[Review] The Clash (1977)

The greatest punk album ever recorded. Meet The Beatles meets Here’s The Sex Pistols.

Kronomyth 1.0: The battle hymns of the new republic.

The death of progressive rock came with a kiss and a promise. The debut albums by The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Stranglers were kissed by the rock & roll gods as surely and deeply as Tommy or In The Court of the Crimson King. The promise was that the spirit of rock & roll would continue to burn in the heart of the new revolution.

I couldn’t tell you what it was like to hear The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or The Who’s “My Generation” for the first time, but I can tell you what it felt like to hear “Janie Jones.” It felt like a rush of freedom that finally gave a voice to every inarticulate desire of the heart. Honestly, I didn’t get that with The Sex Pistols. They were fascinating to watch, but plainly unsustainable. The Clash, however, had a plan. They didn’t throw out the rock & roll rulebook in favor of anarchy. No, they rewrote the rules and made them better.

You can’t write rock & roll without a hook. The Clash baited their hooks with barbs against the government and the status quo. Joe Strummer’s voice was punk personified: snotty, disinterested, unrepentantly sloppy. Behind him, Mick Jones provided some of the sweetest harmonies you’d ever heard. They were a post-apocalypse Phil & Don gone feral in the wastelands of Mad Max, but somehow every song worked out beautifully. The Clash made it look like dumb luck, but it was as artful as anything The Who had ever done.

“Janie Jones” is a great set up. Get stoned, get it on with your girl and tell your boss to get stuffed. The Clash knew their audience. “Remote Control” continues the assault against the powers that be, “I’m So Bored With The U.S.A.” sets its sights on the world’s superpower, and “White Riot” lays out their intent for all to see. They weren’t just talking about a revolution, they were inciting one.

The rest of the record pretty much plays the same cards with different faces. “London’s Burning” provided the punk movement with its very own anthem. “Career Opportunities” continues the “take this job and shove it” theme, while the band provides something of a blueprint for The Buzzcocks on “What’s My Name” and “Protex Blue” (one of several tracks where Mick takes the lead on vocals). Lest you think the band is all about two-minute sloganeering, they include a couple of big ideas at the end. “Police And Thieves” is a six-minute adventure in reggae punk, a mashup that the group would revisit often over their career. “Garageland” is a great closing statement of purpose that assures us The Clash won’t be ruined by success.

As the punk revolution spread east, Americans remained in their polyester complacency listening to disco music. On the day that The Clash hit the London streets, Abba’s “Dancing Queen” was the #1 song in America. The Clash’s first record finally washed up on American shores two years later, by which time it had been altered to include the non-album singles that followed in between their first and second records. That was the version I first heard. For some strange reason, I can’t recall seeing a release that reconciled the two. In either incarnation, the effect is amazing. London Calling is generally regarded as their greatest work, but The Clash is the more important album. In fact, I would offer that it’s one of the most historically and musically significant albums in the twentieth century.

Original elpee version (UK)

A1. Janie Jones (2:05)
A2. Remote Control (3:00)
A3. I’m So Bored With The U.S.A. (2:24)
A4. White Riot (1:55)
A5. Hate & War (2:04)
A6. What’s My Name (Joe Strummer/Mick Jones/Keith Levine) (1:40)
A7. Deny (3:03)
A8. London’s Burning (2:10)
B1. Career Opportunities (1:51)
B2. Cheat (2:06)
B3. Protex Blue (1:45)
B4. Police And Thieves (Lee Perry/Junior Murvin) (6:00)
B5. 48 Hours (1:34)
B6. Garageland (3:13)

All songs written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones unless noted.

Original US elpee track listing
A1. Clash City Rockers (3:55)
A2. I’m So Bored With The U.S.A. (2:24)
A3. Remote Control (3:00)
A4. Complete Control (3:12)
A5. White Riot (1:58)
A6. White Man In Hammersmith Palais (3:58)
A7. London’s Burning (2:10)
A8. I Fought The Law (Sonny Curtis) (2:40)
B1. Janie Jones (2:00)
B2. Career Opportunities (1:58)
B3. What’s My Name (Joe Strummer/Mick Jones/Keith Levene) (1:40)
B4. Hate And War (2:05)
B5. Police And Thieves (Junior Murvin/Lee Perry) (5:58)
B6. Jail Guitar Doors (3:05)
B7. Garageland (3:09)

All songs written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones unless noted.

Bonus 7-inch single with US issue
A1. Gates of the West
B1. Groovy Times

The Players

Tory Crimes (drums), Mick Jones (guitars, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass), Joe Strummer (guitars, vocals). Produced by Mickey Foote.

The Pictures

Front photograph by Kate Simon. Back photography by Rocco Macauley.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on April 8, 1977 in the UK (CBS, S CBS 82000), Australia (CBS, SBP 234994), Japan (CBS, 25-3P-67) and the Netherlands (CBS, CBS 82000); reached #12 on the UK charts. Also released on elpee in 1977 in Argentina (CBS, 19.749) under the title of London’s Burning. Re-issued with different track listing on elpee in July 1979 in the US and Canada (Epic, JE 36060) with bonus 7-inch single; reached #126 (RIAA-certified gold record). Canadian elpee features blue cover variation.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1982 in the UK, Greece and the Netherlands (CBS, CBS 32232/40-33232).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Epic, PE 36060) with US track listing.
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in the US (Epic, EK 36060) with US track listing.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on March 21, 1991 in Japan (Epic/Sony, ESCA 5270).
  5. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1999 in the UK (Columbia, 495344) and on 180g vinyl elpee in the UK (Simply Vinyl, 495345 1).
  6. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1999 in the US (Epic, 63883) with US track listing.
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in 2005 in Japan (Epic, MHCP-520).
  8. Re-released on orange vinyl elpee in 2006 in Canada (Epic, JE 36060) with US track listing.
  9. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2013 in the US (Epic, 88725447011).
  10. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2016 in Europe (Columbia, 88985348291).
The Clash album cover
Columbia EK 36060

5 thoughts on “[Review] The Clash (1977)

  1. Knowing heads are nodding in agreement with your review. Not mine, of course; I didn’t “get” the punk rock thing. I knew music was in some kind of trouble in the late 1970s but never would have guessed the fix.

    The nodding knowing head belongs to my college roommate (and best man thereafter) who provided my initial exposure to punk, along with several important bands, back in 1978-79. (I forwarded your review.)

    Not until late adulthood did I grasp how refreshing punk rock could be, so today I own a few of the essentials, including “The Essential Clash,” “Never Mind the Bollocks” and a Ramones compilation. The Ramones were punk, right?

    Sorry, I’m clueless. In 1977 I was listening to Deaf School and was shocked when they took their own punk turn in ’78.

    But I’ve been promised that yours was an accurate review. So enjoy a sort of second-hand congrats! His tastes are impeccable, by the way, as he exposed me to Talking Heads, Devo, The Modern Lovers…

  2. Ah yes, “All Queued Up,” that was a great little tune… I had a friend like that too who turned me on to Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Prince (nobody’s perfect). You should add The Damned’s first album and The Buzzcock’s Singles Going Steady to those essentials.

    1. The title track (“English Boys With Guns”) was a winner as well. The album as a whole is still worth a listen, except for the occasional axle-destroying lyrical pothole.

  3. OK so I just went looking for reviews of that Deaf School album. One turned up on AllMusic. Right. I should have remembered that…

  4. Oh, yikes, that’s right! I forgot I was a Deaf School expert. 🙂 Sometimes, the poor memory is a blessing in disguise.

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