18 Police On My Back
Sandinista! album track, December 1980
STEVE ERICKSON: About 10 seconds into this, I forget they didn’t write it but, more to the point, they sound like they forget too – and taking away nothing from the songwriter, Eddy Grant, without even hearing his version I know for a stone fact it doesn’t touch this one. Like The Who and Mott, The Clash were one of the few bands who could turn real desperation into a genuine anthem, and never sound less desperate for all the ways they also sounded liberated. This song goes on long after it’s over, not only in the mind but in the air.
MATTHEW RYAN: As a kid I went through a time when I was in a lot of trouble – though I never got caught – so I kind of identified with this one. Like Keith Richards, The Clash had such a great attitude and looked so great. Unfortunately, I’m built the wrong way. Telecasters never suited me, I needed a bigger guitar. I’d stand in front of the mirror thinking “How did Simonon stand like that?” There was something empowering about his bass, like an M-16.
17 Rudie Can’t Fail
London Calling album track, December 1979
DON LETTS: It just sums up that moment when we were turning each other on to our respective cultures. I think that was written in the summer when Joe and Paul were going to a lot of reggae shebangs and blues dances, partaking in herb and brew and generally being turned on by West Indian culture. At the same time me and my mates were being turned on by them. We became closer by understanding our differences and not trying to be the bloody same. Joe’s description of the Rudie character too – “drinking brew for breakfast” and the “chicken skin suit” – it’s a great song. A classic.
NICK JOHNSTONE: If there’s a Clash song that encapsulates the way they looked, the rebel rocker image, this is it.
ROB HUGHES: A fat burst of musical joy, horns and all. “Sing, Michael, sing!” urges Joe, as Strummer and Jones proceed to careen off each other like drunken dodgems. Incredible guitar-playing, too. Sounds like they were all knocking back the sky juice.
16 Rock The Casbah
Combat Rock album track, May 1982. Issued as single A-side, June 1982
NORMAN COOK: A personal favourite of mine for the simple reason it made me realise a white rock band could make dance music. In those days dance music was black music, so the fact they attempted to make songs that fused rock with elements of dub and reggae was a real revelation. Getting Grandmaster Flash to support them on tour was another brave move that introduced the whole concept of hip hop to thousands of teenagers, including myself.
CLINT BOON: The all-time definitive punk-pop record.
BUTCH VIG: Like Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”, “Rock The Casbah” was a big radio hit in the US, but I don’t think many people had a clue what the band were really singing about at the time.
ROBERT ELMS: The sound of a band taking on all these new influences and making great fun music out of them.
ANDREW WEATHERALL: Whenever I hear “Rock The Casbah” it brings back really vivid memories of going to warehouse parties and nightclubs in the early ’80s. It also reminds me that The Clash helped me get out of a few dilemmas. As a teenager, I couldn’t decide whether to be a mod or a rocker and as a young man I couldn’t decide whether to be a punk rocker or northern soul boy. Hearing The Clash weld brutal rock’n’roll with dub, reggae and ska made me realise I didn’t have to make the choice – I could listen to everything and be everything.
DON LETTS: Interesting how this was a kind of rock hit in America. Again Joe was taking on things that he was concerned with. “The king told the boogie men/You better let that raga drop” is actually about Bernie Rhodes, the manager, who’d said something like, “The songs are getting too long,” or something. I think it just triggered something in Joe’s head. He’d also heard something about religious leaders in Iran were locking up people who owned disco albums or something. But really it was about how people try and stop other people listening to music for whatever reason. So it was ironic that the Americans turned it around to become the soundtrack for the bombardment of Baghdad. Obviously that was something that was out of the band’s control. That’s the last thing they’d have wanted.
BOB GELDOF: The Clash went one better than even London Calling with Sandinista!. I got the whole picture and loved the breadth and the ambition of it. Combat Rock, the album that came after it, was crap. But it did contain “Rock The Casbah”, which is a classic and one of my all-time favourite Clash songs.
ED HAMELL: Topper’s [Headon] finest hour. I’m sure I’ll be accused of this one being too obvious as well, but Good Lord, it’s a fucking weird-ass radio hit, isn’t it? I mean the lyrics were 19 years ahead of their time. And with all that Buena Vista Social Club stuff, so was the music.
TIM BURGESS: I remember hearing it when I was 16 or 17 years old – hanging out in Manchester for the first time, drinking in the afternoon. It was just a really great summer anthem for me. The video was brilliant – all the gear they were wearing. Combat Rock is definitely in my top two favourite albums by them. The first record I got by The Clash was Give ’Em Enough Rope. I love the first three tracks on that. The second record I got by The Clash was Sandinista! and I think I bought it for, like, £3.99. But the first album is still my favourite.
MICKEY BRADLEY: Couldn’t make out the words when I heard it on the radio, but it didn’t matter. Heard the chorus, could sing the chorus, and dug that “crazy casbah sound”. The Undertones had a song called “Casbah Rock”. It wasn’t as good.
JOSH ROUSE: I know “Rock The Casbah” may be taboo in England, but it was a hit in the States and it’s my favourite Clash song. I think the main reason is the groove. The bass line and electric piano could not be more funky. My friends and I used to say “What the fuck are they singing about?” But it didn’t really matter, the song just swings. I later learned it was about the banning of rock music in Iran.