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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
I’ll listen to it when I get home and let you know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The working class bit is arguable - Strummer’s dad was a professional diplomat.
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…:p)
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 !
“The only band that matters” was more a snarky dig at the haircut dance bands than anything measurably relevant about the Clash.