Deep Cuts: The Clash

(Written by Una Persson)

For a band that was together for only 10 years, The Clash looms large in rock music history. They were one of the most successful bands to come out of the original wave of British punk rock in the late ‘70s, stand as icons for the entire punk rock movement (along with the Sex Pistols, of course), and, unlike most of their punk peers, could actually play their instruments. They also eschewed the nihilism and anarchy of many of their contemporaries for a more politicized, highly charged left-wing lyrical and ideological stance. Their seminal London Calling makes rock critics and Top Whatever list makers swoon. They only struck gold in America toward the end, with “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah,” but from the outset, The Clash infused their brand of punk with a variety of other musical styles, from ska, reggae and dub to rockabilly, jazz, dance and anything else they thought would fit their punky musical stew. In fact, this edition of Deep Cuts takes a deep dive into one of those musical styles: The Clash, reggae-stylee.

“Police & Thieves” – The Clash
Junior Murvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s mid-‘70s international club hit was recorded almost as an afterthought when The Clash were recording their first album (the band used to fool around with it in rehearsals), but it stands as one of the first instances of a rock band integrating reggae into their mix (the very first being Eric Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974). Lots of first-wave British punks loved reggae and dub; The Clash were one of the few bands who actually incorporated it into their repertoire (one of the few bands of that era that had the musical chops to pull it off, most likely).

“(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” – The Clash
First released as a single, and only included on the US version of The Clash’s debut album, Joe Strummer’s commentary on multi-culturalism, violence, race relations, class distinctions and other state-of-Britain affairs showed the band to be already head-and-shoulders above their punk brethren both musically and politically. The slow reggae burn throughout most of the song is decidedly different fodder than their early fans had already gotten used to from the band.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope
A decent album, not their worst (Cut the Crap holds that distinction) but far from their best, marred as it is with heavy-handed production and mixing. But, sorry, nothing even remotely reggae-sounding on any of the tracks.

“Wrong ‘Em Boyo” – London Calling
A revisiting of the Stagger Lee myth set to a rollicking ska beat.

“The Guns of Brixton” – London Calling
A sick dread skank, and the band’s first real experiment with dub (a reggae offshoot that overemphasizes the bass and drums, and blends in myriad other sounds and production and engineering techniques not part of a reggae song that evinces punk’s political violence.

To view the rest of the Clash deep cuts, click here.