411 Music Hall Of Fame Class of 2011: The Clash
THE CLASH’S MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Whereas the Ramones seemed preoccupied with little else than sniffing glue, and their peers the Sex Pistols represented the nihilist spirit of punk rock, The Clash was a contrast not just by standing for something else, but by standing for something at all. They were rock’s rebels with a cause, consistently fighting the good fight and turning rock ‘n’ roll music into a political weapon, combining passion and idealism with a desire to be and sound like more than just a punk band.
Joe Strummer was the lead singer of the pub band The 101’s in 1976 when he saw the Sex Pistols and immediately he was looking to move in a harder direction. He found it with another group looking to change its sound, The London SS, featuring Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes. The newly christened Clash played their first concert in support of the Sex Pistols and set out with the band for the ill-fated Anarchy Tour later in 1976. It wasn’t long before the group was recording their self-titled debut, and not long after that that Chimes was replaced with Topper Headon.
The Clash showed a group who was willing to step outside the boundaries of punk rock, even as the nascent genre was still beginning to define those boundaries. Released on the major label CBS Records, the band’s debut dabbles in reggae on “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” and in early rock with their cover of “I Fought the Law.” But the album is driven by pure punk fury, as the band knew right from the beginning that there was a connection between rock and roll and personal and social revolution. That feeling consumes every moment of The Clash, and it’s enhanced by a musicianship that their contemporaries simply could not match.
The album’s U.S. release was delayed for two years because it was deemed not to be “radio-friendly,” and for the group’s second album their label hired former Blue Oyster Cult member Sandy Pearlman to handle the production in an effort to break the US market. But no amount of production shine could contain the power of The Clash, and Give ‘Em Enough Rope proves that point. At the same time the band was fortifying their image as punk’s political outlaws, taking strong leftist stances and headlining the Rock Against Racism concert in 1978. This constant push forward, along with an appreciation of the rock music of the past, was what led The Clash to make their biggest statement yet.
There hasn’t been an album before or since like London Calling, The Clash’s double album masterpiece that forever changed what punk rock was capable of. With its mix of rock, rockabilly, ska, reggae, punk, jazz, pop and everything else under the sun, The Clash’s third album is still one of the major accomplishments in rock history. The band’s trademark passion doesn’t disappear one bit even with all the new musical territory; every song has an urgency to it, every lyric a sense of purpose. London Calling was a political statement as rock album, with every conceivable boundary not just blown through, but ignored as if they never existed at all.
From there, the band only pushed further with their next record in December 1980, the triple album Sandinista!. By delving further into the sounds of their previous album and adding more “world music” as well as calypso and rap, The Clash created their most divisive album and one that seems to not only alternate between brilliant and maddening, but is occasionally both at the same time. It’s messy, sprawling, ambitious, and clearly the kind of work that only they could create.
But the band’s popularity was still increasing in the United States, peaking in 1982 with Combat Rock and its two fabulous singles “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The album itself is actually loaded with more experiments and the dichotomy between the two sounds amplifies the growing schism between Strummer’s desire to explore different areas of music and Jones’ desire to be more of an arena rock band like The Who, whom they opened for in 1983.
Matters weren’t helped when Headon was fired to due to his drug problems, and he was replaced by the returning Chimes, who then promptly left again. Through all of this the relationship between Strummer and Jones worsened until Jones himself was fired in September 1983. From there The Clash was just a shell of the vibrant and energetic force that it had previously been. After the disastrous Cut the Crap, The Clash came to an end for good in 1986.
Jones would form the long-running Big Audio Dynamite while Strummer went on to a long solo career, including time with his band the Mescaleros. In the meantime, the legend of The Clash grew until they were named as inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in November 2002.
That, plus a brief onstage appearance by Jones at a Mescaleros show seemed to open the door for at least a one-night Clash reunion, but those hopes were dashed when Strummer died in December 2002 of a congenital heart defect.
The following March, the band took their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with their legacy intact and their influence growing by the day.
Why The Clash Was Selected:
Perhaps no other band captured the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll better than The Clash did. Their unbridled energy fueled each and every song they recorded, and in turn impacted every person who listened to them. They were a punk band not in sound but in spirit; they did what they wanted and when they wanted, critics and naysayers be damned. From the way they dressed to the way they sounded to the way they played onstage, The Clash presented a united front, ready and eager to take on the entire world. They were willing to represent something that no one else could and in turn became the most important band of their time, musically and socially. The Clash truly was The Only Band That Mattered.