THE RETRO // THE CLASH LP
An overview of The Clash’s debut LP originally published on the short lived blog for The Retro emporium
In 1977 – the year of an undoubtedly impeccable Punk explosion kickstarting the masses – while the Pistols were busy terrorizing the nation with ‘God Save The Queen’ in anticipation of their debut release and eventual collapse 6 months later, The Clash already seemed to be a bit ahead of things. With ‘White Riot’ storming the UK’s undergrowths, they swiftly slipped out the eponymous debut LP a month later and, while Bollcocks is remembered for being the ultimately stylish punk album and London Calling the iconic, The Clash revealed a sleek superiority that unarguably made it the definitive punk album in terms of the sound itself, and one that still shines through in 2014.
From the off, the raw power of the unit on the A side excels, with ‘Janie Jones’ – a powerhouse of clattering drums if ever – alongside the Pistols inspired ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’ and the similar crashingly rushed tones of ‘London’s Burning’ – a contender for the only song in existence about being bored stuck in traffic just meant for shouting at the top of your lungs and violently bouncing around to, a thing The Clash could only get away with executing perfectly. The aforementioned 2 minute ransack genius of ‘White Riot’ too fits into this category – boasting the simplest and yet most arguably effective punk riff out there – combined with Strummer’s pleasingly nonchalant approach to the subject matter in the face of radio stations across the country (“The only person who played ‘White Riot’ on the radio was John Peel — and he’s gone on holiday. You play our record against any of the other stuff and it just knocks spots off them left, right and centre”) – it’s still as hair raising as it was 37 years prior. ‘Hate & War’ and ‘Remote Control’ meanwhile bring injections of funk infused attitude driven by the effortlessly admirable bass work of Simonon – surely one of the best out there, especially on this LP – and Jones’ empowered vocals that act as subtle reminders of the sheer musical talent the outfit possessed above the rest, whilst never straying far from the politically charged points being made.
Side B retains the punch immediately with ‘Career Opportunities’ in it’s unembellished state of short sharp stabs and Strummer’s roared indignant vocals (somewhat thankfully not the later version recreated with the singing young sons of the Blockheads keyboard player and a sweetly keyboard melody so far from the original) and ‘Cheat’ – a storming affair of rulebreakers and sweeps of flanging sending it all into borderline punk psychedelia for a minute or two. While ‘Protex Blue’ deals with briefly lighter matters of condoms – complete with tongue in cheek screams of “Johnny Johnny!” – it still somehow is crafted into a fine song, though you can’t help but feel the later US release had it right with the added brawn of ‘Complete Control’ and ‘White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)’ in it’s place, alongside the franticism of ’48 Hours’. The undoubted standout of the LP though is not any of the above however, but crowns the B side in the form of a cover of Junior Murvin’s ‘Police & Thieves’, twisting it into a Ramones inspired 6 minute punk reggae affair – and as a spur of the moment inclusion of the LP, you can’t help but feel it would increasingly lack the ingenious sense of the band without it. One last burst of resistance arrives in the form of ‘Garageland’, devised entirely as a response to a press claim the outfit were “the kind of garage band who should be returned to the garage immediately” thus resulting in a refrain of Strummer’s defiantly admirable chants of “we’re a garageband/we come from garageland”
and the ultimate shout-along for all involved, acting as the effortless summary of the LP itself – intelligently amusing and coming with the intense talent to back it up, the ultimate punk debut.
Standing out as arguably the most iconic Clash photo – besides the infamous London Calling, the covershot (excluding drummer of the time, Terry Chimes) was taken by Kate Simon, in the alleyway opposite band’s ‘Rehearsal Rehearsals’ studio in Camden Market. Meanwhile the back cover was shot by Rocco Macauly during the ’76 Notting Hill riots – subsequently inspiring ‘White Riot’ itself – and the artwork was pieced together by Polish artist Rosław Szaybo, and naturally has become key in the iconography of the outfit.
My copy – sourced from a backalley record shop in Brighton for a princely sum a few months ago – appears to have stood the test of time impressively and with not a scratch at that. Minor crackle – if possibly – adds to the tracks in the case of crashing guitars and this LP is certainly one of those cases – but you can’t help but feel owning the original copy on a record only intensifies the punk nature with this one, and with a loud set of speakers, it seems to only improve matters.