For a band that was together for only 10 years, The Clash looms large in rock music history. They were one of the most successful bands to come out of the original wave of British punk rock in the late ‘70s, stand as icons for the entire punk rock movement (along with the Sex Pistols, of course), and, unlike most of their punk peers, could actually play their instruments. They also eschewed the nihilism and anarchy of many of their contemporaries for a more politicized, highly charged left-wing lyrical and ideological stance. Their seminal London Calling makes rock critics and Top Whatever list makers swoon. They only struck gold in America toward the end, with “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah,” but from the outset, The Clash infused their brand of punk with a variety of other musical styles, from ska, reggae and dub to rockabilly, jazz, dance and anything else they thought would fit their punky musical stew. In fact, this edition of Deep Cuts takes a deep dive into one of those musical styles: The Clash, reggae-stylee.
“Police & Thieves” - The Clash
Junior Murvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s mid-‘70s international club hit was recorded almost as an afterthought when The Clash were recording their first album (the band used to fool around with it in rehearsals), but it stands as one of the first instances of a rock band integrating reggae into their mix (the very first being Eric Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974). Lots of first-wave British punks loved reggae and dub; The Clash were one of the few bands who actually incorporated it into their repertoire (one of the few bands of that era that had the musical chops to pull it off, most likely).
“(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” – The Clash
First released as a single, and only included on the US version of The Clash’s debut album, Joe Strummer’s commentary on multi-culturalism, violence, race relations, class distinctions and other state-of-Britain affairs showed the band to be already head-and-shoulders above their punk brethren both musically and politically. The slow reggae burn throughout most of the song is decidedly different fodder than their early fans had already gotten used to from the band.
Give ‘Em Enough Rope
A decent album, not their worst (Cut the Crap holds that distinction) but far from their best, marred as it is with heavy-handed production and mixing. But, sorry, nothing even remotely reggae-sounding on any of the tracks.
“The Guns of Brixton” - London Calling
A sick dread skank, and the band’s first real experiment with dub (a reggae offshoot that overemphasizes the bass and drums, and blends in myriad other sounds and production and engineering techniques not part of a reggae song that evinces punk's political violence.
“Rudie Can't Fail” - London Calling
An upbeat reggae-rocker about the tribulations of being a sharp-dressed ne’er-do-well.
“Revolution Rock” - London Calling
Up-tempo dub with horns, this one’s about the power of music to incite dancing, violence and real revolution.
“Let's Go Crazy” - Sandinista
A boisterous track with profound and quietly political lyrics about racial oppression, retaliation, and at least one outdated law (the “sus” law, a stop-and-search law that permitted British cops to act on suspicion alone), the steel drums give it more of a Calypso feel than pure reggae, but hey, close enough, right?
“Junco Partner” - Sandinista
Reggae-dub magic, this time in the form of a cover tune that’s been done by so many different artists, The Clash didn’t know who to credit it to (so they went with “at present, unknown” on the original album’s insert notes). James Wayne is now acknowledged of the composer of this song, or at least the guy who recorded first…in 1951! Kudos to Strummer & Co. for unearthing a gem like this one, and to Mikey Dread for his obvious collaborative efforts.
“The Crooked Beat” - Sandinista
An homage to reggae itself, plain and simple.
“If Music Could Talk” - Sandinista
A stream of consciousness style lyrical tour de force about New York and Electric Lady Studios where Sandinista was made, all in the form of a reggae soul serenade. It’s also the song on which Joe Strummer freely admits to the amount of ganja being smoked around this time. Duh.
“One More Time” - Sandinista
The sprawling Sandinista, a triple album when originally released, was also an outright effort by The Clash to work with real reggae musicians. Jamaican deejay/producer Mikey Dread was all over this album, and his vocals are also heard on this track and “If Music Could Talk.”
“The Call Up” - Sandinista
This anti-draft, anti-war rant was the first single off of Sandinista, one of the album’s best tracks, and although it leans toward the rock side of the reggae-rock spectrum, its natty rhythm holds true from the Marine chants at song’s beginning and end.
“Washington Bullets” - Sandinista
The sound of a marimba dominates this reggae-fied criticism of US foreign policy, which lyrically paints the history of Latin America – from the Cuban Revolution in the late ‘50s to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas in the ‘80s (and touching on the Bay of Pigs, Soviet-invaded Afghanistan and other topics – in simplified brush strokes. The Clash at their political and reggae best.
“Living in Fame” - Sandinista
A dub and toasting (reggae rapping) version of “If Music Could Talk,” with vocals by Mikey Dread.
“Kingston Advice” - Sandinista
The most rock-ish of The Clash’s reggae tunes, this tune continues the working class themes of the ongoing fight for against oppression in all its guises.
“Charlie Don't Surf” – Sandinista
Inspired in part by Apocalypse Now, this soft-but-searing reggae number is a condemnation of American cultural imperialism. It also features some the greatest Clash lyrics (“Africa is choking on their Coca Cola”), and that’s saying a lot.
“The Equaliser” - Sandinista
Another dub classic, a low down deep groove, quite menacing, and one of the album’s best tunes.
“Ghetto Defendant” - Combat Rock
Featuring creepy spoken lyrics by Allen Ginsberg woven in around Joe Strummer’s rasp, this haunting indictment of the laissez faire attitude toward actually fixing the urban blight of the drug business.
“Straight to Hell” - Combat Rock
More world beat than pure reggae, the tribal drumming downbeat that propels this song makes it a must-have for this list. It’s also a typical Clash cataloging of various wrongs in the world, from steel mill closings in England and America, to American G.I. abandonment of children fathered by them in Vietnam, to the general apathy of most Americans, to the plight of new immigrants in the US.
Cut the Crap
The less said about this, the better. After Mick Jones was fired from the band after the Combat Rock tour, The Clash should have disbanded. Instead, the recruited a couple of hired guns, and Joe Strummer and manager Bernie Rhodes put out this abomination. More of an ugly footnote, It’s really not a Clash record at all. Even Clash completists avoid this one…
“Bankrobber” – The Singles
1980 single not on any Clash studio album. It originally appeared on the 1994 Black Market Clash compilation of b-sides and rare tracks. It’s also another collaboration with Mikey Dread.
“Cool Confusion” – The Singles
This song - mostly made up of sound effects and strange, but effective vocals, and mostly drum-less – originally appeared on Super Black Market Clash, but not the original Black Market Clash.
“Armagideon Time” – The Singles
Out of all The Clash’s reggae-infused work, this cover of Willie Williams’ warning song of daily injustices could be the most well-developed and mature (it’d be hard for it not to be with such great source material). It originally appeared on the Black Market Clash EP – which was then replaced by the Super Black Market Clash compilation. It’s also on The Clash on Broadway box set, and most recently The Singles box set. No, it’s not confusing. Yes, it’s worth tracking down however you do it.