The Clash Biography
The Clash were an English rock group active from 1976 to 1986. One of the most successful and iconic bands from the original wave of punk rock in the late 1970s, they went on to incorporate punk with reggae, rockabilly, dance, jazz, ska, and eventually many other music styles into their repertoire. They were legendary for their intense stage performances.
From their earliest days as a band, the Clash stood apart from their punk peers with their musicianship, as well as their lyrics; the passionate, left wing political idealism in the lyrics of frontmen Joe Strummer and Mick Jones contrasted with the anarchic nihilism of the Sex Pistols and the basic simplicity of the Ramones. Although they were a major success in the UK from the release of their first album in 1977, they did not become popular in the US until 1980.
Their third album, the late 1979 release London Calling is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest albums in the history of rock music; it was released in the US in January 1980, and a decade later Rolling Stone magazine declared it the best album of the 1980s. Rolling Stone also placed it at #8 on their list in 2003 of the 500 Greatest Rock Albums.
The Clash's attitude and style, as much as their music, strongly influenced countless other bands. In 2003 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Like many early punk bands, The Clash protested against monarchy and aristocracy. However, unlike many early punk bands, The Clash rejected the overall sentiment of nihilism, which led them to be criticized by influential punk bands such as Crass and Angelic Upstarts. Instead, they found solidarity with a number of contemporary liberation movements. Their politics were expressed explicitly in their lyrics, in early recordings such as "White Riot," which encouraged disaffected white youths to become politically active like their black counterparts, "Career Opportunities," which expressed discontent about the alienation of low-paid, production line style employment and the lack of alternatives, and "London's Burning," about political complacency.
In 1978 at a Rock Against Racism show organized by the Anti-Nazi League, Strummer wore a controversial t-shirt bearing the words "Brigate-Rosse" with the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof) insignia in the middle. He later said in an interview that he wore the shirt not to support the left-wing terrorist factions in Germany and Italy, but to bring attention to their existence. In the song "Tommy Gun" his stance was ambiguous. Caroline Coon stood up for what The Clash were doing during this period: "Those tough, militaristic songs were what we needed as we went into Thatcherism".(Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash, p190)
The group also supported other musicians' charity concerts, most notably at the December 1979 Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, presented by Paul McCartney. The benefit album released from the concerts features one song by The Clash, "Armagideon Time."
The Clash offered some support to the Sandinista and other Marxist movements in Latin America (hence the title of their 1980 album, Sandinista!). They were also involved directly with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism.
By the time of the December 1979 album London Calling, the Clash were trying to maintain punk energy while developing musically. They were especially wary of their own emerging stardom: they always welcomed fans backstage after shows and showed open-mindedness, genuine interest and compassion in their relationships with them.
The title of London Calling evokes American radio newsman Edward R. Murrow's catchphrase during World War II, and the title song announces that "...war is declared and battle come down..." It warns against expecting them to be saviours — "... now don't look to us / Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust..." — draws a bleak picture of the times — "The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in / Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin" — but calls on their listeners to come out of their drugged stupor and take up the fight without constantly looking to London, or to The Clash themselves, for cues — "Forget it, brother, we can go it alone... Quit holding out and draw another breath... I don't want to shout / But while we were talking I saw you nodding out..." — finally asking, "After all this, won't you give me a smile?"
The Clash are generally credited with pioneering the advocacy of radical politics in punk rock, and were known as the "Thinking Man's Yobs" by many for their politically astute take on the world. They were never driven entirely by money; even at their peak, tickets to shows and souvenirs were reasonably priced. The group insisted that CBS sell their double and triple album sets London Calling and Sandinista! for the price of a single album each (then £5), succeeding with the former and compromising with the latter by agreeing to sell it for £5.99 and forfeit all their royalties on its first 200,000 sales. These "VFM" (Value For Money) principles meant that they were constantly in debt to CBS, and only started to break even around 1982.