London Calling" -- there was still abundant musical terrain to be explored. Although it was their most commercially successful album, it was by no means a sell out. While boasting hit songs like "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go," the album also showed the Clash in some of their strangest moments; songs like "Ghetto Defendant" and "Red Angel Dragnet" are almost otherworldy. It's hard to believe that such songs were produced in 1982.
But this strangeness may have been a sign of their imminent demise. Indeed, "Combat Rock" was produced as the band was beginning to distintegrate, riven by growing disparities in musical tastes and plagued by the drug problems of several of its members. Two years after "Combat Rock" and with two new members, they produced the appropriately titled "Cut the Crap," an album they were forced later to disown. In 1986, after being booed off the stage several times when they opened for the Who, the Clash decided to call it quits. [show less]