Sound — 9
The Clash's first album was released in the UK in 1977, the year punk hit both sides of the Atlantic big. The album became one of the most imported albums of all time, leading CBS to release the album in America in 1979. The record company swapped out 4 of the weaker tracks ("Cheat," "Deny," "Protex Blue," and "48 Hours" for 5 non-album singles. Original drummer Terry Chimes sits behind the drum kit on the original album tracks; replacement Topper Headon drums on the singles.
Lyrics — 9
The US version starts off explosively with "Clash City Rockers." Based closely on the Who's "Can't Explain," riff, "Rockers" is arguably the closest to metal the Clash ever got. Bell effects and a fun piano groove appear in the second half of this 3-minute blaze. "I'm So Bored of the USA" cops a riff from the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant." Joe's famous lyrics deal with his annoyance with the permeation of American culture in 1970s Britain. It's not necessarily an anti-American song, but rather a call for Britain to take their identity back. Somewhat ironically, the 70s punk movement made legendary by British bands was itself an American import. "Remote Control" is a catchy tune. Mick Jones' soaring vocals trade off with Joe Strummer's gruff growl, making for an interesting contrast. The record company liked the song so much that they released it as a single without the band's permission, leading to follow-up single "Complete Control." "Complete Control" directly name-checks "Remote Control" and also tells of CBS Records' attempts to control the Clash's artistic (or political) agenda. Arguably, "Complete Control" is actually a better song. Though more uptempo than "Remote Control," the band had gotten more sophisticated in the song arrangement department, leading to a few cool touches. Joe's call of "C'mon guitar hero!" during the solo and the excellent bridge, which slowly builds up into the climatic coda. The band completely lets it all out during the coda. Joe spits out lines like "This is Joe Pubic speaking/I'm controlled in the body/And controlled in the mind" while Mick backs him up with a continual "C-O-N Control" vocal before breaking out into yet another brilliant solo. This is among the most overlooked songs in the Clash catalog. "White Riot" is a simple punker. Despite the title, this isn't a racist song. What the song lacks in sophistication, it more than makes up in pure unbridled energy. And that brings us to "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais." Arguably the greatest marriage of reggae and punk ever recorded, "White Man" tells the story of the lone punk attending a reggae concert. I have to admit I had to get over my aversion to reggae before I could truly enjoy this track, but it's easy to see why this is a fan favorite. The melody here is simple but unforgettable. As the song progresses, the song morphs into a criticism of punks in general with lines like "If Adolf Hitler flew in tonight/They'd send in a limousine anyway." Not one moment here, from the simple steel guitar break to the great harmonizing with Mick Jones feels wasted here. It's not hard to see why this was Joe's favorite Clash song, not to mention one of the few Clash classics he'd perform at almost every concert with his post-Clash band The Mescaleros. "London's Burning" is about one of the biggest plagues of '70s Britain, boredom. Our protagonist drives around town just to hit the yellow lights. Though I wouldn't say things have changed much since then with the eternal issue of boredom, it's not hard to see why so many youth were seduced by the punk movement. The classic Bobby Fuller Four cover "I Fought the Law" follows. A pop classic, I wouldn't say the Clash's rendition is any better or worse than the original. "Janie Jones" was the original opener for The Clash. The drums really drive this track, providing a chaotic backing for the start/stop guitar madness of Strummer and Jones' chainsaw buzz. "Career Opportunies" characterizes the 70s unemployment that hit Britain under the wave of Thatcherism. Someone once said that the punks played rock and roll simply because they were too "dumb and lazy" to get real jobs. A track with such witty inflections as "Career Opportunities" makes me doubt the validity in that. "What's My Name" is the sole track here co-written with original guitarist Keith Levene (who would go on to join John Lydon in Public Image Ltd.). There's a few decent ideas with the guitar licks here, but the song is the weakest yet. The Mick Jones sung "Hate & War" is another weaker number. Though he'd later develop into a great singer in his own right, he simply lacks the charisma of Strummer at this point. The cover of "Police and Thieves" is our second dose of reggae here. At a length of slightly over six minutes, it's the longest track on this album. Though the song is more straight-up reggae than "White Man," I don't find it dull. Though the lyrics and song structure are repetitive, the band manage to get a good groove going. Note Jones' falsetto backing vocals and Beatles-esque guitar solo. "Jail Guitar Doors" makes a half-hearted stab at new wave, and falls on it's face as a result. Closer "Garageland" is an autobiographical account of the garage band afraid to play out. Reportedly, the Clash refused to play live until receiving words of encouragement from the Ramones during their first UK tour. The song makes a great end to a classic punk album.
Overall Impression — 9
The singles substitued for some of the weak album cuts on the US version of The Clash make it a stronger, if somewhat less cohesive effort. Both the US and UK versions are now available. One wonders why Epic (the company that bought CBS) doesn't re-release the UK album with the US versions tacked on to the end. It would sure save this reviewer from the trouble of having to buy the UK album for 4 mediocre cuts. Hopefully this flaw will be corrected in the future. Until then, we'll just have to enjoy the great songs we have here.