Formed in the summer of 1976, The Clash was a one of the most critically lauded british punk rock groups of their period. Under the management of Bernard Rhodes - a friend of Malcolm McLaren, the original lineup of the band had Mick Jones (vocals, lead guitar), Paul Simonon (bass and vocals) and Keith Levene (lead guitar) that were later joined by Joe Strummer (vocals, rhythm guitar) who came from a pub rock band called the 101ers. Terry Chimes took the drum seat and the group became The Clash. The new group was designed to be a response to the unique vitality of the Sex Pistols.
The Clash gained momentum after joining The Sex Pistols on their tour "Anarchy in the UK". Not long after that lead guitarist Keith Lavene left the band.
Their first studio album ‘The Clash’ was recorded in just a period of three weekends in 1977. Rolling Stone magazine called it the "definitive punk album". "White Riot," their first single and eponymous debut album were received with great critical acclaim and sales in the U.K., peaking at number 12 on the charts.
Following the release of their first album, drummer Terry Chimes was replaced with Topper Headon and also recruited rock band Blue Oyster Cult's producer, Sandy Pearlman. In ‘78 they played what has become a hugely celebrated gig in front of 80,000 people at Victoria Park in east London for Rock Against Racism. The band hit the studio after this to record their second album ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ over three months in the UK and the US with production by Sandy Pearlman. It reached No. 2 in the UK charts in ‘79. With a tougher expanded sound moving on from the immediate music of ‘The Clash’, this second album confirmed the band as the leading light of the Punk movement.
‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ came out in Epic in 1978 entered the U.K. charts at number 2 and also catapulted the band onto the US scene and they set out on a tour of the states with Bo Diddley in support. The influences they experienced from this tour were apparent on their return to the UK from a new musical direction, and their classic rock and roll quiffed up look. Whilst in the studio in the US they recorded a cover of ‘I Fought The Law’ (Bobby Fuller Four), now regarded as a classic Clash track.
Other musical influences including dub, reggae, ska and jazz have always been at the heart of the band. When the band re-entered the studio in the summer of ‘79 under the guiding hand of producer Guy Stevens, many of these styles were found in the songs that the band created. These sessions produced ‘London Calling’, voted in Rolling stone magazine as ‘The Greatest record of the 80s’.
The Clash returned in the US for a six week tour taking Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the Cramps in tow amongst others. They then embarked on a recording frenzy in New York, Jamaica and London using music styles from rap and funk to dub that the band picked up from their touring and travels.
The band recorded the single ‘Bankrobber’ but the record company would not release it in the UK, huge public demand meant the company had to capitulate. The wealth of material produced around these recording sessions created the triple album ‘Sandinista’, named after left wing freedom fighters in Nicaragua, which was released in 1980.The band insisted upon releasing this album at budget price and its success in the UK was matched and exceeded for the first time by the US.
1981 saw the re-appearance of Bernie Rhodes as manager who they had parted ways with in 1978. Back on board he organised a celebrated run of dates in New York’s Times Square. Threatened with closure by the fire department riots ensued, but to the joy of the fans the shows were allowed to continue. New York was alive with the sounds of funk, dance and early electro and the band listened with eager ears as ever and took many of these influences with them to the studio when they recorded ‘Combat Rock’. Produced by Glyn Johns the album spawned two of the bands most famous songs ‘Rock The Casbah’ and ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’. On release in 1982 the album reached No. 2 in the UK and jumped straight into the top ten in the US. The band then went on a massive stadium tour culminating in the historic show at Shea Stadium with the Who.
A period of change within the band ensued with Headon being sacked from the group to be replaced by Chimes again, who was subsequently replaced by Pete Howard. The band continued to tour but by 1983, after years of constant touring and recording the strain took its toll and Mick Jones was asked to leave the group, he went on to form Big Audio Dynamite. Nick Sheppard and Vince White were hired and the group continues to tour throughout 1984. The Clash then released ‘Cut The Crap’.
In 1986 The Clash split permanently, Strummer went on to collaborate with Jones on BAD’s album ’10 Upping St’ and wrote and produced his own solo material, Simonon went on to form Havana 3am. The Clash were never forgotten by fans and music pundits alike, constant speculation as to a re-union was always rife. In 1991 Levi’s used ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ in a TV commercial which launched the single to the No. 1 position in the UK when it was re-released by CBS, and introduced the band to a whole new generation of fans.
The Clash were a band that changed lives, with shows that literally ripped up auditoriums. Their political and social ideals were always represented within their songs and never wavered, they were innovative and never afraid to embrace different styles or learn from music of the past and present.
Sadly Joe Strummer died in December 2002, a tragic loss to the world of music; however The Clash will always live on through their music and in the memories of their fans. The band will also be inaugurated into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003 - a fitting legacy for a band who totally changed the face of music for their generation and continue to inspire and excite to this day.
The Clash Discography
Clash, CBS Records, 1977.
Give 'Em Enough Rope, Epic, 1978.
The Clash, Epic, 1979.
London Calling, Epic, 1979.
Sandinista! Epic, 1980.
Combat Rock, Epic, 1982.
The Story of The Clash, Vol. 1, Epic, 1988.