An all-star panel – including Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes – vote for their greatest cuts (from Uncut's December 2003 issue)
12 Police And Thieves
The Clash album track, April 1977
TERRY CHIMES: The first album was really a case of bashing out the live set in a studio. The only song that sounded very different from what we played live was “Police And Thieves”. We began experimenting with harmonies, realising we could do overdubs and all those kinds of things.
PETE SHELLEY: When The Clash first started, a lot of people thought of them as purely a punk band doing punk songs, but their songs were always very melodic and very catchy. I think everybody tried to dabble in the politics of the time and write about things that meant something to them, but with songs like “Police And Thieves”, The Clash managed to write political songs you could sing along to.
JAKE BURNS: The thing that really impressed me about “Police And Thieves” was the fact that they weren’t actually trying to play reggae. The guitars still sounded like white-boy rock guitars, and they didn’t make any concessions to try and sound Jamaican in any way. I thought that was really honest. I hadn’t heard the original when I bought The Clash because, with regards to reggae, Belfast in the mid-’70s was very much a backwater. You heard Bob Marley on the radio and that was it. The Clash opened my ears to all that. I like the original by Junior Murvin, but I prefer The Clash’s. It’s a lot more edgy, a lot more urban.
ANDREW WEATHERALL: A lot of people dismissed “Police And Thieves” at the time, but hearing that song encouraged me to go and check out people like Lee Scratch Perry and Big Youth. When John Lydon started doing reggae stuff a few years later, that was the final seal of approval for me and my mates, and we spent a lot of time actively seeking good reggae and dub records.
LYNDON MORGANS: Great vocal – even the cod-Jamaican accent thing works. And the intro in waltz time and the falsetto backing vocals and the chopped-out off-beats on the guitar and the cheese wire solo, they’re all lovely touches. And at nearly six minutes long, they probably had to leave off three or four anthems done at “Westway speed” to make room for it.
BUTCH VIG: I’ve always loved The Clash, but I never really got into their more reggae and ska-based stuff until I heard “Police And Thieves” played through a big PA. There was a bar called The Crystal Corner near my old studio and they used to play it night after night. It could easily have sounded terrible in between the staple country rock and boogie blues, but for some reason it always sounded like the best pseudo reggae punk song in the world.
11 Janie Jones
The Clash album track, April 1977
RODDY FRAME: I had The Clash on cassette, and this tiny cassette player, and I can just remember everyday coming home from school and playing “Janie Jones”. It was so exciting, it was like hearing Chuck Berry coming out of a jukebox. I can see now that a lot of the stuff Strummer was doing came from his rock’n’roll schooling in The 101’ers. It kind of boogied, you know? That’s something The Sex Pistols didn’t really do because they were rooted in that whole New York Dolls sleazy thing. But in The Clash you could hear those elements of rockabilly and almost boogie guitar – it had its roots in something much older.
PETE SHELLEY: I didn’t buy the first Clash album until a few years ago, but I heard them play “Janie Jones” every night on the White Riot tour in ’77. We’d never toured outside the north-west before and we were all pretty blown away by how incredible they were live. They used to play “Janie Jones” straight after the opening number and I remember people ripping out the seats when they played The Rainbow in Finsbury Park. The Clash were very much a London band and they always got a phenomenal response in London. We never bothered how well we played, but I remember they would come off stage and be shouting “You missed that bit” to each other regardless of how well each set went. They were always trying to be tighter and better and harder and faster.
PETE WYLIE: Just the start with Terry Chimes’ drums. He sometimes gets a hard deal does ‘Tory Crimes’, but his drumming is amazing. I’d never heard anything like it. It was the same the first time I heard “Anarchy In The UK” or “Starman” or “Wrote For Luck”. The first time you hear it you think, “Fuck me, what’s happening?” It was sparse, then intense, then sparse, then intense again. It summed up The Clash for me. From the first three seconds you knew that first album was gonna be fantastic. Those lyrics, about this guy working in a crap job and then the glamour of singing about Janie Jones. To have the bollocks to start with a song that good, y’know?
THURSTON MOORE: Who the fuck was Janie Jones?
JON LANGFORD: You can’t overestimate how important The Clash were back in 1977. We loved the Pistols’ self-aware nihilism, but we didn’t want to be the Pistols, and if The Clash were cartoon-heroic and occasionally a bit silly we still loved them and recognised the risks they were taking… The soundtrack to life in Cromer House where the snotty bunch of art students that formed The Mekons, Gang Of Four and Delta 5 sat around shagging and smoking when they should have been doing art.
LYNDON MORGANS: It rattles along like it was compulsory for all Clash tunes of this era to do and yet there’s something fragile about it, and it’s a love song, and any ‘political’ point is made nice and obliquely – via the slagging of the nine-to-five treadmill. If these snotty little urban guerrillas had realised just how sophisticated a piece of work this is, they’d probably have slung it out of the set on ideological grounds. But luckily they couldn’t see past the genius chorus and the great words and the sweet and perfect drumming.
10 White Riot
Single A-side, March 1977
JONES: Number 10? I’m surprised this is so low. A lot of people really love this one. Not me.
SIMONON: I seem to remember, yeah!
JONES: We used to have a few rows about playing it. I dunno why, really. I think I just thought we should be moving on. Sometimes it didn’t seem right.
SIMONON: It was just that thing of, when we were gonna do the encore, thinking, “Are we gonna give them what they want or are we gonna take it to another level?” Generally it was “White Riot” they wanted. Everything would go haywire. Guitars would go out of tune. There’d be no way you could play another song afterwards.
JONES: But I loved it when we first did it, I loved the single. I said we should have people running around on the solo, so there was five or six of us stomping round this microphone during the guitar break.
SIMONON: It was a call to arms, really. Joe wrote it after the Notting Hill Carnival riot. Me and him were there when it all kicked off under the Westway. It started with paper cups, then next minute we were running around with bricks and trying to set cars on fire. I remember we went back to the squat where Sid [Vicious] was. He’d missed it all so he wanted us to take him back down that night and see the riot. So we was walking up Tavistock Road with Sid when this bloke stopped us and said, “I wouldn’t go up there if you wanna keep your life.” At that point we realised it might be wise to turn back!
ROBERT ELMS: The joyous machine-gun rattle of this battle call is still the ultimate Clash thrill for me. I was at the Carnival in ’76 when Joe was inspired to write this. Then I first heard it at Harlesden, and it all came back. I saw at least half a dozen gigs on the White Riot tour, and this tune always kicked off. The classic time was at The Rainbow, when it literally turned into one and the Art Deco roof nearly came off the house.
ED HAMELL: I just love the song because it rocks so hard, the production is real inventive, and you can really hear Jones’ guitar influences heavy – both Mick Ronson and Johnny Thunders. I don’t know for sure but I’ve always suspected Jones is playing all the parts except for drums.
THURSTON MOORE: One of the best first-generation UK punk singles. Total thrash.
MICKEY BRADLEY: They could have disappeared after this and would still get talked about a quarter of a century later. Being in Derry, I found it amazing that there were riots in London. Did people get their bowler hats knocked off? Interviews with The Clash explained things. Paul Simonon’s bass line is still almost impossible to play.
LYNDON MORGANS: A spontaneous outburst of excitement from a band that’s suddenly realised it’s on to something, that its moment is imminent. And it’s secondly an emetic, designed to make you puke up that iffy old meal of Genesis or the Eagles you swallowed yesterday.
CLINT BOON: I saw The Sex Pistols and The Clash on the Anarchy tour. It was at the Electric Circus in Manchester, December 1976. It was a turning point in my life, that moment. The Clash struck such a chord with me, not just the songs but the image. It was like, “Fucking hell! People like me making music.” Before that, people like me didn’t make music. It was a massive inspiration, that whole punk scene in general. A lot of people of my generation still live by that ethic, really.
JAKE BURNS: The Clash were absolutely vital to the formation of Stiff Little Fingers. They were singing songs about their own lives which struck a huge chord with me. I thought, “Well, if they’re fed up growing up in west London, how fed up do they think I am growing up in Belfast?” Up until “White Riot”, I quite liked what I’d heard of the punk movement, but it had just struck me as a bit of fun, nothing particularly important. But The Clash came along and they were singing serious songs, but in an exciting fashion. It was electrifying. To me, “White Riot” was as exciting as it must have been for someone in the ’50s first hearing Elvis Presley. Especially since I’d grown up in Belfast where rioting was a way of life.