Very rarely does anything I say impress anyone. My philosophy that the answer to everything is ‘balance’ (which is just a rehash of ‘moderation in all things’) is met at best with indifference. The only statement I make that has drawn a response on anything like a regular basis is the following:
‘I saw The Clash play live’
From a few people, I have received a sense of envy to the point where I feel quite proud even though all I did was buy a ticket and turn up. For the record, they were brilliant (and I’m not just saying that to increase the envy of others). I have seen many bands play all sorts of music but nothing has matched that performance.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of The Clash’s first album. The level of interest strikes me as incredible because the world is such a different place.
The 1970s was a fairly horrible time. The energy and excitement of the 60s had long since disappeared. The industrial heartlands were in decline and the 50s housing estates no longer seemed the perfect answer to the slums they had replaced. Culturally, alongside a few gems (T-Rex, Bowie, first wave of ska, reggae, Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going on?’) it was awful.
The Miners strike, the 3-day week, bombings, gangs. This was not a good place to grow up.
And the country was bankrupt.
The Clash seemed the perfect response: angry but with a deep rooted concern for people. Their music reflected and captured the experience of people in industrial cities in the 1970s. With the world changed beyond recognition over the last 40 years, it is surprising that they are still remembered
Although not great musicians and with a singer who struggled to hold a tune, they produced excellent songs and had a fantastic appetite for developing themselves. They refused to mime on TOTP leaving the BBC having to get Pans People to dance to them. They released a triple album for the price of a single album leaving themselves in huge debt. They refused to release an album with the mantra “home taping is killing music” on the sleeve. They had integrity writ large. But it was all in the context of the end of the 70s so why the interest now?
The answer for me is that the breadth of their music makes them very easy to listen to over and over again. Put the album Sandinista on a you have reggae, funk, folk, rock and first signs of Rap. They were prophetic musically and lyrically. Joe Strummer wrote about global warming (London Calling) ten years before it was publically talked about. Across a number of songs, his commentary on politics can still apply today:
“All over, people changing their votes
Along with their overcoats
If Adolf Hitler were here today
They’d send a limousine….”
What The Clash saw was the world changing in front of them. They saw it because they went looking for the changes and in doing so changed themselves. They sang with anger and compassion about the situation people found themselves in. The speed of change keeps increasing and the poverty of existence remains. That’s why the Clash remain important today 40 years and a world away from 1977