Personalities | The Clash | Seventies | Rock

If The Sex Pistols were the face of UK punk, The Clash were the soul. The band was formed in the summer of 1976 by guitarist Mick Jones (born Michael Geoffrey Jones, 26 June 1955) and bassist Paul Simonon (born 15 December 1955) after their proto-punk band, London SS, broke up.

They Fought The Law

They recruited guitarist Keith Levene and drummer Terry Chimes before luring singer/guitarist Joe Strummer (John Mellors, 1952–2002) from pub rock band the 101ers. Their first gig was an unannounced support slot with The Sex Pistols in Sheffield. After five gigs Levene was fired and Terry Chimes followed early in 1977, although he had recorded their debut album on which he was credited as ‘Tory Crimes’. His replacement was Topper Headon (born Nicky Headon, 30 May 1955).

Their debut The Clash (1977) was one of the definitive punk albums, featuring the rallying anthem ‘White Riot’ and caustic rockers ‘London’s Burning’, ‘Janie Jones’ and ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’. CBS Records did not release the album in America although it sold an unprecedented 100,000 on import. After the ‘White Riot’ UK tour, which was frequently riotous, the band released a clutch of singles – ‘Complete Control’ (produced by Lee Perry), ‘Clash City Rockers’ and ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ – and fought the law over spraying graffiti and shooting pigeons. The law won.

The Clash picked Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman for their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978), which entered the UK charts at No. 2 and gave them their first Top 20 single with ‘Tommy Gun’. But despite two successful American tours the album failed to chart in the US, as had been the aim.

London Calling The US

Switching producers again to R&B connoisseur and Mott The Hoople producer Guy Stevens, who they had worked with on their first demos, The Clash went into creative overdrive for the eclectic but stylish double album London Calling (1979), which they insisted on selling for the price of a single LP. This time they cracked the US Top 30 and had a hit single with ‘Train In Vain’. They over-reached their creativity on the self-produced triple album Sandinista! (1980), which was sold at the price of double and made the US Top 30 but only scraped into the UK Top 20. Sell-out tours of Europe, North America, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia were not translated into record sales either.

Combat Rock (1982), produced by veteran Glyn Johns (Rolling Stones, Who, Eagles), refocused their energy with a big rock sound. They recaptured their best songwriting on ‘Rock The Casbah’ (their only US Top 10 hit), ‘Straight To Hell’ and ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’. But even as the album was released the band were starting to fall apart as they were pulled in different directions. Headon was fired for continued heroin use (ironically he had written ‘Rock The Casbah’), the band toured stadiums with The...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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