Why they stay and never left
Although the Sex Pistols are often credited with popularizing punk rock in the 70s, when the dust settled on this era of rebellious music, another group of British punk rockers have been called “the only band that counted”: the Clash.
Since their formation in London in 1976 by guitarist/composers Mick Jones and the late Joe Strummer, and bassist Paul Simonon (the band was later joined by drummer Topper Headon), the Clash have matured with remarkable speed, growing from young thrashers to stadium headliners. reggae, jazz, rockabilly, ska and other idioms in their own indelible sound. Although they disbanded 10 years after their formation, the Clash’s first five studio albums — Shock (1977), Give them enough rope (1978), London calling (1979), Sandinista! (1980), and battle rock (1982) – rank among the most iconic in rock history, with London calling inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2007.
More than 35 years after the release of their self-titled debut album, on September 10, The Clash will release Audio system, a 12-disc box set featuring the five original studio albums, remastered by GRAMMY-winning engineer Tim Young, plus three discs of demos, off-album singles, B-sides, and rarities in a box-shaped package. boombox, which was designed by Simonon. Additionally, the package will include a DVD of The Clash music videos and never-before-seen footage from directors Don Letts’ archives (who won a GRAMMY in 2002 for best long-form music video for The Clash). Westway to the world) and two-time GRAMMY nominee Julien Temple.
In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Letts and Young discussed life with the Clash in the ’70s, the band’s next box set, and the enduring legacy of punk rock.
After the Sex Pistols, how did the Clash help define the punk movement in the 70s?
Don Letts: The Clash was one of the first groups to realize that the punk movement was being painted in its entrenchments. They were the first [band] to get out of the guitar fast. Look at the difference between the [The Clash] and London calling. One is a sort of declaration of intent. When they [got] for London calling, [they embraced] everyone has to offer. There was a common misconception that punk was all about negativity and nihilism. It wasn’t about that; it was about empowerment, freedom and individuality.
Tim Young: the punk rock thing [aimed to] destroy progressive rock. He was going to bring everything back to its raw, basic form. … You didn’t have to stick to some kind of idea set in stone. … Michael [Jones] and Joe [Strummer] were actually quite broad-minded musically.
Looking at the images included in the box set, it seems that The Clash were also influential in terms of fashion.
Letts: The English did two things to music: they gave it style and they politicized it. … The Clash understood the youth motto, especially in the UK. Style, fashion and music are inseparable in the UK.
Young: When they came into the studio to do the first album… they had all these colorful paint splatters [clothes] – as Jackson Pollock had worked on one of your shirts for you, that was the idea. You’ve never seen anything like it before, really. And then in 1979, Mick [looked] to like [he was] trying to look like James Dean or something. [He had] the rockabilly look with the greased hair coif and all that. And Joe Strummer too. They all have [looked] as extras in [the 1953 outlaw biker film] The wild.
In their short time together, the Clash quickly grew from young pranksters to sophisticated punk rockers.
Young: Exactly. But the game is great. … If you [compare] The group [from] To go [into] the studio in early 1977 to make their first album [to] November 1979 [after] they had finished London callingthe musical sophistication of this disc, compared to the group two years [prior]it’s amazing how much they had developed.
Letters: Yes, they were young, [but] the Clash were the fastest to grow.
Don, your records show how quickly the Clash grew.
Letts: These five albums came in such a short time. And then, dig, it’s not even five individual albums. There’s a double album in it [and] a triple album. Then you have to look at how many tours they did during that time. I mean, it’s no wonder these guys exploded, man, or imploded, [I should] say.
How did you find yourself in their circle?
Letters: This was the social, economic and political climate of the time. We all grew up in London; we were all affected by the same [bull s***]. [Luckily] for me, I had a soundtrack to ease my pain, which was reggae. The white friends were not so lucky, so they had to create their own soundtrack, which became punk rock. … In the mid-1970s, many working-class white kids embraced Jamaican music for their rebellious dose, especially the likes of Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, and [the Sex Pistols’] Jean Lydon too. … We became friends through our mutual love of reggae, Jamaican music and my respect for their DIY philosophy. That’s how I really became a filmmaker. The big part of this punk stuff was all DIY. So I look around and that punk thing [is] explodes and my white homies are all picking up guitars and I’m like, “I better pick something up too.” It was the power not only of the Clash but of the whole punk movement; they inspired people to take the energy they put out, and it informed everything people did. So there were punk writers, punk journalists, punk photographers, punk fashion designers, punk filmmakers. I actually believe that’s why punk has such a lasting legacy; it wasn’t just a soundtrack, it was like a whole subculture.
Tim, were you happy to have the chance to go back and remaster those five landmark albums?
Young: I was just glad to hear it all again. London callingin particular, is probably one of the three or four best albums I’ve ever worked on in my career.
Don, is there more material that was not included in the box?
Letters: Anything worth sharing, I shared. It was not meant to be hoarded. … It’s not just about looking back and saying, ‘Wow, the Clash were really cool.’ The Clash did not emerge from a vacuum; there is a whole heritage and lineage in this attitude. Look at Woody Guthrie, look at Bob Dylan, look at Gil Scott-Heron, look at Chuck D. The thing is, if people are brave enough and have an idea, they can be part of that bloodline too. It neither begins nor ends with the Clash. A lot of the things they were talking about still need to be said, and probably louder. And there are many people on this planet who, like me, still believe in music as a tool for social change.
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis has been a regular contributor to American Songwriter, Christian Science Monitor, Paste, Rollingstone.com, public radio, national newspapers, and numerous regional and local magazines. in chief of The ties that bind: Bruce Springsteen from A to E to Zshe also writes biographies for new and established artists.)