International Clash Day: The Best Of The Clash’s LPs
Today is, according to the Internet, International Clash Day; a celebration of one of punk’s most influential groups. More importantly, it’s an excuse for me to go through The Clash’s entire discography and pick out my favorite songs for you. These are, to me, the songs that make The Clash sound what it is. So let’s dissect the playlist in chronological order. Note that this is not a “Best Of The Clash”, because a lot of their biggest songs were released only as singles, and didn’t make it to an album. However, here’s the best of their full-length releases. Listen and read along:
The Clash (1977): White Riot / I’m So Bored With The U.S.A. / London’s Burning / Career Opportunities
This is the young, hungry Clash at it’s core, and essentially the sound that shaped punk in the UK for some time. The sound and attitude of this album is what got a lot of people not only into the band, but the punk/new wave genres altogether. Even down to the song titles, these four tracks convey everything about The Clash’s 1977 debut. This is what punk was for a lot of people.
Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978): Tommy Gun / English Civil War / Drug-Stabbing Time
This album feels a little bit like a continuation from the first record, but was a victim of circumstance. Sandy Pearlman, who produced many mainstream rock artists at the time, was hired to produce Give ‘Em Enough Rope. CBS Records didn’t like the unpolished sound of The Clash’s debut (you know, the tones that essentially make a punk record), and so they hired Pearlman to clean it up and make it sound appealing to an American audience. Even the band weren’t the biggest fans of this record, and you can hear it on the tracks. However, Tommy Gun, English Civil War, and Drug-Stabbing Time find a way to preserve the punk energy, no matter how much more polished the recordings were.
London Calling (1979): London Calling / Brand New Cadillac / Rudie Can’t Fail / Spanish Bombs / Lost In The Supermarket / Clampdown / The Guns Of Brixton / Death Or Glory / I’m Not Down / Train In Vain
So if you couldn’t tell, London Calling is my favorite Clash album, and actually one of my favorite albums of all time. It was very hard not to put the whole album on this playlist, but I only opted to include about half of this 1979 double-disc masterpiece. There’s just so much about it that makes it great; the variety of sounds, the instrumental layering, the edge is back from their debut. It’s definitely the best, and most complete Clash record. All of these tracks are great, fairly timeless songs. I tread lightly when using the word “classic”, but London Calling is a classic album by far.
Sandinista! (1980): The Magnificent Seven / Police On My Back
When you do something as great as London Calling, it’s hard to come back down smoothly after that. Sandinista! is not that record, or series of records, as it’s a 36 song triple album. The problem, I think, is that it’s so much material, especially in 1980, that there was too much to digest. Originally, The Clash wanted to put out a single every month in 1980, rather than a formal album. CBS Records didn’t like that, so instead, we have this. I think if Sandinista! was broken up, rearranged, and put into three separate albums, maybe two would come out, and the rest would be shelved. However, The Magnificent Seven and Police On My Back are bright spots.
Combat Rock (1982): Rock The Casbah / Should I Stay Or Should I Go? / Straight To Hell
Two of The Clash’s biggest songs are on this album, and they were also the only two deemed “radio friendly” by CBS Records to release as a single. If you’re keeping score at home, you can see part of the frustration that the band had with the label, and I think their later material suffers from it. CBS Records didn’t really get punk; or at least someone making the important decisions didn’t. “Straight To Hell” is included from this album, as well, mainly due to a familiar guitar line that was sampled in M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”
Cut The Crap (1985): Movers And Shakers / This Is England
The last of The Clash’s albums, “Cut The Crap” wasn’t really a gem. The band had always experimented with synthesizers and new wave sounds, but by the time 1985 rolled around, new wave was huge. In an effort to keep current, either by the band, the label, or whoever else influenced this album, there was a lot of drum machines, synths, and polished sound; none of which were really elements that made The Clash famous. It felt wrong to include these two tracks in a “best of”, but also felt wrong to not include anything from one of their albums. These two tracks were merely the best from this album.
There you have it. The best of The Clash’s LPs. Or at least my favorites. While not the inventors of punk, The Clash certainly were influencers, and tracks like these continue to influence tons of music to this day.