Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Clash - A Brief History

Whilst the Sex Pistols will always be thought of as the leading lights of the punk movement, there are other bands who could also lay claim to the title. In particular, any of the punk bands who went on to develop musically could be seen as being superior, thanks to their decision to move away from the basic three chords sound.

As the years have passed, it has been The Clash who have been the most notable challengers to the title. The more I listen to this band, the more I become fascinated by just how far they had travelled musically by 1982. So, to the celebrate the 35th anniversary of their debut gig, here’s a look at what the band did before - and after - their demise in the eighties.

The Albums

The Clash signed to CBS in 1977, and released their debut single “White Riot” during the first quarter of the year. It was the start of a lengthy number of Clash 45’s that would not appear on an album in either their single form, or indeed in any form at all, as a different version would later make their debut LP, simply titled “The Clash”. The album came in an iconic sleeve depicting Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon on the cover - drummer Terry Chimes had left the band after recording to be replaced by “Topper” Headon, and so was not featured in the photo. The sleeve would prove to be an inspiration a decade later for Manic Street Preachers, who released a handful of copies of their debut 7”, “Suicide Alley”, in a similar styled sleeve (although the reason only three members of the group appeared on that cover was that the fourth member, Richey Edwards, was the one taking the photo).

The album was not released in the US, due to it’s “non-radio friendly” nature, but imported copies from the UK sold in huge numbers. The band’s slightly patchy second album, “Give ’Em Enough Rope”, did get the green light, and thus became their debut album in the States, whereafter an alternate version of “The Clash” album was issued Stateside, compiling half of the original LP with a series of tracks originally issued as A or B-sides in the UK. The LP version of “White Riot” was replaced by the single version. Interestingly, both the UK and US editions of the album have been released on CD in the UK in recent years.

At the tail end of 1979, the band issued their stand out LP, “London Calling”, where they began to distil their punk fury into something more cohesive, whilst at the same time starting to move away into other genres, most noticeably dub and reggae. It featured another iconic cover, this time a shot of Simonon smashing his bass guitar up on stage during an American gig a few months before. The title of the album was printed in the same type face as that used for Elvis Presley’s famous debut album from 1956. When originally released, the sleeve made no mention of the final track, “Train In Vain”, but later pressings corrected this “error”.

“London Calling” is the only Clash album to have been given a “Deluxe” reissue. It was reissued in 1999 as part of CBS’s “Millennium” series, coming housed in a vinyl style card sleeve, with an obi inside a plastic wallet, with a reprint of the original vinyl inner sleeves, spread across an insert and the inner sleeve for the CD itself. By using the original vinyl as the basis for the reissue, there was no mention of “Train In Vain” anywhere on CD. It was reissued again five years later as a 2-CD plus DVD edition, the second CD including a series of outtakes from the period known as “The Vanilla Tapes”. The album was later voted the Greatest Album of the 1980’s by US magazine “Rolling Stone” - the reason for this being that the US release of the album did not occur until January 1980.

The band’s ever growing musical influences continued apace, and had reached their limits by the time of 1980’s “Sandinista”, a sprawling, sometimes muddled, but often magnificent triple album. Quite what the punk purists thought of the band doing a studio album that lasted for two and a half hours, I’m not sure - even Yes never managed that. The band’s love of hip hop and jazz, combined with the genres they had already explored on previous albums and singles, resulted in a colourful and varied album. Several tracks were in fact dub versions of songs otherwise already on the album in “normal” form, and some tracks - including a re-recorded “Career Opportunities” - featured guest vocalists.

Quite where the group could have gone after “Sandinista” is unknown, so it is perhaps no surprise that the follow up, 1982’s “Combat Rock”, simplified things somewhat, with a running time back to a standard length of a vinyl LP. The variety was still more or less intact, and although the “funk” elements of the record were obvious to hear, it was a record that was a lot more ’reigned in’ than it’s predecessor. By now, the band were huge stars in the US, and the band found themselves supporting The Who on their supposed final US tour. Little did anyone know, but The Clash were coming to a halt as well. Headon by now had been fired to be replaced by Chimes to complete the tour, and the rot was about to set in.

During 1983, internal fighting saw Jones being fired from the band, whilst Chimes was not invited to play drums on sessions for the next album. Strummer and Simonon continued, with two guitarists being brought in as replacement for Jones. Much of the forthcoming album featured synthesizers, and as there was now no drummer in the band, drum machines were used for everything on the record, released in 1985 as “Cut The Crap”. The drum machines gave the record a strange 80’s style sound, and it garnered some fairly bad reviews. The bad blood surrounding the band, and the poor reviews, meant that no tour to support the album was planned, and even though the album spawned a superb - and hit - single in the form of “This Is England”, Strummer threw the towel in at the start of 1986. Despite various requests over the years, The Clash refused to reform with any of the possible line-ups. Strummer passed away in 2002.

A-sides and EP’s

Following the release of “White Riot”, The Clash issued the now famous “Capital Radio” EP. It was available via the NME, and prospective buyers had to also remove a sticker from the band’s debut album to send with a token from the music paper, to obtain a copy. It means that original copies of the band’s debut LP, with sticker still intact, are now hugely collectable. The EP opened with thirty seconds of a song called “Listen”, before then featuring an interview with the band taped on the London Underground - meaning at times, it was quite difficult to actually work out what was being said! The interview filled up most of both sides, meaning the only full song on the EP was “Capital Radio” itself, a 2 minute vent at the London based commercial radio station of the same name, which has long based it’s play lists on mainstream music. At the time of the EP’s release, the station were ignoring the punk movement, and refusing to play records by any punk acts.

CBS irked the band by releasing “Remote Control” as their next proper 45, a decision taken without consultation with the band. They responded by recording a new track, “Complete Control”, which attacked the label - but that didn’t stop CBS putting it out, as agreed with the band, as their next single. The band’s next two 45’s, “Clash City Rockers” and “White Man In Hammersmith Palais”, were also stand alone 45’s.

Inbetween the release of “Give Em Enough Rope” and “London Calling”, the band issued a second EP, “The Cost Of Living”. It was the first Clash single in the UK to be issued on 12”, although it featured the same track listing as the 7”. The lead song was a cover of The Crickets’ “I Fought The Law”, and became one of the most well known Clash recordings. It seems likely that later covers, by the likes of Green Day, were inspired by The Clash’s version, rather than any of the recordings that were made by The Crickets and other acts in the 50‘s and 60‘s. The EP ended with a short reprise of the track, lasting less than a minute in length. The EP also featured a re-recorded version of “Capital Radio”, done to try and combat the increasing prices being asked for the “Capital Radio” EP on the collectors market. After the release of “London Calling” as a single in 1979, the band’s next 45 was another stand alone single, “Bankrobber”.

The Clash would issue several - but not all - of their future singles on 12”. Usually, the 12” would feature everything on the 7”, plus one or two extra tracks, but there were exceptions - the “Magnificent Seven” 7” included short mixes of the A and B sides, with the 12” including longer mixes of each, for example. The tail end of 1981 saw another stand alone 45 released after several singles had been lifted from “Sandinista”, the monumental “This Is Radio Clash”, before the band released three singles from “Combat Rock”, ending with the AA side pairing of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go“ and “Straight To Hell“. 1985’s “This Is England” was the final Clash 45 before their split.

In 2006, the band’s 17 UK singles and 2 EP’s were reissued in a superb box set called “The Singles”. It was available on both 7” and CD - the 7” boxset featured straight ahead reissues of the original 7” releases, so bonus tracks from the original 12” singles were missing. The CD did the same, but added these bonus tracks, and also included additional songs that had appeared on selected overseas releases. “Remote Control”, for example, also included the studio mix of “London’s Burning”, because it had been used on the Dutch 7”. But given that this track is easily available on the band’s debut album, it’s a slightly pointless exercise in this instance. “Rock The Casbah“ and “The Magnificent Seven” included the tracks from both the original 7” and 12” releases, but “The Cost Of Living” excludes the ‘reprise’ of “I Fought The Law”.

Black Market Clash

Once the Clash had established themselves in North America, their US label Epic issued an exclusive compilation in 1980, a 10” Mini Album called “Black Market Clash”. It’s primary purpose was to include B-sides that were not available in the US, whilst “Cheat” was also included on the basis that it was on the UK version of the debut album, but not the US one. “Pressure Drop” was remixed for this release, whilst the “Dub” medley of “Justice Tonight”/”Kick It Over”, originally on the UK 12” for “London Calling”, was edited.

The album featured a cover of Booker T’s “Time Is Tight”, a track which would remain unavailable in the UK for some years. This would not be the last time The Clash would issue a recording in the USA that was not available in the UK - a dub mix of “The Call Up”, called “The Cool Out”, was only available as a US B-side during the band’s existence. Also included was a dub mix of “Bank Robber”, called “Robber Dub”, created for inclusion on a 12” version of the single. However, the release was called off, with either the band or the label (or both) getting cold feet, it seems. The mix here was a unique combination of the original A-side and the dub mix.

“Black Market Clash” was later issued in North America as a standard 12” Vinyl album, before a revamped version was made available internationally on CD in 1993, called “Super Black Market Clash”. The cover photo was the same, but the colour of the sleeve was changed.

The CD included some previously unavailable material for both US and UK buyers. “Listen”, from the “Capital Radio EP”, appeared here in it’s unedited form (running time of 2.43, compared to the 30 seconds original), whilst the previously edited “Justice Tonight”/”Kick It Over” medley appeared in original 12” form. The original “Bankrobber/Robber Dub” mix was replaced by a shortened “Robber Dub” mix. The remixed “Pressure Drop” was replaced by the original 7” mix. “Capital Radio” was replaced by “Capital Radio Two”. A b-side called “Long Time Jerk” also made the set, but in heavily edited form.

Although the primary reason for expanding the set was to include B-sides, not all such items made the set - the live version of “London’s Burning”, from “Remote Control” was missing, as was “Armagideon Time” (on the basis that the aforementioned dub medley was based on this song - although it had been on “Black Market Clash“), “Rockers Galore” (viewed as a Mikey Dread version of “Bankrobber”, rather than a proper Clash B-side), the short mix of “The Magnificent Dance” (the long one is here instead), “Radio One” (another Mikey Dread version), plus the two extra tracks from the “This Is Radio Clash” 12”, “Outside Broadcast” and “Radio Five”. The B-sides from “This Is England” are also missing, because by this time, Strummer had all but disowned the “Cut The Crap” period of the band’s career, although latter period Clash collections have opted to cover this record, after what seems to have been a re-evaluation of the album by both Strummer and some of the group’s fanbase.


In 1988, the rehabilitation of the band began with the release of “The Story Of The Clash Vol 1”. A double album best-of, it featured a few “incentive purchase” pieces of material, such as the US single mix of “Rock The Casbah” and b-sides like “Armagideon Time”. A volume 2 was planned, which was to feature previously unreleased live material, but the release was scrapped. Both “I Fought The Law” and “London Calling” were released as singles to coincide.

In 1990, a remixed version of “The Guns Of Brixton”, titled “Return To Brixton”, was issued as a single. This may well have been prompted by Beats International sampling the bassline for their “Dub Be Good To Me” single, issued at the start of the year, which became a huge hit. The following year, “The Clash The Singles” was released, an 18 track hits set covering the 1977-1982 period. By ignoring everything post-”Combat Rock”, “Return To Brixton” was not included but the US only single from 1980, “Train In Vain” was, as was “I Fought The Law” from the “Cost Of Living” EP. The album was issued after “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” was used in a Levi’s advert on UK TV, and a subsequent single release shot to number 1. “Rock The Casbah” and “London Calling” were also reissued again, with all three releases using different sleeves to their original pressings, along with new catalogue numbers and different B-sides. The 1988 reissues had also come in “new” editions.

“Train In Vain” was the final Clash single of the 90’s, with a limited edition CD version including a new mix of the track as a B-side. Although “Complete Control” is listed in some discographies as being issued as a single in “live” form, this track was actually only ever issued as a promo CD and Video, to tie in with the 1999 live album “From Here To Eternity”. As it stands, the final Clash single dates from the 21st century, as CBS released a 12” a few years ago coupling “Mustapha Dance” with “The Magnificent Dance”, supposedly only available via HMV stores, on the Vinyl Junkie imprint.


Given that the 2006 box set is (almost) faultless, this is the best way to own The Clash’s singles. Working on that basis, but also accepting some people might prefer to own the original vinyl, I have listed below the 7” or 12” singles that the CD edition of the box set was based upon. Where each single was “expanded” for the box, the additional tracks are listed where relevant. It’s worth noting that a couple of singles from the early 80’s also appeared as 7” picture discs.

The 1988-1991 reissues listed include all known formats. This is partly because none of the singles included anything in the way of rarities, so buying any format will allow you to tick that release “off the list”. The only exception, the aforementioned “Train In Vain”, is also listed in full on the basis that the CD single with the 91 remix came in a new unique sleeve, so the other formats may be of interest in terms of artwork design.

The albums shown relate to the original vinyl pressings from 1977 to 1989, and thence CD for later albums.


The Clash (LP, 1977, CBS CBS 82000)
Give Em Enough Rope (LP, 1978, CBS CBS 82431)
London Calling (2xLP, 1979, CBS CLASH3)
Sandinista (3xLP, 1980, CBS FSLN1)
Combat Rock (LP, 1982, CBS FMLN2)
Cut The Crap (LP, 1985, CBS CBS 26601)
The Story Of The Clash Vol 1 (2xLP, 1988, CBS 460 244 1)
Clash On Broadway (3xCD, 1991, Epic 497453 2, available in “long box” or “standard” packaging, catalogue number relates to latter)
The Clash The Singles (CD, 1991, Columbia 468946 2)
Super Black Market Clash (CD, 1993, Columbia 495352 2)
From Here To Eternity (Live CD, 1999, Columbia 496183 2)
The Essential Clash (2xCD, 2003, Sony 5109982)
The Singles (CD, 2007, Sony 88697 103962, “edited” single disc version of boxset)
Live At Shea Stadium (Live CD, 2008, Epic 88697 348802)


White Riot/1977 (7”, 1977, CBS CBS 5058)
Capital Radio EP: Listen/Interview Part 1/Interview Part 2/Capital Radio (7”, 1977, CBS CL1)
Remote Control/London’s Burning (Live) (7”, 1977, CBS CBS 5293, boxset adds “London’s Burning”)
Complete Control/City Of The Dead (7”, 1977, CBS CBS 5664)
Clash City Rockers/Jail Guitar Doors (7”, 1978, CBS CBS 5834)
White Man In Hammersmith Palais/The Prisoner (7”, 1978, CBS CBS 6383)
Tommy Gun/1-2-Crush On You (7”, 1978, CBS CBS 6788)
English Civil War/Pressure Drop (7”, 1979, CBS CBS 7082)
The Cost Of Living EP: I Fought The Law/Groovy Times/Gates Of The West/Capital Radio Two/I Fought The Law (Reprise) (7”, 1979, CBS CBS 7324, also on 12” [12-7234], boxset excludes final track)
London Calling/Armagideon Time/Justice Tonight/Kick It Over (12”, 1979, CBS CBS12 8087, boxset adds “Clampdown”, “The Card Cheat”, “Lost In The Supermarket”)
Bankrobber/Rockers Galore…UK Tour (7”, 1980, CBS CBS 8323, boxset adds “Rudie Can‘t Fail“, “Train In Vain“)
The Call Up/Stop The World (7”, 1980, CBS CBS 9339)
Hitsville UK/Radio One (7”, 1981, CBS CBS 9480, boxset adds “Police On My Back”, “Somebody Got Murdered”)
The Magnificent Seven (Edit)/The Magnificent Dance (Edit) (7”, 1981, CBS CBS1133, boxset adds “Lightning Strikes”, “One More Time”, “One More Dub”, “The Cool Out”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Magnificent Dance”)
This Is Radio Clash/Radio Clash/Outside Broadcast/Radio Five (12”, 1981, CBS A13 1797)
Know Your Rights/First Night Back In London (7”, 1982, CBS A2309)
Rock The Casbah (Single Version)/Long Time Jerk (7”, 1982, CBS A2479, boxset adds “Mustapha Dance”, “Red Angel Dragnet”, “Overpowered By Funk”)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go/Straight To Hell (Edit) (7”, 1982, CBS A2646, boxset adds “Inoculated City”, “Cool Confusion”)
Greatest Original Hits EP: Complete Control/London Calling/Bank Robber/Clash City Rockers (Cassette, 1982, CBS A402907)
This Is England/Do It Now/Sex Mad Roar (12”, 1985, CBS TA 6122)
12” Tape EP: London Calling/The Magnificent Dance/This Is Radio Clash/Rock The Casbah/This Is England (Cassette, 1986, CBS 4501234)
I Fought The Law/1977/City Of The Dead (7”, 1988, CBS CLASH 1)
I Fought The Law/City Of The Dead/Police On My Back/48 Hours (12“, 1988, CBS CLASH T1)
I Fought The Law/City Of The Dead/Police On My Back/48 Hours (CD, 1988, CBS CLASH C1)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac/Rudie Can’t Fail (7”, 1988, CBS CLASH 2)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac/Rudie Can’t Fail (7”, 1988, CBS CLASH B2, in box with poster and badges)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac/Rudie Can’t Fail/Street Parade (12”, 1988, CBS CLASH T2)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac/Rudie Can’t Fail/Street Parade (CD, 1988, CBS CLASH C2. NOTE: all of the 1988 releases listed above come in different coloured sleeves)
Return To Brixton (3.47)/The Guns Of Brixton (7”, 1990, CBS 6560727)
Return To Brixton (6.55 Mix)/(SW2 Dub) (12”, 1990, CBS 6560726)
Return To Brixton (3.47)/(6.55 Mix)/(SW2 Dub)/The Guns Of Brixton (CD, 1990, CBS 6560722)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go +1 (7“, 1991, Columbia 6566677)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go +1 (Cassette, 1991, Columbia 6566674)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go/Protex Blue +2 (12“, 1991, Columbia 6566676)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go/Protex Blue +2 (CD1, 1991, Columbia 6566672)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go/London Calling/Train In Vain/I Fought The Law (CD2, 1991, Columbia 6566675, in circular tin)
Rock The Casbah/Mustapha Dance (7”, 1991, Columbia 6568147)
Rock The Casbah/Mustapha Dance/The Magnificent Dance (12”, 1991, Columbia 6568146)
Rock The Casbah/Mustapha Dance/The Magnificent Dance/This Is Radio Clash (CD1, 1991, Columbia 6568142)
Rock The Casbah/Tommy Gun/White Man In Hammersmith Palais/Straight To Hell (CD2, 1991, Columbia 6568145, in circular tin)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac (7”, 1991, Columbia 6569467)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac/Return To Brixton (3.47) (12“ in fold out sleeve, 1991, Columbia 6569466)
London Calling/Brand New Cadillac/Return To Brixton (3.47) (CD1, 1991, Columbia 6569462)
London Calling/Clampdown/The Call-Up/London’s Burning (CD2, 1991, Columbia 6569465, in circular tin)
Train In Vain/The Right Profile (7”, 1991, Columbia 6574307)
Train In Vain/The Right Profile (Cassette, 1991, Columbia 6574304)
Train In Vain/The Right Profile/Groovy Times/Gates Of The West (CD1, 1991, Columbia 6574302)
Train In Vain/The Right Profile/Train In Vain (91 7” Remix)/Death Or Glory (CD2, 1991, Columbia 6754305, cut down picture sleeve allowing picture CD to be displayed)
Mustapha Dance/The Magnificent Dance (12”, 2002, CBS VJAY26)

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