The Clash are busy. Two new collections are released this month. Here. Louder Than War reviews Hits Back for you.
Having a Clash compilation to review should be easy. I’ve been listening to them, been inspired by them, ever since I heard my older brother playing them over 30 years ago. These are songs that have stayed with me all those years: ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, ‘Garageland’, ‘Armagideon Times’, ‘White Riot’ and ‘Straight To Hell’, to name but a few. A look at the track list and I know it will be 10/10, so why do I have misgivings?
The remaining Clash members are busy promoting the release of Sound System (a hefty collection of all things Clash (bar Cut The Crap – airbrushed out of the orthodox Clash canon)) plus loads of ‘fun’ extras. Like dog tags and badges. It’s released simultaneously on 9th September with a best of 2CD release, which is the CD we at Louder Than War have been sent to review.
Hits Back has 33 tracks. The first 24 tracks are sequenced from the set list the band played at the Brixton Fairdeal show in 1982, with an added 8 tracks; it contains songs from across the 5 studio albums and singles.
As the remaining Clash members put it: “Every show was different. Joe would spend a lot of time composing the running order, considering dynamics, emotional impact and the key the songs were in. This record is based on Joe’s set list from The Casbah Club UK Tour, Brixton Fairdeal, 10th July 1982.” Mick, Paul and Topper.
Almost every song on the CD is a stone cold classic. Many of them I haven’t listened to in a while and they sound great, and, perhaps more importantly, still relevant. ‘White Man’ seems to grow in stature over the years; this was the song I played when I heard Joe Strummer had died (Jesus, was it really nearly 11 years ago?) and it brought tears to my eyes. ‘Armagideon Times’ is the best white reggae I’ve ever heard. Songs like ‘White Riot’ and ‘I Fought The Law’ stir this ageing punk into action. ‘Garageland’ still bristles with teenage egotism and fuck you attitude. ‘Straight To Hell’ is an intricate sounding lament that sends shivers down my spine. ‘Should I Stay’ is just straight out great rock ‘n’ roll.
This is one of many compilation Clash CDs – as well as a couple of live albums – that have been released over the years, along with a multitude of merchandise ranging from coffee table books, posters, badges and t-shirts. What we’ve seen is the turning of one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands to walk this earth into mythic status. And the reason for this? To make money for the corporate gods of the music business (in this case Sony – “Give me Honda, give me Sony: so cheap and real phoney”). Now I’m quite happy to put money into Jones, Headon and Simonon’s pockets – they have given me so much that I’m happy to give something back – but I don’t want to feed the corporate maw.
To be fair to Jones, Headon and Simenon they have always shied away from the spotlight and rarely commented on their time together. Indeed, thank God, there was no McCartneyesque attempt by Jones to turn Strummer/Jones into Jones/Strummer as McCartney did with the song credits of his dead song writing partner. They just got on with their lives as the myth about the band was built up by those who would profit from it.
The Clash are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band Britain has produced. But they were human. They weren’t perfect. Let’s explode the myth. For a start, let’s not forget that some old time punks have never forgiven them for signing to CBS. Sell out, they did cry! Turning rebellion into money? The Shea Stadium gig? Many forget they were supporting The Who – a band considered old farts when the punks started. Coolest band on the planet? Have you seen what they were wearing for ‘The Call Up’ video? During the run up to Combat Rock being released, with poor tour sales, Bernie Rhodes and Strummer decided that, as a publicity stunt to drum up interest, Strummer would ‘go missing’. Strummer then turned the tables on Rhodes by actually disappearing. Publicity stunts? Poor ticket sales? Is this the history of a mythic band?
Get out your bullshit detector and don’t let anybody re-write history. Don’t let them take The Clash from being an inspiration to a generation into being a myth. Once The Clash are turned into a myth then they can be turned into anything the corporations want and sold to you over and over again.
The silver lining to this is that maybe, just maybe, some sixteen year old kid will buy this CD and hear the Clash for the first time and be inspired.
The Clash weren’t the only band that mattered, but God how we miss them.
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This article first appeared on Louder Than War