Our Top 10 Favorite Bands countdown has brought us to Number 7. If you’ve missed any of the previous bands on this list, be sure to check out those posts. Today’s band took the first wave of British Punk and turned it completely on its head…
7. The Clash
The year was 1976. Political unrest in both England and The States was at an all time high, disco was king, and heavy metal godfathers like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss were selling out fewer and fewer arenas by the day. Around the same time, an anti-movement was taking place in the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, New York City. Punk was the result of a disenfranchised youth getting fed up with conservative politics and “dinosaur rock.” Bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Buzzcocks took pride in deconstructing rock and synthesizing it down to its basic form: three chords and indiscernible lyrics set to a hyper active beat. It was completely different from anything being released at the time, and the young freaks with the bleached hair and clothes pins shoved through their orifices ate it up.
The Clash released their self titled debut album in 1977 and while it sounded very loud and abrasive like most punk records of the day, the musicianship and writing was in a completely different stratosphere than the other outfits around at the time. Things only got more progressive after the next series of albums. The Clash dabbled in almost every conceivable genre of music during the height of their popularity, so to pigeonhole them as a “punk rock” band was to do a great disservice to the English foursome. They were basically punk’s answer to The Beatles.
That may be where my lone criticism with The Clash lies. While their musical versatility really separated the band from their punk peers, it was what made large amounts of their albums skippable. Between rockabilly, ska, ballroom, blues, and others, The Clash tried their hands in everything and it made for multiple disjointed records. However, when The Clash were on, they really earned their moniker of “The Only Band That Matters.”
Best Album – London Calling (1979)
In the time of vinyl, releasing a 19 song LP was unheard of, but that’s exactly what London Calling is. From the iconic album art to the eclectic spectrum of tunes, London Calling felt like an instant classic pretty much from the needle drop. The album had radio hits in “Train in Vain” and the title track, but the real gems from this record are the deep cuts. Songs like “Death or Glory,” “Spanish Bombs,” “Guns of Brixton,” and “Revolution Rock” have all become staples in every Clash fan’s rotation and they all represent different sides of the band. Above I mentioned how The Clash would often times mix too many genres into one overblown cocktail of music, and while that is sometimes the case on this album, it works way more often than it doesn’t. London Calling has become a sort of punk rock Bible, which is a tad ironic seeing as how very few songs on the record could be classified as straight up punk. This is the album that transformed The Clash from punks to true professionals.
Weakest Album – Cut The Crap (1985)
By 1985, the wheels started to fall off the well oiled machine that was The Clash. Guitarist, co-lead singer and principle songwriter Mick Jones was fired, and his shoes proved to be too large to fill. Cut The Crap was a disjointed effort that saw The Clash slowly start to unravel before our very eyes. What was once a cohesive unit of brothers was now a shell of its former self and the album sold accordingly, that is to say it didn’t sell much at all. Cut The Crap was The Clash’s last album as a unit, marking an end to one of the most influential groups of the 20th century in popular music.
Strongest Member – Mick Jones (Guitar/Vocals)
He sang, he played guitar, he wrote, and he even cofounded the band. Mick Jones was inarguably the driving force behind many of The Clash’s best work. Every band has a principle songwriter and Jones was just that. Much like Cliff Burton of Metallica, it became quite apparent just how much Jones meant to The Clash after he was fired from the band (see Cut The Crap above). Check the liner notes of any Clash album from 1977 to 1982 and you will see Mick Jones’ name present on almost every tune. The man was a creative genius even after The Clash, touring with The Gorillaz and forming Big Audio Dynamite. It takes a lot of talent to be the leader of a band routinely referred to as one of the most influential in rock history, and Jones is proof of that.
Weakest Member – Paul Simonon (Bass/Vocals)
Saying someone is the weakest member of The Clash is a lot like saying they’re the ugliest of all the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, so bare with me. Paul Simonon didn’t have the chops that drummer Topper Headon had, nor was he the creative tour de force like Jones or Joe Strummer, so he takes this spot only by virtue of being stuck with three insanely talented musical visionaries. That’s not to say Simonon didn’t have his moments. He wrote a couple of fan favorites, including “Guns of Brixton” which he also sang on, and he was the cover boy for the now iconic London Calling album art. Paul Simonon may be the weakest member of “The Only Band That Matters,” but that in and of itself is still something to be immensely proud of.