Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rock the Casbah - The Clash - February 26th 80's Quest Song/Band of the Day

The Only Band That Matters!  The Clash's album Combat Rock was huge during my high school years.  The song above, "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go" were gargantuan hits from the album.  They were heard at every dance (and some of my favorites), and were all over the radio so these songs accompanied us on every ride and trip to the beach, and wherever we went around 1982-1983.  I've never met anyone who didn't like the Clash.  I'm sure someone is out there....but they're a rareling, and I just haven't met them yet!

Last night a friend gave me a suggestion to add the lyrics of the songs on 80's Quest.  I quite liked the idea and will start including them with the posts.

Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin' to the top
The sheik he drove his Cadillac
He went a' cruisin' down the ville
The muezzin was a' standing
On the radiator grille

The sharif don't like it
Rockin' the Casbah
Rock the Casbah
The sharif don't like it
Rockin' the Casbah
Rock the Casbah

By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy Casbah sound
But the Bedouin they brought out
The electric camel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar picking thumb
As soon as the sharif
Had cleared the square
They began to wail


Now over at the temple
Oh! They really pack 'em in
The in-crowd say it's cool
To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction
The temple band took five
The crowd caught a whiff
Of that crazy Casbah jive


The king called up his jet fighters
He said you better earn your pay
Drop your bombs between the minarets
Down the Casbah way

As soon as the sharif was
Chauffeured outta there
The jet pilots tuned to
The cockpit radio blare

As soon as the sharif was
Outta their hair
The jet pilots wailed


He thinks it's not kosher
Fundamentally he can't take it.
You know he really hates it.

I bought their last album, 1984's Cut the Crap which is largely ignored in their catalog, and considered to be out of character from the style the Clash was known for.  All of the original members except for Joe Strummer were no longer in the band.  I did, however, really like the one single from this album "This is England":

I hear a gang fire on a human factory farm
Are they howling out or doing somebody harm
On a catwalk jungle somebody grabbed my arm
A voice spoke so cold it matched the weapon in her palm

This is England
This knife of Sheffield steel
This is England
This is how we feel

Time on his hands freezing in those clothes
He won't go for the carrot
They beat him by the pole
Some sunny day confronted by his soul
He's out at sea, too far off, he can't go home

This is England
What we're supposed to die for
This is England
And we're never gonna cry no more

Black shadow of the Vincent
Falls on a Triumph line
I got my motorcycle jacket
But I'm walking all the time
South Atlantic wind blows
Ice from a dying creed
I see no glory
When will we be free

This is England
We can chain you to the rail
This is England
We can kill you in a jail

Those British boots go kick Bengali in the head
Police sit watchin'
The newspapers been read
Who cares to protest
After the attacker fled
Out came the batons and
The British warned themselves

This is England
The land of illegal dances
This is England
Land of a thousand stances
This is England
This knife of Sheffield steel
This is England
This is how we feel
This is England
This is England

John Graham Mellor was the son of a British diplomat. He grew up attending boarding school, but quit in his teens and started a pub band called The 101’ers. He took on the stage name Woody Mellor, but soon abandoned that and took on a name "Joe Strummer" instead because it reflected his busking the London subway playing the ukulele.

Michael "Mick" Jones and Paul Simonen both grew up in a working class district of south London called Brixton. In 1975 Jones was playing guitar in a band called London SS. London SS was managed by Bernard Rhodes, an associate of Malcolm McLaren who was managing the Sex Pistols. Simonen was attending art school, heard the Sex Pistols and was moved to learn how to play the bass. He successfully auditioned for London SS. During the 11-month existence of the band other members included Tory Chimes, Topper Headon on drums (who played with the band for a week and quit), and Tony James (later to become a member of Generation X with Billy Idol, and Sigue Sigue Sputnik).

In 1976 Jones saw the Sex Pistols perform for the first time. According to music journalist, John Robb, Jones explained the experience as such, "You knew straight away that was it, and this was what it was going to be like from now on. It was a new scene, new values – so different from what had happened before. A bit dangerous".

When Strummer saw the Sex Pistols it moved him to leave the 101’ers. "I knew something was up," he explained in later in Record Collector, "So I went out in the crowd which was fairly sparse. And I saw the future – with a snotty handkerchief – right in front of me. It was immediately clear. Pub rock was like ‘Hello, you bunch of drunks. I’m gonna play these boogies, and I hope you like them.’ The Pistols came out that Tuesday evening and their attitude was, ‘Here’s our tunes, and we couldn’t give a flying fuck whether you like them or not. In fact, we’re gonna play them even if you fucking hate them.’"

Rhodes, the manager of London SS, courted Strummer to sing lead with his band. Rhodes told him London SS would rival the pistols. Strummer agreed. He and his bandmate, Keith Levene (guitar), joined with Jones (guitar, vocals), Simonen (bass) and Chimes (drums) in London SS. They soon changed their name to The Clash, because the word "clash" was being written over and over in newpaper stories.

The Clash rehearsed for less than one month before serving as the opening band for The Sex Pistol at a gig in Sheffield, England on July 4, 1976. Over the next month The Clash did not play out, but rehearsed non-stop in a rehearsal space in Camden. Strummer and Jones wrote most of the songs. On August 13, 1976, The Clash played a small, invitation-only show in their Camden rehearsal studio. Giovanni Dadamo, a reviewer from Sounds was there and described the band as, "a runaway train…so powerful, they’re the first new group to come along who can really scare the Sex Pistols shitless." Later that month The Clash opened for the Sex Pistols on their "Anarchy in the UK" tour, along with the Buzzcocks. This triple-bill would prove to be pivotal in the crystallization of the British punk movement.

By September Levene’s interest in the band was waning, and he was fired from the band (Levene would later go on to form the band Public Image Ltd. along with John Lydon, the Sex Pistol’s lead singer). On September 21st The Clash played another pivotal show, the 100 Club Punk Special along with The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Subway Sect.

By the end of the year The Clash were a bonafide phenomenon in the UK. In January 1977 they signed to CBS records. Immediately the band had to go into defensive mode to fend off criticisms that they had sold-out by signing a contract with a major record company.

The Clash’s first single "White Riot" was released in March 1977. Chimes felt that he wanted other things out of life than the other members of the Clash, so he quit, that’s why only Strummer, Jones and Simonen are pictured on the cover of their self-titled debut album which came out in April (although Chimes was credited as "Tory Crimes" for his prior work on the album.). It charted at #12 in the UK, but was not released in the US by CBS because they felt that its raw production values would not make it radio friendly.

Chimes was replaced by Topper Headon on drums, who as mentioned, previously played with the London SS for one week. In May 1977 The Clash headlined the White Riot Tour which also included other bands such as The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, The Slits, and The Prefects. The tour ended after a show in London when the audience went wild and ripped the seats out of the venue floor. The Clash often had confrontations with the police too. That same month, CBS released "Remote Control" as the second single of the album, despite the fact The Clash members felt this was the weakest cut on the album. In response the band recorded a song rallying against the record company called "Complete Control". The next couple of singles released by the record company were "Clash City Rockers" and "White Man in Hammersmith Palais".

The band released a four song EP in 1978 called Cost of Living which included a cover of the Bobby Fuller Fives’ "I Fought the Law".

As The Clash went into the studio to work on their second album, CBS hired Sandy Pearlman (who had been the producer for the band Blue Oyster Cult – see February 22nd 80’s Quest post) to produce it and make the music more accessible for American audiences. Though the band lamented the loss of spontaneity, the album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope was released in November 1978 to positive reviews. It charted at #2 in the UK, but still did not break-through in the US as CBS had hoped, only charting at #128 on the Billboard Charts. The band toured the UK in support of the album on the Sort It Out Tour, then undertook its first successful tour of the US, The Pearl Harbor Tour, in February 1979.

In August/September 1979 The Clash recorded a double album called "London Calling". "Train in Vain" became their first single released off this album in the US, even though it was added at the very last minute, and did not appear on the track listing on the album cover. This song finally became The Clash’s first Top 40 hit in the US, charting at #23 on the Billboard Charts. In the UK the first single (released in December) was "London Calling" which charted at #11 there - the highest charting UK single the band had. In January 1980 "London Calling" was released in the US and reached #27 on the charts. The cover of the album features a photograph by Pennie Smith of Simonen smashing his bass guitar. It would go on to become one of the best rock n’ roll photographs of all time, and the album itself is regarded as one of the best rock albums ever made.

Around this time their record company came up with a promotional slogan for The Clash calling them "The Only Band That Matters" – the moniker stuck, and the band was widely referred to in this manner by fans and critics alike. The Clash differed from other bands in the punk movement because their songs had depth, vision, and took a leftist political stance. Like other punk bands they rallied against the aristocracy, but unlike most punk bands they disavowed nihilism and promoted protesting and taking action. They worked for causes they were passionate about such as anti-Nazi groups and anti-racism groups. Their song "White Riot" encouraged disaffected white youths plagued by unemployment to riot like their black counterparts. Their song "Career Opportunites" spoke of the lack of alternatives to low-paying, mindless jobs in England. "London’s Burning" was about the boredom of living in the bleak inner city. The album "Sandinista!" was named after the rebels who had just overthrown the Nicaraguan leader and included songs like "Washington Bullets" which sang of covert US military operations around the world. They sang about police brutality, disenfranchisement and racism.

The band was also different because time and time again they attempted to rally against the high profit margins that the record companies made. They made sure that tickets to their shows and merchandise were reasonably priced compared to other bands of the day. They wanted their double-album London Calling and triple-album Sandinista! to be sold at the regular price that a single album would sell for in the UK (£5.00). CBS Records balked, finally agreeing to sell them for £5.99, with the caveat that the band had to forfeit royalties on their first 200,000 sales and money had to be taken from funds that were meant to fund the bands’ tour. Because the band took stances like this, they were often in debt to the record company and only started to break even around 1982.

The Clash were also different from other punk bands because they also incorporated different genres into their music including reggae, dub, ska, funk and dance.

In 1980 The Clash wanted to record an release a single for every month that year, but CBS would not let them. Instead they released one song "Bankrobber" in August before the release of their triple record album Sandinista! In December. This time the album had been produced by the band in New York with Jamaican reggae artist Mikey Dread and included reggae, dub, and the band’s first forays into rap. Reviews were mixed, but the album charted well in America (#24).

In 1981 the band released a single "This is Radio Clash" and began to work on the recording of their fifth album, Combat Rock, in September. This album included spoken word by beat poet Allen Ginsberg. It also contained two very radio-friendly tracks: "Should I Stay or Should I Go" followed by and "Rock the Casbah" in the US. The songs were released in opposite order in the UK. "Rock the Casbah" was a song that referred to the banning of western import music by Iran. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" became a Top 50 hit in American the summer of 1981. "Rock the Casbah" (written by Headon) topped the US charts at #8. Just as the band was finally breaking through to mainstream American artists they began to dissintegrate. Topper Headon was arrested in December 1981 for heroin possession, and just before the next album was released, he was asked to leave the band due to his growing heroin addiction which was affecting his health and his ability to drum. Headon was well-liked by most of the band members, so his departure created frictions in the band – especially between Jones and Strummer. Strummer disappeared for a month, and was found in Paris.

Chimes came back to drum with the band for a brief stint. The Clash opened for The Who on one leg of their final tour in the US, including a show at New York’s Shea Stadium. At the conclusion of the tour for Combat Rock in early 1983, Chimes left the band. By this time the band was plagued with arguments and turmoil.

Pete Howard came on to drum. In Spring of 1983 The Clash was headlining the US Festival in San Bernadino, California with David Bowie and Van Halen. In reaction to what they felt were very high ticket prices, The Clash threatened to pull out of the show unless a large donation was made by the promoters to a local charity. They ultimately ended up playing the festival, but after the show members of the band got into a fight with security. After this, Strummer and Simonen, kicked Jones out of the band in September 1983. (He went on to found General Public for a very short stint, and ultimately founded Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.).

Nick Sheppard and Vince White were brought on to be The Clash’s new guitarists. Howard stayed on drums, with Strummer on lead vocals and guitar. The new line-up of the band played its first shows in January 1984 and set out on a self-financed tour called the "Out of Control Tour". They also played a benefit show for striking miners.

Under the guidance of manager, Bernard Rhodes, they recorded a new album, Cut the Crap. The recording of the album was erratic and plagued with chaos. Studio musicians were hired to record most of the music. The songs were heavily engineered, and drum machines were used for all of the drum tracks. The band went on a busking tour of public spaces in the UK playing acoustic versions of their popular hits and other cover songs. Then after a show in Athen, Strummer just diappeared and took off to Spain to clear his mind. Synthesizers and football chants were inserted into the songs to bolster Strummer’s incomplete recordings. While Strummer was in Spain, the first single "This is England" was released. Strummer disavowed this album for the rest of his life. The new version of the band was nothing in comparison to the original line-up and the band decided to break up.

Strummer contacted Jones in an effort to reform the orignal Clash, but Jones had already moved on to his new band, Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.) who had released their debut in 1985; however the two of them did help each other out with a couple of 1986 projects: Jones helped Strummer out with two songs he wrote for the movie Sid and Nancy including the title track, "Love Kills", and Strummer co-wrote a number of tracks on the second B.A.D. album, No. 10 Upping Street.

Since Jones was firmly ensconced in B.A.D., Strummer moved on to work on solo projects and acting in movies. He teamed up with former Circle Jerk (see Februrary 24th 80’s Quest post) guitarist Zander Schloss to form a short lived combo called Latino Rockabilly War. Strummer recorded songs for a 1988 film about teen suicide called "Permanent Record". In 1988 he toured as the rhytm guitarist for The Pogues and later produced their 1990 album. In 1989 he appeared in a Jim Jarmusch film, "Mystery Train" and released a solo album called "Earthquake Weather". He was fairly reclusive for most of the 1990’s, but reappeared in 1996 to score the movie "Grosse Point Blank" and appear on the animated American t.v. show "South Park" and its "Chef Aid" soundtrack In 1999 Strummer formed a new band called The Mescaleros and released the album "Rock Art and the X-Ray Style".

Simonen formed a band called Havana 3am and recorded one album. He has since gone on to pursue painting. Headon recorded a solo album in 1987, but could not seem to nick his heroin habit and was sentenced to 15 months in jail in London for supplying the heroin to a friend that caused an overdose. Chimes drummed with many other bands.

In 1998 a tribute album to The Clash, Burning London, featuring covers of Clash songs done by bands such as Rancid, Ice Cube, Moby, the Afghan Wigs, No Doubt, Third Eye Blind, Indigo Girls, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, 311, Silverchair and more was released.

On November 2002 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that The Clash would be inducted the following March. The band (except for Simonen who thought playing at the high-priced event would not be in the spirit of The Clash) was planning on reuniting to play at the show. Unfortunately Strummer suddenly died due to a congenital heart defect on December 22, 2002 before this could happen.

The Clash are continually ranked as one of the best and most influential artists on numerous "best of" lists, and their albums are ranked as some of the best in rock. The band has been an influence on countless bands including U2, Billy Bragg, Aztec Camera, Rancid, NoFX, Rise Against, Green Day, Bad Relgion, LCD Soundsystem, No Doubt, Sublime, Massive Attack, The Hives, The Vines, Bad Brains, The White Stripes, and The Strokes, The Arctic Monkeys among many, many others. British singer M.I.A. sampled The Clash’s song "Straight to Hell" in her 2008 hit song "Paper Planes" which also appeared in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

1 comment:

  1. What I remember most about hearing 'Rock the Casbah' regularly was the sound of it. The piano part is so catchy but also combines so well with the percussion that it's pretty much a percussion instrument itself. Also the production leaves "space" between the instruments that you can hear. As a result even though it has a quintessentially '80s sound it has aged a lot better than most other stuff of that era. In fact this is the stark comparison to the 'Cut the Crap' material, which began weak, sounds as if it was recorded with no conviction (relevant to its sound per se), and has aged to make it even worse.