Schooling Zack Zarrillo on The Clash

by Jesse Cannon and Deanna Chapman

This was initially mean to be a Start Today feature over at PropertyOfZack, but it never ended up being posted before the site closed it’s doors. So as the title says, this post is meant to teach Zack Zarrillo a thing or two about The Clash. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it. 

Who are these guys?
When it comes to the seminal punk bands the first things I ask true punks is if they prefer The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols or Crass, which immediately tells me a lot about you as a person. If you answer The Clash, you are my people and you are the type of person who cares about both melody and meaningful lyrical content. While many bands have tried to spin politics with pop melodies, The Clash were the only one to do it with both commercial success and a timelessness that still makes them relevant today. 

Where to start?
You really can’t go wrong by starting with London Calling or The Clash. These two albums are the best in their discography. London Calling is full of hits and The Clash kickstarted their career into something most punk bands didn’t even imagine would be possible at the time. 

Timeline: 

The Clash (1977)

First release in the UK, but second in the US because for whatever reason they decided to wait two years and change some of the tracks. You likely know “I Fought The Law” off of the US version because who hasn’t covered that song? The album was praised by many rock critics and has ended up on many top/essential punk albums lists. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” is a key difference between the UK and US releases. It appears on the latter and is a great addition to the album. I don’t think they could have started out with a better album. You immediately learn what The Clash are all about. Joe Strummer has a unique vocal style and this is a first album that will blow you away. If Robert Christgau says the album “may be the greatest rock and roll album ever manufactured in the US,” you should probably give it a listen. 

Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)
From any other band, this would be an amazing record. But with flawed production (the band often denounced it in the press), the feel is just a bit off. The raw energy of the first album is tamed down and while the great songs still shine through, the record feels far more sedated than it should. With that said “Tommy Gun” and “Safe European Home” are two of the songs that most define early punk’s spirit and scream through the flaws in the recording. 

London Calling (1979)

There are very few bands that make a record that has more great songs on it than even their greatest hits record does. While the album clocks in at over an hour, Joe Strummer’s varied vocal delivery keeps every song fresh. I can’t think of any other group this side of Faith No More where the singer is able to employ so many different vocal approaches while still sounding like himself. This was further accented by Mick Jones and Paul Simonon’s vocal appearances. When considering punk was supposed to be about innovating music through rebellion, The Clash fused the various underground sounds of the day into something fresh and new. 

Hands down this is their most enjoyable and likely most accessible album for people who may not consider themselves fans of punk music. The band split from their manager, Bernie Rhodes, prior to this release and I can only imagine he was shitting himself when this beauty of an album came out. Also, it may be worth mentioning that the styling of the album cover is a total rip from an Elvis Presley album cover. How punk is that?

Sandinista! (1980)

Inspired by many of the emerging sounds of the day such as hip hop, dug etc. Sandanista just feels less inspired than London Calling, while you can hear more different inspirations. This is one of the first records to get tagged as the triple album that should’ve been a single album. With that said, this record’s individual tracks went on to influence thousands of musicians and the moments of genius don’t always add up to good sounds, the musical and lyrical ideas changed the times and provided inspiration for much of the underground world of both musical and political thought for years to come. 

Combat Rock (1982)

This is the album The Clash should have stopped at. While it was a huge release, it was apparent to many that the band wouldn’t last much longer. The album gave us two big hits in “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and “Rock the Casbah.” But do yourself a favor and listen to “Straight to Hell.” Even though it clocks in at five and a half minutes and isn’t the catchiest of songs, I find it always provides some comedic relief with some of it’s lyrics. It might not be the hard-hitting, fast pace you get with some of their other releases, but it’s worth listening to. If anything, listen to it because it’s the last good thing The Clash did before what would come three years later. Just be ready for things to get a little funky. 

Cut the Crap (1985)
Once you become a true die hard Clash fan you will make a huge mistake. You will hear about this record called Cut The Crap, under no circumstances shall you listen to this and ruin the esteem you hold for this band. If there was ever a time machine invented a great service to punk history would be to erase this atrocity. Sadly the loss of Mick Jones and a very sad amount of drug use turned one of the greatest bands who ever lived into a sad shell of its former self. 

Really, don’t do this to yourself.

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