Including The Clash in this week is a bit of an understatement. If I really had to think about it, The Clash are probably the one band that I’ve listened to the most throughout my life. As of late though, The Clash has kind of taken on a new meaning for me, as the deeper I dig into the band’s catalog, the more I seem to be inspired by them.
The Clash are often unfairly lumped together with other bands that popped up during the early days of punk, yet there’s always been something about The Clash that set them apart. While other late seventies punk groups were lauded for their raw aggression and simplicity The Clash took another route. They were just as loud and ferocious, yet they were also polished and thoughtful. To understand what differentiated The Clash from the rest of the scene, we have to take a look at another legendary band from the time, The Sex Pistols. The Pistols had Malcolm McLaren, The Clash had Bernie Rhodes.
Rhodes was an associate of Mclaren’s at the infamous SEX shop and had watched him create the Sex Pistols-taking a few misled kids and molding them into the controversial poster children of an angry era, inspiring Rhodes to try his hand at creating a band of his own. Pulling from the vast pool of musicians in the London underground scene, Rhodes assembled Mick Jones, Joe Stummer, Paul Simonon, and Terry Chimes (Chimes would leave a year later, being replaced by permanent member Topper Headon.) While Rhodes only spent a year as The Clash’s manager (he was fired after negotiating the band’s embarrassingly poor CBS contract,) he left a lasting impact on the band as a whole. After watching how McLaren branded The Sex Pistols, Rhodes conceptualized The Clash as a band about issues. From their songs to their outfits, The Clash presented themselves as a band of educated rebels.
Yet, once Rhodes left, this aesthetic was taken to another level. Early albums such as Give ‘Em Enough Rope and London Calling were filled with emotionally charged songs and depth that was hard to find in music during the late seventies. It was London Calling in particular, an album that covered racial issues, war, unemployment, and a general feeling of unease that echoed the sentiments of so many misguided youth, not only at the time but for decades to come. The album became a massive success and carried The Clash across the world on tour. Live the band’s appearance echoed their albums, sporting military surplus, chambray shirts, white denim, colored leather jackets, and hand-painted tees.
Right from the start The Clash were always a band that was about the complete package, it wasn’t just their songs, or their look, or their energy that made them so well-known, it was everything together. They were revolutionary both in the content of their music and in who they were, a band that was personally so strong that it was tough to label them as just another part of the UK punk scene. In their later career with albums such as Sandinsta! and Combat Rock, they delved deeper into other genres, taking influence from third world countries. This can be heard in the reggae, dub, and calypso tracks on their records and it can be clearly seen in the tiger camo, colored button-ups, prints, and generally more avant garde garb that they adopted during this time.
Unfortunately as the band branched out other styles, they became plagued with inner turmoil and ultimately broke up, releasing their final album only eight years after their debut. The legacy of The Clash does not only lie in their music it can be found in everything the band touched, from their concert videos, to their portraits, to their home movies The Clash still reign as one of the most powerful and influential bands ever formed.