Ah yes, The Clash. To some a group riddled with hypocrisy, political posturing and arrogant self-mythologising. To others just a one or two hit wonder passing through on their way to the knacker’s yard. Then there were those like me who for a year or two at least, they were an essential part of a life changing experience; an ultra-cool, ideologically naïve yet honest gang of rock’n’roll revolutionaries who if nothing else, had their eyes, ears and hearts in the right place.
As the benchmark by which all politically minded groups continue to be measured, The Clash taught my relatively innocent, 17 year old self the first lesson about style and the wider world; from Janie Jones to the hypocrisy of the US funded Sandinista’s; from Montgomery Clift to as far back as the Spanish Civil War. But more than anything, as much as John Lydon and post punk gave me the present and a future, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon educated me in the wonders of a rockin’ past I didn’t even know existed.
The Clash may have underlined punk’s scorched earth policy by declaring ‘No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977’, yet within months they had positioned themselves as part of a wider musical tradition. In their prime, both in real life and their imagination, The Clash soaked up influences from every place they visited to inject some good old fashioned, idealistic, romantic hope into our shitty workaday lives. Over five albums (not counting the abysmal Cut The Crap), they messed around with reggae, dub, funk, rockabilly, even rap, and most of the time did it really well. Stylistically, the impact of those records was immense.
Strictly speaking there were really only a dozen or so songs The Clash taught us via their cover versions, but indirectly they taught us much, much more. Bursting with the inquisitiveness of youth, we pushed far beyond The Maytals, Bobby Fuller, Vince Taylor and all those other done to death gems to discover the alchemy and excitement in the ghosts of Hank and Elvis, the mysterial folklore of ‘Parchman Farm’, ‘Junkers Blues’, ‘Casey Jones’ and ‘Stagger Lee’, and the out there weirdness of Lee Perry and heavy duty dub.
Of course, given the thrill of the times, eventually my attraction to this version of the past faded, overwhelmed by the newness and sheer weight of the post punk present, something The Clash could never be a part of. In fact, it wasn’t until 1986 that my enthusiasm was rekindled by the groups I was signing to my Criminal Damage label. Born and bred in the same provincial town and more or less the same age, we had a shared history although with their encyclopedic musical knowledge, it was obvious the likes of MB Hi-Power’s Chris Maund and Them Howlin’ Horrors Denny Mills had immersed themselves so completely in the heritage The Clash bequeathed, it was to the exclusion of everything else.
Out of step as ever, the soundtrack coming out of Criminal Damage HQ began to resemble Joe Strummer’s jukebox. And in 1986 that went seriously against the grain. While everyone else was referencing The Byrds and the jingle jangle sixties, we were rockin’ out to seventies roots and dub, obscure fifties R&B, rockabilly and old timey hillbilly and blues, a fragment of which is featured here.
A lot of music has passed under the bridge since then, and thirty years later the sixties obsessives who once dismissed the Clash and their influences out of hand have climbed aboard the bandwagon and these tunes have become the stuff of legend, seeping onto film and TV soundtracks, reissues and lovingly collected boxsets. Like The Clash themselves, apart from being as cool as fuck, they have that sense of style, innovation, audacity and adventure, in essence that indefinable otherness that characterises all great songs.
JOHNNY TODD ‘Pink Cadillac’ (Single A Side September 1956)
THE VALENTINES ‘Blam Blam Fever’ (Single A Side 1967)
ELVIS P ‘Crawfish’ (King Creole LP September 1958)
SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS ‘Little Demon’ (Single B Side November 1956)
CHAMPION JACK DUPREE ‘Junker’s Blues’ (Blues From The Gutter LP April 1959)
KING KOBA ‘Station Underground News’ (Single B Side September 1973)
RAY BARRETTO ‘El Watusi’ (Single A Side March 1963)
LEE DORSEY ‘Work, Work, Work’ (Single A Side October 1965)
JIMMIE RODGERS ‘Froggy Went A Courtin’ (Sings Folk Songs LP November 1958)
U ROY ‘Natty Don’t Fear’ (Dread In A Babylon LP 1975)
MOSE ALLISON ‘Parchman Farm’ (Local Color LP February 1958)
HANK WILLIAMS ‘I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive’ (Single A Side October 1952)
BO DIDDLEY ‘Hey! Bo Diddley’ (Single A Side April 1957)
CLANCY ECCLES ‘Freedom’ (Single A Side 1961)
YABBY YOU ‘Deliver Me From My Enemies’ (Deliver Me From My Enemies LP 1977)
LINK WRAY & HIS RAY MEN ‘Pancho Villa’ (Great Guitar Hits LP 1962)
MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT ‘Stack O’ Lee Blues’ (Single A Side July 1928)
HOWIE STANGE ‘Real Gone Daddy’ (Single A Side 1956)
TOOTS & THE MAYTALS ‘Time Tough’ (Single A Side 1974)
THE COASTERS ‘Down In Mexico’ (Single A Side February 1956)
JIMMY LLOYD ‘Where The Rio De Rosa Flows’ (Single A Side August 1957)
BIG YOUTH ‘Is Dread Ina Babylon’ (Single A Side 1973)
SLIM HARPO ‘Shake Your Hips’ (Single A Side June 1966)
THE SKILLET LICKERS ‘Casey Jones’ (Single A Side May 1927)
LEFTY FRIZZELL ‘Long Black Veil’ (Single A Side May 1959)
CHUCK BERRY ‘La Juanda’ (Single B Side June 1957)
FRED LOCKS ‘Black Star Liner’ (Single A Side September 1975)
SLIM GAILLARD ‘Eatin’ With The Boogie’ (Mish Mash EP 1951)
THE LAST POETS ‘On The Subway’ (The Last Poets LP September 1970)
THE REVOLUTIONARIES ‘Freedom Dub’ (Outlaw Dub LP 1979)