10 Best Clash Songs
Ask a dozen music fans who the first punk band was and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers, ranging from the Velvet Underground to the Stooges to the Sex Pistols. Ask them who the best punk band was, and most of them will agree: the Clash. The core band recorded only five albums between 1977 and 1982, and they rank among the best the genre has to offer. The Clash were smart, they were political, they had a sense of music history and, most of all, they wrote timeless songs that transcended the punk label. Here’s our list of the 10 Best Clash Songs.
‘Lost in the Supermarket’
‘London Calling,’ the Clash’s third album, is their masterpiece, a two-record set that jumps from rockabilly to reggae to pop to punk to R&B and back. ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ is sung by Mick Jones but was written by Joe Strummer about some childhood memories. But the mid-tempo song paints a bigger picture of bland consumerism in an increasingly commercialized world where personality is bought and sold, a familiar subject to the band.
‘Police and Thieves’
The Clash’s self-titled debut album has a tricky release history. It first came out in their native England in 1977. A reconfigured version of the LP (with a different running order and several new songs) was released in the U.S. in 1979, after the band’s second album, ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope,’ came out in the U.K. and the U.S. This cover of a 1976 song by reggae star Junior Murvin survived both versions of the debut and reflects the influence of Jamaican music, which the Clash would dip into throughout their career.
This song made it on both versions of the debut, too, and it’s easy to hear why. The rage, fury and DIY punk ethos that fueled the band is all over the song, which is about their stifling hometown. Specifically, the song addresses congested traffic problems. But on a much bigger scale, it’s about social and cultural revolutions, a subject the band would revisit time and time again, as you’ll see on our list of the 10 Best Clash Songs.
The band’s debut single doesn’t mess around. It clocks in at less than two minutes and is one of the fiercest, and most traditionally punk songs in the group’s catalog. It’s a simple cut — three minutes of blaring guitar menace punctuated by Strummer’s spit-propelled screed against upper-class rule. This is where it all started.
A month after their debut album came out in England, the Clash’s record company released a single from it, ‘Remote Control,’ without asking the band. Bad move. Strummer and Jones reacted with this fiery single that calls out their record company, as well as their manager, the police and punk-rock fans. It’s one of the group’s angriest songs — a pointed middle finger at everyone pissing them off in 1977. (The song also appeared on the U.S. version of the Clash’s debut album in 1979.)
‘Death or Glory’
‘Death or Glory’ is buried on ‘London Calling,’ but it’s one of the band’s best album tracks, a punk manifesto as stringent and as convincing as anything found on their debut (as well as anything you’ll find on our list of the 10 Best Clash Songs). It’s about getting older and making commitments and giving up all those idealistic plans you had about changing the world. In short, it’s about life.
‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’
Like many of the Clash’s early songs, ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ is about the state of punk rock. Strummer, over a ska-styled rhythm that marked a stylistic change in the group’s songwriting, moves from one subject (reggae music) to another (England’s rampant conservatism) as he breaks down a music scene that’s as fractured as it is territorial. It’s a smart social history lesson in four compact minutes. (The song also appeared on the U.S. version of the Clash’s debut album in 1979.)
‘Rock the Casbah’
After the two-LP ‘London Calling’ and super-ambitious three-record set ‘Sandinista!’ the Clash scaled back for their fifth and final album with the original band. (Strummer would lead a version of the group without Jones for one dismal album in 1985.) ‘Combat Rock’ was a relatively straightforward rock record, and ‘Rock the Casbah,’ the Clash’s biggest U.S. hit (it reached No. 8), was a beat-oriented track (and dance-club hit) about one of the band’s favorite themes: the power of music.
‘Train in Vain’
One of the band’s most popular songs, and its first U.S. hit, wasn’t even supposed to be on ‘London Calling,’ where it shows up at the very end. (It wasn’t even listed on initial pressings of the record.) It’s a love song, sung and mostly written by Jones, and the most unguarded pop track the band ever recorded. It’s also the most radio-friendly cut on our list of the 10 Best Clash Songs.
Like so many of their songs that preceded it, the opening title track to the Clash’s best album is a politically loaded attack against almost everybody with some authority in England at the time. But unlike the earlier songs, ‘London Calling’ doesn’t rush by in a blur of punk guitars and barked vocals. There’s plenty of anger here, but Strummer’s reserved howls front a marching rock rhythm that nods as much to the band’s beloved reggae as it does the classic rock grooves that fueled much of the ‘London Calling’ album. It’s an apocalyptic warning that’s running low on hope.