It’s a quick column this week, dear readers, as Mr. Brum and I are moving house. Not very far, and I don’t own very much, but the six crates of Doctor Who VHS tapes that Mr. Brum carts around everywhere are rather heavy. We needed an album that was punchy, fast-paced, and kept our spirits up. Call the Clash!
Most people who are Clash fans on a casual basis are familiar with songs from the infamous double album London Calling. Tunes like “Brand New Cadillac,” “Train In Vain,” and the title track exemplify the Clash’s changing style, particularly the influence of reggae on their increasingly international approach to punk sensibilities. If you want to hear the Clash before they became the only band that mattered, though, you need a quality half-hour or so with 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope.
The style is straight-up English garage-rock punk, but the subject matter isn’t any less political, nor are the opinions on show any less scathing. Take the opener, “Safe European Home”:
“I went to the place where every white face is an invitation to robbery/ Sitting here in my safe european home, don’t wanna go back there again!” It’s a bitter satire on the middle-class, white, 1970s view of the Third World: a nice place to visit but thank God we don’t have to live there, dahling. The same ideas are echoed in “Guns On The Roof,” inspired by a Met Police riot in Camden, which skewers major global players by name.
“‘N I’d Iike to be in Af-er-ica
A-beatin’ on the final drum
‘N I’d like to be in U.S.S.R.
Makin’ sure these things will come
‘N I’d like to be in U.S.A.
Pretending that the wars are done
‘N I’d like to be in Europa
Saying goodbye to everyone”
The Clash don’t just level criticism at the state of the world, however; they take square aim at their own backyard, too. “English Civil War,” a rewriting of a traditional marching tune, could refer to various stages of English political unrest, but most likely makes pointed reference to the “New Party Army” of the 1930s, a fascist far-right party closely tied to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. My favourite track on the album, the contemplative “Stay Free,” follows the lives of two misfits growing up in postwar London: they get kicked out of school and hold up a shop. One becomes lead singer Joe Strummer, the other goes to jail.
(Helloooooooo, Joe. Yeah, I put up the big picture. You’re welcome.)
The music is… well, it’s simple. This is not any sort of rocket-science guitar. Lengthy guitar solos are not the point of punk music, as this famous illustration can tell you.
The closest the Clash get to Axl Rose-level shenanigans is the nifty little Bo Diddly shuffle deployed in “Julie’s Been Working For The Drug Squad.” Now I love me a Bo Diddly shuffle – also featured on Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and Bowie’s “Panic In Detroit” – and this may be my pick of the litter:
So it’s about a huge LSD sting that went down in Wales (they have LSD in Wales? Who knew?)! So what! It’s boppin’.
More than anything, Give ‘Em Enough Rope is an announcement. Look no further than the last track, “All The Young Punks,” to recognise a seismic shift is taking place. A conscious take on the glam rock anthem “All The Young Dudes” by Mott The Hoople (by way of D.Bowie – he got everywhere in 1973), the Clash’s version is faster, more exciting, more in your face – and way more profane. Listen to the third line of the chorus.
Yup, that’s right. The Clash: droppin’ the c-bomb, in 1978, probably live on the BBC too. Awesome.