An all-star panel – including Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes – vote for their greatest cuts (from Uncut's December 2003 issue)
9 Clash City Rockers
Single A-side, February 1978
SIMONON: I seem to remember that, when we did “Clash City Rockers”, him and me had had a row. I was in one corner of the studio and Mick was in the other. He had to tell Joe what the chords were so he could come over and tell me. The guy who was recording it didn’t know what was going on cos of this weird communication breakdown.
JONES: It was one of the first numbers we did where we really began to stretch and experiment. There was a lot of different stuff in it; we had bells and piano. The Gary Glitter lyric? Yeah, well that was before the Internet [grins], we didn’t know such a thing was coming. It’s a shame you don’t get non-album singles like “Clash City Rockers” so much these days. We didn’t even want the singles on the albums in the first place – that’s why we put a different version of “White Riot” on the first LP.
THURSTON MOORE: The Clash produced dozens of brilliant songs, but “Clash City Rockers” was the one that actually made you feel part of the band. The fact they used their name in a song – like Bo Diddley used to – was very exciting back then.
STEVE DIGGLE: “Clash City Rockers” has to be one of the penultimate punk tracks. The opening chords are electrifying and the whole song just has a ferocious energy to it. I’ve been listening to it for half my life now and I’m still not tired of it. The Clash were the greatest punk band in the world.
ROBERT ELMS: It’s a kind of nursery rhyme which includes “the bells of Prince Far-I”. Only the Clash could do that.
ANDREW WEATHERALL: “Clash City Rockers” is both a statement of intent and an anthemic last-gang-in-town song. The chorus is really immediate and the opening guitar chords really remind me of Mott The Hoople and “Born Late 58”. I had no idea at the time that Mick Jones used to be in the Mott The Hoople fanclub, but they obviously influenced him and the way he wrote songs.
ELI ROTH: The first time I heard this, I was in a club in New York City called Brownies, and I had just heard my friend Natasha’s band play. I was jumping up and down and dancing and screaming, and then after her set, this song came on in the club. I just stood there, frozen, not wanting to talk to anyone, thinking, “My God, this is the real shit.” It had the same familiar British rock sound I associated with The Who’s “Can’t Explain,” but it had the violent energy and aggression of The Sex Pistols.
ADAM SWEETING: God knows what Strummer is going on about here, but the sound of the track says it all. It’s the way he bounces his chopped-up syllables off the sizzling slash-and-burn guitar riff that drives straight through the middle, especially when he rhymes “Clash city rockers” with “electrical shocker”.
MICKEY BRADLEY: How many other punk bands could get away with Bo Diddley’s trick of putting their name in a song title? A song which you loved when you’d never even heard it, having only read the title in the NME months before it was recorded. Again the words make it – “You owe me a move say the Bells of St Groove/Come on and show me say the Bells of Old Bowie/When I am fitter say the Bells of Gary Glitter/No one but you and I say the Bells of Prince Far-I. . .” A London band, a London song. For a 17-year-old who’d never been to London, you could smell the fumes just by listening to this single.
CHRIS SHIFLETT: My brother bought the first Clash album way back when, so “Clash City Rockers” was probably the first song of theirs I heard as it was the first track. You have to remember this was the US version, different to the UK one and with all those extra singles on it. To me it’s like the song you put on as you’re cracking your first beer open when you’re ready to go out.
JAY FARRAR: The first band I was in was called The Plebes, and “Clash City Rockers” was one of the first songs we worked out. It was bar-chord heaven. The simplicity and power of the chord structure made it ideal for starting a band.
8 Safe European Home
Give ‘Em Enough Rope album track, November 1978
JONES: Me and Joe wrote this in Jamaica. We were way out of our depth, to tell you the truth. Obviously he [nods at Paul] was really pissed off because he didn’t get to go. It wasn’t our fault. Bernie [Rhodes, Clash manager] said, “You gotta write a record so go and have a holiday somewhere.” We didn’t take him seriously because he was always saying things like that. Before, when I was with Tony [James, Generation X], he used to say, “You lot are too soft so you’ve gotta go spend your Christmas with two hookers and learn from the streets!” So it was the same kind of thing. He said, “Where d’you wanna go?” So we said, “Jamaica.”
I can still remember sitting in the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho watching some film thinking, “I’m going to Jamaica tomorrow.” It was totally unreal. But the most exciting thing we did when we got there was going to the pictures. It was amazing because it was open air and there were people dancing on the stage and shouting at the screen. It was a film called Zeppelin.
That was the biggest thing we did, walking to the cinema, but it was all a bit scary. We were staying at The Pegasus, which was like the British hotel. We didn’t realise all the action was over at The Sheraton until the last night when we had to come home. I was glad, actually.
LAURENCE BELL: It’s a juggernaut of a rock’n’roll song that really taps into that thing of a white boy wanting to be cool, wanting to be black. Here was Joe, arguably the coolest singer with the coolest band in the world but he was vulnerable enough to say “I could never be as cool as these guys.”
But this song reminds me of my favourite personal Clash memory. I used to do a fanzine called Harsh Reality when I was in the second year of school. I came up to London one day to interview Swell Maps at Rough Trade, but rather than go home I decided to hang around afterwards and try selling some fanzines. I ended up outside The Rainbow where The Clash were playing this Rock Against Racism gig. It was just so exciting to be that close to a Clash gig, soaking up the atmosphere.
Eventually everyone in the queue filtered in when this Clash roadie came out the side and said “Anybody wanna see the band – follow me!” There were about 15 of us who all piled in, running down these back corridors of the venue until we were behind the stage. He sent us into the crowd, two by two, scuttling across the stage and in to the front. It was like “Go! Go! Go!”, a military operation or something. I was only 13, only small, and I couldn’t believe it. I’d only gone to sell fanzines outside and here I was about to watch The Clash. Five minutes later they came on with “Safe European Home” and it was incredible. So anyway, I missed the last train home, ended up rolling in at 7am the next morning and was grounded for a month!
BOBBY GILLESPIE: A lot of people don’t rate Give ’Em Enough Rope, but I think it’s really intense and desperate sounding. A lot of the songs sound like they were recorded in one or two takes and “Safe European Home” is a brilliant example. I can’t remember the lyrics or the ending, it’s just a really intense, emotional song that always lifts my spirits. I just love it.
PETE WYLIE: Stunning. It still sounds fresh. In the movie Rude Boy when they’re doing “Safe European Home” live, if you pause the DVD, you can see me in the wings when I roadied for them. I’m wearing a pink shirt, white jeans, looking longingly at Mick Jones. That was me movie debut, but I missed the premiere.
JESSE MALIN: I remember I had it on vinyl and when I put that needle down, the thing just exploded. I love the outro, that dub thing when it rolls out at the end and comes up again with Topper’s drum rolls through the tom. That’s Sandy Pearlman’s production. When you put that record on, it just explodes.
STEVE WYNN: When The Dream Syndicate was searching for a producer for the follow-up to our debut album, we finally settled on Sandy Pearlman, a common choice for very different reasons. Our guitarist Karl Precoda was enamoured of the recordings of The Blue Öyster Cult (which are pretty incredible,) but I loved the sound and power of the second Clash album and this song in particular. At the time, it was seen as a sell-out, but I just saw it as taking the anger and power and humour of the first album and spreading out in full, widescreen Technicolor. It was HUGE and was the kind of leap that allowed them to move on to the incredible London Calling one year later. This song rocks impossibly hard and then hits its stride with the exciting and innovative rock dub moments at the end.
MATT FRIEDBERGER: Perfect. I have a couple of different recordings of it, but my favourite’s the version in Rude Boy. I put my tape recorder up to the TV so I could record it and listen to it through my headphones.
SIMON MORAN: Joe used to play “Safe European Home” all the time in his solo sets, and the fact he did so many different interpretations only goes to show what a great song it was. The melody is ridiculously catchy and the lyrics are pure Clash. I know it’s one of Bruce Springsteen’s personal favourites, too, because he’d agreed to be a special guest when MTV were considering doing a special Storytellers programme on Joe. It’s a shame it never happened – I’m sure he would have had some interesting things to say about The Clash and he promised to perform “Safe European Home” and a couple of other songs with Joe.
GIDEON COE: I used to play this record before going out and drinking three-and-a-half pints of cider on a Friday night. The opening crack of the drum shows Sandy Pearlman got some things right when working with the band. This also contains a fine example of the duelling Strummer/Jones vocal as Mick sings the melody with Joe muttering about Rudie in the background. I love the thought of the two of them going off to Jamaica for inspiration and getting the fear. Meanwhile, the man who really wanted to go – Paul – was left at home fuming. Makes for a great song, though. And the fade-out at the death before the sudden end works brilliantly. Best played very, very loud.
B-side to “White Riot”, March 1977
JONES: I’m surprised this is in there, what with it only being a B-side.
SIMONON: It’s got a certain swagger, that don’t-give-a-damn attitude that I really like. At the time it summed up that thing of “let’s wipe the slate clean”.
JONES: I’m still very comfortable with the lyrics. It shouldn’t be taken so literally just because Elvis died in ’77. We didn’t know that was gonna happen.
SIMONON: That’s why it had a bit of a weird vibe [grins]. Everybody was going, “Are we next? Mick? Keef? Are we next?” Heh, heh. But you notice we didn’t mention The Kinks or The Who.
JONES: Cos there’d be too many words.
PAUL WELLER: What I really liked about “1977” was the fact it was only one minute 40 seconds or whatever. I was really impressed with that, how powerful and short it was. I mean all that “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones” was fucking nonsense, really. I’m sure Joe didn’t really mean it either when you think about all those old artists who’d influenced them as well. I mean, one of the things I really liked about The Clash was how they got Lee Dorsey and Bo Diddley to support them on tour. All that ground-zero nihilism stuff, I dunno how much of that they really believed. They were all very aware of rock’n’roll history and English pop culture. One of the first things that really struck me about Joe when I met him was him saying he liked my haircut, and recognising that it was supposed to be like a mod cut. I thought that was pretty cool.
MARK PERRY: It’s under two minutes and it’s just this amazing statement. All those images, like Sten guns in Knightsbridge. You knew that was never going to happen, but it was just the idea of it. It was a real rallying call. That refrain – “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones” – is just genius. I think it’s their best riff ever. The way it starts, it’s so tense. Unbeatable.
DON LETTS: Have you ever heard a tune that comes in at just under one minute and 40 seconds that has so much bollocks? The cheek of these young whippersnappers to rail against the old, heralding in the new. Sheer bollocks, man, you gotta take your hat off. Even though I believe that when Joe first came up with the line “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones”, he felt a little embarrassed. But “1977”, the sheer balls!
LYNDON MORGANS: It always rankled with me, that Year Zero aspect of the Great Punk Upheaval, the screw- everything-that-went-before mentality. Of course, most rock stank like a used litter-tray by ’76 – is it ever any different? – but if it was a case of renouncing Exile On Main St for “Neat Neat Neat” then you could fuck fuck fuck off. But I guess “No more Wakeman, Frampton and Emerson, Lake & Palmer” wouldn’t have scanned as well as “No more Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones”. So I’ll dock The Clash one point for their dodgy historical revisionism, but award them nine more for this swaggering little fucker of a record.
THURSTON MOORE: My all-time favourite tear-jerker.
MICKEY BRADLEY: The Undertones learnt this within days. Played it every week for the next nine months. Funny how 1984 seemed so far off. Funny how the riff was “pure Kinks” according to Tom Robinson, who reviewed it for NME.