An all-star panel – including Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes – vote for their greatest cuts (from Uncut's December 2003 issue)
24 The Magnificent Seven
Sandinista! album track, December 1980
NORMAN COOK: The Clash were one of the first rock bands to embrace rap music. That was hugely influential on me – I was blown away that The Clash and, later, BAD, had the bollocks to do rap. I thought it was very brave; it risked alienating a lot of people. But they really embraced it, just like they had reggae – they hooked up with Futura and Grandmaster Flash and brought them over to England, and seeing them support The Clash was my first exposure to hip hop. The dub version, “Mustapha Dance”, was equally groundbreaking – it still gets played in clubs, and a lot of house DJs acknowledge how ahead of its time it was.
BOBBY GILLESPIE: I used to work in a factory when I was a teenager, so when I listen to “The Magnificent Seven” I can totally relate to the words. “Cold water in the face/Brings you back to this awful place” totally sums up the alienation of work and spending five days a week in an environment you hate. People talk about Dylan and Jagger and The Beatles, but Joe Strummer was an equally talented songwriter. He wrote so many fucking great songs – I’m just an enormous fan.
ADAM SWEETING: The Clash’s ability to absorb all kinds of styles and sounds and morph them into new musical shapes was one of their great gifts, and they had a whale of a time with this steaming funk-rap groove. Strummer, a natural ranter who always lit up when somebody stuck a mic in front of him, must have thought rap had been invented specifically for him, since he could say anything that came into his head and never had to sing in tune. He obviously hadn’t wasted too much time honing these lyrics (“vacuum cleaner sucks up budgie”), but the precarious way the rickety structure hangs together is half the fun.
MICKEY BRADLEY: Of course it’s not the first rap record, but it wasn’t that far behind the pioneers. It’s amazing how good this is, despite the dodgy sound effect of a vacuum cleaner, presumably NOT sucking up a budgie. Do people have the same debates about which songs to leave off Sandinista! that they do about The White Album? Why not?
LYNDON MORGANS: Substitute speed for dope, Ladbroke Grove and environs for New York City and the punk orthodoxies of ’77 for the more amorphous climate of the turn of the decade and you get this, Mick and Joe’s response to the nascent hip hop scene, from The Clash’s equivalent of The White Album, their big, sprawling, self-indulgent epic. And here they’re still generating the old excitement but by other means than buzzsaw guitars and heart-attack tempos. It must’ve sounded a lot more radical in 1980/81 than it does now to our rap-attuned ears, but it’s still a cracker: Joe’s obviously having a ball, and the vocal’s a hoot.
ROBERT ELMS: One of the funkiest riffs ever from a bunch of white boys, and one of Joe’s finest moments.
BRETT SPARKS: The first five seconds of listening to “The Magnificent Seven” made me panic. Oh shit, not disco! But, check it out – the bass line here is a clever reworking of the bass line of “London Calling” and by the song’s end you feel like bashing your head against the wall with joy. If only the Wild West had been populated with these cowboys, maybe Enron and General Motors would be living on a reservation in Arizona instead of the Jicarilla Apache.
23 Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Combat Rock album track, May 1982. Later issued as a double-A-side single, September 1982
GARY CROWLEY: The fact that it was used on a jeans ad doesn’t put me off at all. When I first heard it I thought “Jesus! What’s THAT!” It’s such a great riff, really dirty, almost like The Kinks. It’s one that makes me want to jump straight on the dancefloor or get out the old air guitar.
STEVE ERICKSON: Back when it came out, even before it was used in a TV commercial, everyone thought this was just a Mick Jones throwaway, like The Clash trying to make a T. Rex record – which didn’t sound like a bad idea, once you stopped to think about it. If you’re having a party and you’re going to play a Clash record, it has to be this one, doesn’t it? After Strummer fired Jones a year or two later, you could imagine maybe this song had more meaning than we realised – but I prefer to think it’s just about what it always seemed to be about, which is a guy trying to figure out at two in the morning if the girl’s going to sleep with him (“Always tease! tease! tease!”). And it’s not like it would have killed them to have a song or two about sex in their repertoire.
MATTHEW RYAN: At one stage I was driving a ’76 Chevy Nova. A classic muscle car, like a tank, but it was falling apart. The cassette player had no mid-range and no bottom, but the opening of this song sounded so magnificent on it that I made a 60-minute tape just repeating the song, and on Friday nights I’d just drive around Main Street, playing it over and over. The song’s a great example of what happens to each of us in our teens. You start out wanting to blow away the last generation, then you realise there’s a musical line, through them on to you. I think The Clash realised, “Wow, Chuck Berry was good, Motown was good,” so they quickly went from anti-establishment to classicist on some level. This one’s as good a rock song as “Lucille”. For its riff, humour and honesty it will stand next to any song.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: This was among the first Clash songs I ever heard and it made a huge impression on me. I saw them play on Saturday Night Live when I was a kid. I had one of the first VCRs on the market. And the very first tape I recorded on was the half-hour tape that came with the machine, and I taped The Clash. And I still have that tape to this day. They played “Should I Stay…” and “Straight To Hell”. Me and my brother used to watch it and we’d go, “Hey, look at Paul Simonon, he’s sliding around, he’s not touching the ground!” And Strummer, with his mohawk, had such intensity. The coverage they had on SNL was good. They cut to Strummer looking cool, sounding raw, all this camo stuff hanging from the wall – the whole stage set-up was fantastic. One day I’ll sneak “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” into a kids’ movie. I think kids would really dig it, treat it as a new song. Fuck with their heads, you know, instead of all this nu metal shit.
STEVE DIGGLE: The Clash were an incredibly prolific band. They put out a lot of great albums and they made a conscious decision to fuck with the formula and take themselves and their fanbase on a journey. Not everything they did worked, but the fact they tried their hand at writing rock, punk, reggae and blues is amazing. People bang on about Radiohead and how eclectic they are, but they’ve never written a song as immediate and infectious as “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”. It’s incredibly simple – just vocals, drums and guitars slowed down and speeded up – but it captures the whole essence of The Clash and what they were about in three minutes.
NICK JOHNSTONE: Both of its time and timeless – the way all great songs are and should be.
JASON KELLY: It always makes me feel the same way and I’m always in the same situation when I play it. It’s always when I’ve been on the lash for two or three days, I go home and whoever’s there is screaming. And I just put this track on. It’s a feelgood record. It’s uplifting.
22 Somebody Got Murdered
Sandinista! album track, December 1980
BOBBY GILLESPIE: The Clash have had a huge influence on Primal Scream and the way we approach music. Everything they did had an emotional impact and they really tried to push themselves as a band and experiment with different sounds. I don’t think it’s as mind-blowing as Give ’Em Enough Rope or London Calling, but I’m a big fan of Sandinista! and particularly “Somebody Got Murdered”. It’s a really brutal song with a lot of depth and passion behind it.
ADAM SWEETING: Mick Jones’ forays as lead vocalist were always something of a mixed blessing, but he struck an affecting note in this speedy, atmospheric account of a random killing (“I’ve been very hungry, but not enough to kill”). The barking dog and random sound effects added a quasi-documentary feel to the track, maybe because a bit of hip hop-vérité was creeping into Clashworld.
STEVE ERICKSON: With all due respect to The Who and Led Zep, and notwithstanding my unreasoning adoration of Mott and The Jesus And Mary Chain, this song shows as much as any why, after The Beatles, Stones and Kinks, The Clash are the greatest British band. It was written for the William Friedkin movie Cruising but was never used. In any event, here they had the integrity to cast everything they were about to the winds of moral ambiguity, confronting the consequences of the violence implicit not only in their music but the movement they led. When the guns of Brixton get fired, someone gets dead, and not just for the duration of an album. “I’ve been very hungry/But not enough to kill,” is all the more moving for how it’s equal parts weariness and defiance, for how you can hear both the singer’s hunger and the determination to hold on to his humanity anyway.
ED HAMELL: This song really could have been on the first two albums – stylistically it’s not a giant leap. If anything, on an album that has so many different kinds of songs, it’s grounding, a return to classic Clash. The lyrics are unusual, however, in that they opt for a very movie-like or short-story quality, which is odd for a band that had previously been so straight ahead. Plus, I’m always a sucker for this kind of content.
MATTHEW RYAN: When I first started really listening to music I listened to as much old music as I could – Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, early Dylan. And to me “Somebody Got Murdered” is a folk song, a protest song, a death ballad. It reminds me of when I was 13, living in a terraced house in Chester, outside Philly. One night I looked out of the bedroom window and the place was under eight inches of snow. The bridge looked beautiful, even the projects were beautiful. Then suddenly there was mayhem in the alley behind, and I saw eight guys beating on one drunk. Within a fraction of a second everything had changed.
JASON KELLY: This is a true story that happened to me in Notting Hill. I was living under the Westway – in a unit – when I was first writing songs, and was on my way round to a friend’s early one morning. When I got to All Saints, a couple of geezers came up to me. One in front and another 20 yards behind. This black guy, cracked out of his mind, says, “Give us a cigarette.” When I told him to fuck off, he moved his coat aside and there’s a gun. I said to him, “Look mate, I haven’t got any fuckin’ cigarettes.” And if his mate hadn’t have come up behind and stopped him, I think he might have done something fucking nutty. And it completely and utterly freaked me out. I really thought he was going to shoot me. So I went back to the unit, had a shower and put on “Somebody Got Murdered”. Anyway, the next week, this geez got banged up for six years! He’d shot somebody in the bakery at All Saints.
ALAN PARKER: One of the greatest songs ever written, from the first bar to the last. I never wanted it to end.