In 1982, Combat Rock came out and MTV constantly aired the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” videos. The former one scared me (I was only eleven) with its image of an armadillo running amok on the desert ground while Mick Jones (or was it Paul Simonon) wears a gas mask.
So through the rest of the sixth grade, The Clash was synonymous with armadillos.
The following year, my friend Josh, who had shaved two horizontal lines into the sides of his head, lent me a copy of the Clash’s self-titled debut album.
I was in junior-high and a whole year wiser, so I understood why the album’s high-contrast cover photo of Strummer, Jones, and Simonon looking like Borstal drop-outs in a Lindsay Anderson flick, made me want to cut my hair in dank East End alleyways.
Suddenly, there was a heightened sense of meaning to my existence, even though I didn’t understand what it all meant. I didn’t truly realize its significance until I discovered Richard Hell and got a hold of London Calling at the age of 21.
“I Fought the Law” was my anthem (even if it was a Bobby Fuller cover) and I tried to mimic Mick Jones’ accent. Unfortunately I turned in my Clashness for a FRANKIE SAY WAR tee-shirt. The rest of junior-high was a blur of bad synth rock.
Not long ago, I found a used copy of the album and gave it a spin. I didn’t recall it sounding so great. I didn’t remember it being this raw. The sound was rough, lo-fi. It made me happy.
On songs like “Clash City Rockers” and “Garageland” Joe Strummer sounded awful. Another plus. And the band’s take on reggae – “Police and Thieves” and “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” – was harsh, unlike their later excursions into bluebeat, funk, and rap. The tracks were ambitious, yes, but the tunes often took saturated flights into listener-obscuration.
Listening to The Clash so many years after its initial UK release widens the domain for today’s punk-phile. It sounds like somebody slapped together the Spinanes and Bikini Kill and gave them a whole new set of post-Thatcher leftist politics: brash but intelligent.?