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Old 02-17-2010, 11:27 AM
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Why was the Clash the "only band that mattered"?


I have a handful of Clash tunes in my mp3 collection, their better known songs, and started thinking I should listen to more of their stuff. I've heard in various places that during their heyday, the Clash were sometimes called "the only band that matters." Why? What was it about that Clash that made them stand out from the crowd so much?
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:42 AM
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They were seen as a genuine band, as opposed to a manufactured pop band or a pretentious band.

Personally, I think they wrote a few good songs, but the idea of anyone being "the only band that matters" is hyperbole. My favorite bands get a lot of repeat playing, but I can't listen to them endlessly.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:54 AM
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They were seen as a genuine band, as opposed to a manufactured pop band or a pretentious band.
Which is kinda curious, because they were blatantly manufactured...

The Clash is one of my all-time faves - at least their first 3 albums. Their heyday was extremely brief.

They were one of the first and most popular punk bands, had considerable musical and songwriting chops, were unapologetic about their political stance, had a huge influence on New Wave, and were among the first to popularize reggae elements. Pretty heavy stuff for the late 70s.

Oh yeah - and their first 3 albums didn't have a few good songs - they had many GREAT tunes and NO bad songs! After that, yes...

Last edited by Dinsdale; 02-17-2010 at 11:57 AM.
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Old 02-17-2010, 11:58 AM
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The phrase was ironic hyperbole referring to the band's working class and political bent. No one ever took it at face value, but it did mean that the group was trying to be write and sing songs with a political message in a time when music was primarily just mindless melodies.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:00 PM
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They were kinda the Nirvana of their day. The going style was plasticky new wave glam; they were just about the only band with any kind of success who bucking that trend. The catchphrase was to distinguish them from the plethora of Flock of Seagulls/Thompson Twins/GoGos/etc. bands that made up the bulk of the charts.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:04 PM
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The phrase was ironic hyperbole referring to the band's working class and political bent. No one ever took it at face value, but it did mean that the group was trying to be write and sing songs with a political message in a time when music was primarily just mindless melodies.
I think it had more to do with their sound than the content of the lyrics. Sure there were a lot of shut-up-and-dance acts, but even some of the squeakiest synthpop bands were putting out serious lyrics. It was the Clash's garagier sound that distinguished them from most of the other popular acts of the day.

There was something of an us-vs.-them divide between New Wave and Punk, and the Clash bridged that gap to some extent.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:17 PM
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They were kinda the Nirvana of their day. The going style was plasticky new wave glam; they were just about the only band with any kind of success who bucking that trend. The catchphrase was to distinguish them from the plethora of Flock of Seagulls/Thompson Twins/GoGos/etc. bands that made up the bulk of the charts.
The first Clash record was released in 1977, which makes them contemporaries of other British punk bands like the Sex Pistols, The Damned, Siouxsie & the Banshees, etc.

Depending on your perspective, it can be argued that they peaked creatively with London Calling, which was released in 1979. The classic Clash lineup was dead by 1982 when Topper left the band.

I'd argue that the Clash were largely irrelevant as a force for musical change by the time New Wave really took hold (I'm thinking 1980 and forward). In any case, they certainly weren't the only band, nor only one of a few bands who were going in a different direction.

I realize you said "kinda like Nirvana", but I don't see them as being anything like Nirvana. Nirvana represented a sea change in popular music. The Clash didn't have anywhere near that kind of impact.

FWIW, I'm a -huge- Clash fan, so I'm not knocking them. They are easily in the top 2 of my favorite bands of all time.

BTW, Wiki says "the only band that matters" was just a marketing slogan.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:19 PM
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It was the Clash's garagier ...
So now you've got "We're a garage band, we come from garageland" going thru my head! Thanks!

Me, I'll be Back in the garage with my bullshit detector...
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:20 PM
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London Calling is the only album of theirs worth listening too. I couldn't sit through and listen to any of their other albums.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:31 PM
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London Calling is the only album of theirs worth listening too. I couldn't sit through and listen to any of their other albums.
What makes London Calling particularly distinct from their first, self-titled album? I'm genuinely curious, because to my ears they're equal kinds of awesome.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:45 PM
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What makes London Calling particularly distinct from their first, self-titled album? I'm genuinely curious, because to my ears they're equal kinds of awesome.
I'll listen to it when I get home and let you know.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:46 PM
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What makes London Calling particularly distinct from their first, self-titled album? I'm genuinely curious, because to my ears they're equal kinds of awesome.
The first record was pretty had pretty much as straight ahead punk sound. Loud guitars, simple arrangements. There were notable exceptions like the reggae based White Man in Hammesmith Palais and Police & Thieves, but it was pretty much a punk affair. Lyrically, there was a lot of politics and commentary on social conditions in the U.K.

The second record was a bit more refined lyrically and musically. You could hear more of the kind of sound that you'd hear on London Calling. Still very punk-ish.

London Calling took it to an entirely new level. Lyrics were more mature and wide ranging. From the post-apocalypticism of London Calling to the Spanish Civil War to the western themed Card Cheat. They showed themselves to be adept and an almost dizzying variety of musical styles. Paul Simonon, in particular really came into his own as a bass player on that record.

Sandinista, a sprawling 3 record release had flashes of the greatness of London Calling, but a lack of insight into editing the record down to just the best material hampered the release. Still some great material on that record.

I'm not too familiar with post-Sandinista records.

Last edited by tacoloco; 02-17-2010 at 12:46 PM.
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Old 02-17-2010, 12:55 PM
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London Calling is the only album of theirs worth listening too. I couldn't sit through and listen to any of their other albums.


Combat Rock is the closest to perfection in an album I have ever witnessed. Not that it necessarily has the best songs, but it just hangs together wonderfully, especially Side One.
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Old 02-17-2010, 01:28 PM
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Sandinista, a sprawling 3 record release had flashes of the greatness of London Calling, but a lack of insight into editing the record down to just the best material hampered the release.
Editing it down to eliminate the fluff was never an issue--they intentionally inflated it with all that seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dub stuff. If they'd only skipped all that, or limited it to one or two cuts, they would have had a solid double LP of songs every inch the equal or better to London Calling. Probably better, because even without the dub experiemnts it's a much more varied album.

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I'm not too familiar with post-Sandinista records.
To me Combat Rock is their pinnacle; but it gets unfairly maligned because the band suddenly lost all their hipster cred by having hits. Cut the Cheese, er, Crap was dire, probably one of the biggest about-faces in pop music history, and a truly pathetic swan song for a band that no longer mattered.
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Old 02-17-2010, 01:32 PM
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London Calling is the only album of theirs worth listening too. I couldn't sit through and listen to any of their other albums.
Totally disagree, but YMMV. As others have said, their first few albums have some truly great songs that stand up over time.

And yeah, "the only band that matters" was a marketing line, but it wouldn't've gotten any traction if it didn't voice something that was true. Yes, the Clash were political - but compared to the Sex Pistols there was a strain of thoughtful, Woody Guthrie-to-Bob Dylan commentary vs. just the agitprop of God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the U.K. And the Clash weren't merely aggressive - they were passionate. They weren't just disruptors - they (especially Joe Strummer) positioned themselves as leaders. We can argue that change through music is more of an ideal than an actuality and the Clash didn't effect any real change, but they came across as legit.
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Old 02-17-2010, 01:53 PM
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Editing it down to eliminate the fluff was never an issue--they intentionally inflated it with all that seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dub stuff. If they'd only skipped all that, or limited it to one or two cuts, they would have had a solid double LP of songs every inch the equal or better to London Calling. Probably better, because even without the dub experiemnts it's a much more varied album.
A very good point. I admit to not quite giving Sandinista the kudos it deserves. I guess I have some homework to do and give it some attention.

I'm listening to London Calling right now on good headphones and it still sounds fresh to me.
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Old 02-17-2010, 01:54 PM
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What I find truly amusing is that when I first got into the Clash - with the release of Give Em Enough Rope - I thought their first album was a little too raw for me. Now, 25 years down the line, it impresses me as quite melodic!
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Old 02-17-2010, 02:00 PM
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The phrase was ironic hyperbole referring to the band's working class and political bent. No one ever took it at face value, but it did mean that the group was trying to be write and sing songs with a political message in a time when music was primarily just mindless melodies.
The working class bit is arguable - Strummer's dad was a professional diplomat.
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Old 02-17-2010, 02:17 PM
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It's just typical media hype, always looking for the next big thing, emphasized by their seeming workin'- class "realness". Same hype machine that put Springsteen on the covers of Time & Newsweek way back when, & labled him the "Rock's New Superstar"" or whatever the corny quote was. Sure the Clash were great & no one can deny their influence, but take that particular slogan with a big grain of salt.

( Now, if we were talking about U2 or The Who, of course.........)

But, what the hell, the hype's all part of fun I guess, gotta feed the machine. To look at it too closely at it is like going to a sci-fi movie and saying "Oh I'm so sure!" the whole time. A little suspension of disbelief helps us all get through the day !
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Old 02-17-2010, 02:38 PM
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"The only band that matters" was more a snarky dig at the haircut dance bands than anything measurably relevant about the Clash.
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Old 02-17-2010, 07:11 PM
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Insert obligatory reference to REM as "the only band that mutters".

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Old 02-17-2010, 07:37 PM
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One big thing they had going for them was they actually cared about their fans. In the early days the band would commonly sneak people in through the dressing room or got people onto the guest list when they couldn't afford a ticket. When their show at the Bonds casino in new york they ended up staying and playing 17 shows to accommodate everyone who bought tickets instead of canceling.

The group also fought to keep the price of their albums affordable. London Calling was originally sold as a double disc for the price of a single. I believe that Sandinista was also similarly discounted.

Musically they were were somewhat a cut above. Their first album varied it's sound significantly more than the other original crop of brit punk bands. Police and Thieves & White Man In Hammersmith Palais both delved into reggae, which would become a prominent part of the sound in the coming years. Later on The Clash started using other styles in their songs, such as rockabilly,ska and jazz. They also managed to managed to create their own sound style. Joe Strummer's simple guitar playing and distinct voice juxtaposed with Topper Headon's(who was originally a jazz drummer) brilliant drumming helped to generate a uniqueness that wasn't found in any other bands of the day. They also managed to evolve and stay significant without jumping on the new wave bandwagon.

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Old 02-17-2010, 08:09 PM
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They also managed to evolve and stay significant without jumping on the new wave bandwagon.
As I said, and as evidenced by the above quote, it was largely a case street-cred snobbery to distinguish themselves from the new wave acts, which were considered by Clash fans to be artistically inferior. Nothing unusual there; fans of one genre will always see more in their favorite artists than in artists under a different genre, whether the comparison is valid or not.

Needless to say, there were serious artists and poseurs among all the genres of the 80s--as in genres of any era--but the line was pretty distinctly drawn between punk and new wave. A few acts like the Clash and Siouxsie had respect across the divide, but the Clash had a lot of fans that looked down their noses at any music they viewed as inauthentic.
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Old 02-17-2010, 08:12 PM
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The group also fought to keep the price of their albums affordable. London Calling was originally sold as a double disc for the price of a single. I believe that Sandinista was also similarly discounted.

Definitely true. I remember when London Calling came out, and it was the same price as other single albums, approximately $7.98 at the time. We all found it to be a very good deal, with 18 cuts for such a low price (actually 19, with "Train in Vain," which was not mentioned on the album cover, and which soon would be a top 10 hit). There was so much ecclecticism spread over those cuts, also, with rockabilly, ska, jazz and reggae-flavoured tunes that were definitely a departure from the self-titled first album and Give 'Em Enough Rope, both of which were pretty much punk, but much less threatening punk than that of the Sex Pistols/Buzzcocks/Siouxie and the Banshees type. The other thing is that the group was on record in the rock press as fighting with Epic, their label, to keep the price down, although this was likely a marketing gimmick to ensure sales.

Unfortunately, Sandanista! which was also inexpensive with 36 (!) cuts in reminiscent of The Beatles' White Album -- it would have made a much better album if it had been shortened, although it basically took the idea of an album like London Calling and expanded it to a third disc. I wouldn't say avoid it totally, but it's definitely not the Clash album one would start with.

Incidentally, the same idea of a longer than normal album at a regular album price would next be utilized for Elvis Costello and the Attractions Get Happy!
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Old 02-17-2010, 09:07 PM
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Combat Rock is the closest to perfection in an album I have ever witnessed. Not that it necessarily has the best songs, but it just hangs together wonderfully, especially Side One.
Combat Rock stands as the 2nd greatest rock album ever recorded, right behind The Shape Of Punk To Come by Refused.

nitpick: Joe Strummer is the reason the band had a political bent to it at all. When he joined the band, Mick was the principal songwriter, and most of his songs were (and continued to be) pop songs about love. Joe came in and the first thing he did, he heard Mick play a song called "I'm So Bored With You" and he changed it to "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A.". Musically, what brought them together was a love for The Ramones, another loud fast band that mostly wrote pop song-style ditties.

Also, Topper was an incredibly gifted drummer, able to change styles within a song and helping the band come up with bridges. Unfortunately, he is also a heroin addict, and the time they spent in NYC recording Combat Rock also placed him in easy reach of the drug. The time they spent in NYC opened the guys' up to new influences such as the bourgening hip-hop/breakdance scene, but it also brought Topper's addiction to the fore. To his great credit, he acknowledges that it was his addiction that ultimately brought down the band, as issues arising from it fueled other disagreements until it was a spiral that could not be stopped. His confession and acknowledgement of this burden are very forthright and sad (it's in either Westway To The World or The Essential Clash DVD).

For me, The Clash exist right at the pinnacle of Rock-N-Roll Mountain, up there with The Minutemen and Neil Young in that class of Musicians Who Can Pretty Much Nail Any Song Or Style They Try.

Oh, and if you don't think Combat Rock is one of the greatest recordings of all time, I urge you to go back, listen to it again all the way thru while reading the lyrics, and then realize that most of them were about 25 years old or so when they wrote those songs (Joe Strummer was about 28 years old).
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Old 02-17-2010, 09:14 PM
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Combat Rock? Am I living in an alternate reality? A good album, but hell I'd put Big Audio Dynamites first album as a better example of a 'perfect' album ahead of Combat Rock.
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Old 02-17-2010, 09:43 PM
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So I just listened to the self titled album.

The album kind of starts off slowly. Remote Control was kind of mediocre and uninteresting. I'm So Bored With The USA wasn't all that great either. I really disliked the chorus on that song. The next song, White Riot was good. The beginning reminded me of The Ramones and the rest of the song was great too. From that point on until Police & Thieves, I enjoyed it. I don't care too much for the Reggae so Police & Thieves kind of sucked. The final two songs were pretty good.
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:00 PM
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Mark me down as a Combat Rock fan. "Straight To Hell" and "Rock The Casbah" are damn near perfect songs.

Incidentally, Topper Headon played all of the major instruments on "Rock The Casbah" - drums, piano, bass. I believe the guitars are courtesy of Messrs. Strummer and Jones. And as any Austinite knows, the video was filmed around town, featuring RF-4Cs from Bergstrom AFB and sweaty kids rushing the (old) City Coliseum. Good times.

One of the things I'm proudest of as a father is that my 2.5 year old son is a Clash fan. "Bankrobber," "White Riot," "Rock the Casbah," and "The Call Up" are his favorite songs. To me, they started out like so many of the punk groups, but when Topper got on board they became multidimensional. Reggae, folk, rockabilly, and even hip hop were well within their oeuvre. Headon is easily one of the most underrated drummers of his time.

I actually like some of the songs on Cut the Crap although the album doesn't hang together particularly well. "This is England" and "Are You Red...y" are good songs, even if it's basically Strummer, Simonon, some pinch-hitters, and Bernie Rhodes interfering.

I will say this: The Clash are a band with one of the broadest palates I can think of. I tend to go through phases with music and I can always find a Clash song that fits my mood. Whereas if I'm listening to Joy Division (another band I love) for a few weeks and tire of it, I can't listen to any of their stuff.
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Old 02-18-2010, 08:01 AM
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I don't care too much for the Reggae so Police & Thieves kind of sucked.
I'm speechless!
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:06 AM
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I'm speechless!
It also felt like it was dragging on. I would have liked it better as a three minute song!

Just my opinion.
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:21 AM
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I don't care too much for the Reggae so Police & Thieves kind of sucked.
Reggae is perhaps the single worst form of music on the planet, IMO, but I love 2 of the best reggae bands in the world: The Clash and The Police.

I agree that P&T is overly long at 6 minutes, but I still find that I enjoy the song every time I hear it. It's definitely the weakest part of the album, but as a show of talent and diversity (and a kind of nod of the head to their influences) it's a pretty remarkable thing. I mean, keep in mind that most of the guys in the band were 20-21 years old when they wrote and recorded this album.

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Old 02-18-2010, 11:25 AM
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No man, I know it is (largely) taste - and that's cool. Just had to laugh because I get a thrill every time I hear that bass line ...
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:26 AM
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Combat Rock? Am I living in an alternate reality? A good album, but hell I'd put Big Audio Dynamites first album as a better example of a 'perfect' album ahead of Combat Rock.
Yeah, maybe I should go back to Combat Rock and listen to it again, but I'm surprised at some of the superlatives here. I've just never been able to get into anything post-London Calling. Sandanista! was an absolute mess of an album, in my opinion, with a few exceptional cuts. And Combat Rock was kind of boring.
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:36 AM
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Combat Rock? Am I living in an alternate reality?
Yes. Yes you are. A horrible, taste-free alternative reality.

As I said, it doesn't have my favorite Clash songs on it, but those first six songs that make up Side 1 just work together. I've noticed that it is distinctly less awesome when one of them comes up when I have the iPod on shuffle (and that's not just because it was better on vinyl, dagnammit).
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Old 02-18-2010, 12:02 PM
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Yeah, maybe I should go back to Combat Rock and listen to it again, but I'm surprised at some of the superlatives here. I've just never been able to get into anything post-London Calling. Sandanista! was an absolute mess of an album, in my opinion, with a few exceptional cuts. And Combat Rock was kind of boring.
Sandanista! is kind of a mess, due to the band simply putting everything they wrote and recorded on to the album. There was no editing process to wean them down to 10 or 12 or 15 great songs, they simply released (nearly) everything they recorded.

Combat Rock is far from boring, encompassing at least as many musical styles as there are songs, and with contributions from such diverse talents as Ellen Foley (you might remember her as the female part of Paradise By The Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf)*, beat poet Allen Ginsburg and graffiti artist Futura 2000. "Boring" really isn't a word that can be used to describe the album, IMO.



*Many people (most?) don't know that Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now? was about Mick Jones' and Ellen Foley's relationship.
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Old 02-18-2010, 12:10 PM
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Combat Rock is far from boring, encompassing at least as many musical styles as there are songs, and with contributions from such diverse talents as Ellen Foley (you might remember her as the female part of Paradise By The Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf)*, beat poet Allen Ginsburg and graffiti artist Futura 2000. "Boring" really isn't a word that can be used to describe the album, IMO.
I'll have a relisten. It's been awhile since I heard it as an album, but I always find myself skipping through Combat Rock songs when they come up on shuffle. I do like that Refused album, though, so it's kind of surprising to me to hear these two albums mentioned in the same breath.
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Old 02-18-2010, 12:11 PM
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*Many people (most?) don't know that Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now? was about Mick Jones' and Ellen Foley's relationship.
He didn't realize that she was about to catapult to fame on the tv sitcom Night Court.
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Old 02-18-2010, 12:24 PM
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He didn't realize that she was about to catapult to fame on the tv sitcom Night Court.
Well, she was only on the show for the first season, before being replaced by the terribly coifed but impressively endowed Markie Post.

Ms. Foley did appear in some movies (Cocktail, Fatal Attraction) and on Broadway (Into The Woods).

I read that she now teaches voice at one of the Paul Green Schools in NYC.

Plus she was famous before Night Court. She had appeared in the movie version of Hair and had released a couple of albums. Mick and Joe even wrote 4 or 5 songs for one of her albums and the whole band played for her at times.

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Old 02-18-2010, 12:36 PM
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[Combat Rock is far from boring, encompassing at least as many musical styles as there are songs, and with contributions from such diverse talents as Ellen Foley
Actually, her big song is on Sandinista! (and a great song it is)--does she also appear anywhere on Combat Rock?
  #40  
Old 02-18-2010, 12:37 PM
pulykamell is online now
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Originally Posted by Snowboarder Bo View Post
Well, she was only on the show for the first season
[nitpick]
Actually, it was the second season. The public defender the first season was Paula Kelly as Liz Williams.
[/nitpick]
  #41  
Old 02-18-2010, 02:16 PM
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
[nitpick]
Actually, it was the second season. The public defender the first season was Paula Kelly as Liz Williams.
[/nitpick]
Sorry, everything about the other women on the show has pretty much been removed from my brain to make room for Ms. Post's ample talents.

Last edited by Snowboarder Bo; 02-18-2010 at 02:18 PM.
  #42  
Old 02-18-2010, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew View Post
Actually, her big song is on Sandinista! (and a great song it is)--does she also appear anywhere on Combat Rock?
She did backing vocals on Car Jamming.
  #43  
Old 02-18-2010, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Snowboarder Bo View Post
...and on Broadway (Into The Woods).


Plus she was famous before Night Court

Oh yeah - I'm with you - I was just going for the funny. She starred in Little Shop of Horrors on B'way, too, IIRC...she's a legit talent...

...but apparently without Markie Post's, um, assets...
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