Friday, 8 May 2015
An Alternative Imaginary Clash Compilation
A week ago JC at The (New) Vinyl Villain published the latest in his imaginary compilation album series, The Clash back catalogue boiled down to just ten songs. A valiant effort at an almost impossible task. It caused quite a bit of discussion and led to me thinking that there are a handful of Clash songs that are so utterly essential for any Best Of The Clash that they pick themselves- Complete Control, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, London Calling, Straight To Hell, Safe European Home. So I thought I'd consider an alternative Clash compilation, taking those songs out. I also decided that I would not include any songs that were the A-sides of singles (so that ruled out White Riot, I Fought The Law and Bankrobber, also automatic shortlisters) and that I'd rule out any of the songs that JC picked (which removed the cream of some of the album tracks- Clampdown, which is essential, Armagideon Time, which is a masterpiece, and Stay Free, which is glorious and heartfelt). I managed to get a list of about twenty and then the head scratching began. This is my album as it stands today. See it as a companion disc to JC's, maybe in true Clash style a double disc set (for the price of a single obviously. 'There will never be a Clash album for more than a fiver' said Joe Strummer)
1. Spanish Bombs
A rollicking chord sequence from Mick and Joe's brilliant lyrics switching between Spain in the 70s and Spain in the 30s, from London Calling. Oh my corazon...
2. Groovy Times
The best lesser known Clash song, from The Cost Of Living e.p. This record shows the band falling for the USA (I Fought The Law and Mick's Gates Of The West especially) but this song is completely British lyrically with references to boarded up shops, football terraces and early evening ITV. Meanwhile Mick plays acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitar- that's not punk!
The closer from the debut and the moment they began to write their own mythology (and respond to press criticism). A stunningly raw riff, thumping drums from Tory Crimes, the guttersnipe lyrics, 24 singers and 1 microphone.
4. Guns Of Brixton
Because this the greatest bassline of the 20th century and because Paul Simonon was so much more than just the bass player in a punk band.
5. The Street Parade
I love this song, buried deep inside Sandinista. Topper's drumming and percussion have a Latino feel, there's a sweet, understated melody and Joe sings about the joy of being lost in the crowd, being swept along anonymously.
1. Ghetto Defendant
Combat Rock is a mixed bag- big hit singles with songs that take in funk, jazz, cinematic sounds, all sorts. Ghetto Defendant works, it has depth and groove and weight- Allen Ginsberg as the voice of God, reggae bass and Joe nailing heroin addiction versus rebellion.
2. Death Or Glory
London Calling's full of definitive Clash songs. This one both holds up and debunks the rock 'n' roll myth. The band playing is superb and it contains the still jawdropping lines about gimmick hungry yobs, nuns and joining the church.
3. The Prisoner
The Clash spewed out singles with good B-sides. The Prisoner was the flip to (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, which is possibly their greatest song. The Prisoner is a riot, manic, trebly, breathless. It namechecks Watford Junction, Camden Town, the Second World War, Johnny Be Goode and Johnny Too Bad, the tube and more, all crammed in one short song.
4. Somebody Got Murdered
Mick Jones could write fast, uptempo rockers with sleek guitar lines until the cows came home. This one from Sandinista just edges it although I nearly went for Up In Heaven (Not Only Here). The opening is a rush of drums and guitars, like seeing the city from a speeding car. Joe's words were based on real life events viewed while staying in New York. Mick sings them like his life depends on it. Many Clash songs have drama, this one especially.
5. Police and Thieves
Any Clash compilation needs a reggae cover version- I'd have gone for Armagideon Time but the rules disallowed it. Pressure Drop, another B-side is good, then there's Police On My Back. But Police And Thieves is the one, the song that shows the rules of 1977 punk were going to be broken, that cut the tempo of the debut album in half but still kept the pace up. Junior Murvin's original is light as air. The Clash's version is heavier. Trash reggae- in a good way.
There are a bunch of songs from the debut I considered (I'm So Bored With The USA, What's My Name? for two), most of the rest of London Calling and at least five from Sandinista I could have gone with (Washington Bullets, One More Time, Rebel Waltz, Broadway, Something About England). The back cover of Combat Rock suggests Atom Tan, Inoculated City, Car Jamming. Shorn of Safe European Home and Stay Free, Give 'Em Enough Rope doesn't offer that much to me (English Civil War and Tommy Gun were both singles but I don't think either would get near this compilation). But this ten are at this moment, my alternative imaginary Clash compilation.