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The Clash were an English punk rock band, active from 1976 to 1986, and part of the original wave of UK punk rock in the late 1970s. Although a punk rock band, the band experimented with reggae, funk, New Wave, dub, and rockabilly in their music. The band were formed by Joe Strummer (vocals, guitar), Mick Jones (vocals, lead guitar) and Paul Simonon (guitar, vocals). After a revolving drumming position, they were joined in 1977 by Topper Headon (drums and percussion). Untill the untimely departure of Headon in 1982 and Jones in 1983 due to internal friction, this is the lineup from what is generally considered the band's peak, and was the lineup inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After Jones' departure in 1983, the band disbanded a couple of years after that.
The Clash were a major success in the UK from the release of their first album in 1977, and became popular in the U.S. in 1980. Their third album, the late 1979 release London Calling is an influential album in the history of rock music; it was released in the U.S. in January 1980, and a decade later Rolling Stone magazine declared it the best album of the 1980s. Rolling Stone also placed it at #8 on their 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The band's music was often charged by a leftist political ideology. They are credited with pioneering the advocacy of radical politics in punk rock, and were known as the "Thinking Man's Yobs" by many simply for voicing a political slant other than anarchism. They were never driven entirely by money; even at their peak, tickets to shows and souvenirs were reasonably priced. The group insisted that CBS sell their double and triple album sets London Calling and Sandinista! for the price of a single album each (then £5), succeeding with the former and compromising with the latter by agreeing to sell it for £5.99 and forfeit all their royalties on its first 200,000 sales. These "VFM" (Value For Money) principles meant that they were constantly in debt to CBS, and only started to break even around 1982.
The Clash's attitude and style, as much as their music, influenced many other bands from the 1980s. Epic Records A&R director dubbed them "The Only Band That Matters." They are one of the most prominent and prolific punk rock bands and their influence is far reaching. In 2003 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked The Clash #30 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Formation and first years: 1976–1978
Originally composed of Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Keith Levene and Terry Chimes (credited, as a pun, on their first LP as "Tory Crimes"), the Clash formed in Ladbroke Grove, West London in 1976, during the first wave of British punk. Levene (later of Public Image Ltd.) was a friend of Mick Jones and served as guitarist and songwriter with The Clash, but never recorded with the band. According to Mick Jones in the 1999 Clash documentary Westway to the World, Levene was kicked out for never showing up to practice. Strummer had previously played in the pub rock act The 101'ers (his stage name at this point was Woody Mellor; soon he renamed himself "Joe Strummer", a reference to his rudimentary strumming skills on the ukulele as a busker in the London Underground); Jones, Simonon, and Tony James (later of Generation X) were (briefly) in legendary proto-punk band London SS. At the behest of their manager Bernie Rhodes, Jones, Levene, and Simonon recruited the slightly older Strummer from the 101'ers. "You're great," they told him, "but your group is shite". Strummer agreed to join the group, which was eventually named The Clash, after the band had considered alternatives including 'The Weak Heartdrops' and 'The Psychotic Negatives'.The Clash had their first gig on July 4, 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols. Leading up to the gig, Simonon stated that he felt the band weren't good enough to play a live show. He decided to go on with it after meeting with Johnny Ramone earlier that day, who told him, "We stink. You don't have to be good, just get out there and play". That autumn the band was signed to CBS Records. In early September, Levene left. On September 21, 1976 the band performed at the 100 Club Punk Festival, sharing the bill with the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Subway Sect. Chimes left in late November (briefly replaced by Rob Harper for the Anarchy Tour in December 1976) but was soon drafted back to record their debut album. The band released their first single ("White Riot/1977") and first album (The Clash) in 1977 to considerable success in the UK. However, CBS initially declined to release either in the United States, waiting until 1979 before releasing a modified version of the first album in the U.S., after the UK original had become the best-selling import album of all time in the United States. Following the release of their first album, Chimes left amicably due to personal differences with the remaining members. In the documentary Westway to the World, Mick Jones referred to him as one of "the best drummers around". But Chimes, who had no great wish to make a career from music, said, "The point was that I wanted one kind of life - they wanted another, and why are we working together, if we want completely different things?" Chimes later joined the glam punk group Hanoi Rocks. The band experienced a period of changing drummers. After some time with Mick Jones handling drum duties, the band finally recruited Nicholas Bowen Headon, nicknamed "Topper" by Simonon, because he resembled the famous comic's cartoon cover star, "Mickey the Monkey". Headon had solid timing and excellent musical skills, being able to play other instruments as bass, organ and guitar. He was originally planning to stay briefly and gain a name for himself, before finding a better band. Realizing the band's potential he changed his plans and stayed in the band. In Westway To The World Strummer noted, "If we hadn't found Topper, I don't think we'd have got anywhere".
Commercial and critical recognitition: 1978–1982
With Topper Headon firmly in place on drums, the Clash recorded Give 'Em Enough Rope in 1978. Produced by Sandy Pearlman, whose previous credits included the American heavy metal band Blue Oyster Cult, the album had a straighter rock sound that many British fans found disappointing. However, the band's fan base in the US grew with the release of this album and the reconstituted The Clash in 1979. The Clash then recorded London Calling. Produced by Guy Stevens, who had previously worked with Mott the Hoople and others, the album had a sound that was more in keeping with the band's personality, allowing for a mix of rock, punk, reggae, and ska elements that recalled the band's earlier days, but also had greater maturity and production polish. The album contained 2 LPs and ended with a hidden track not noted in the song list. Called "Train in Vain", it received the most airplay on album-oriented rock (AOR) FM stations in the U.S. To follow up on this success, the Clash planned to record and release a single every month in 1980. Their record label, CBS, balked at this idea, however. Instead, these efforts resulted in the sprawling album Sandinista!. Containing elements of rock, punk, reggae (including extended dubs), ska, and (somewhat) tongue-in-check stabs at jazz and disco, unified by a heavily echoed sound, this 3-LP, 36-song album was their most controversial to date, both politically and musically. Some viewed it as their most complete statement, while many others found it indulgent and incoherent. The album had no catchy single and, in the increasingly conservative environment of AOR FM radio in the U.S., received minimal airplay. The band retrenched and recorded their fifth album Combat Rock. Combat Rock was originally planned as a double album with the title Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg, but the idea was scrapped after internal wrangling within the group. Mick Jones had produced the first cut, but the other members were dissatisfied and producing duties were handed to Glyn Johns at which point the album became a single LP. The original cut has since been obtained and subsequently bootlegged. Simpler and more straightforward than Sandinista!, the album contained the single Should I Stay or Should I Go? which received heavy airplay in the U.S. on AOR FM stations. The following single, Rock the Casbah, a song about the Iranian clampdown on imports of Western music, was a bona fide Top 40 hit in the U.S., with heavy rotation on MTV.
Tension and disintegration: 1982–1986
After Combat Rock, the Clash began to disintegrate. Topper Headon was asked to leave the band just prior to the release of the album, due to his heroin addiction, which was hurting his health and drumming. The band's original drummer, Terry Chimes, was brought back for the next few months. The loss of Headon brought much friction, as he was an essential part of the band and well-liked by the others. Jones and Strummer began to feud. The band, although still touring arenas and opening up for The Who in stadiums on their tour in 1982 did not get along well; the original dates for the UK leg of the Combat Rock tour were cancelled when Strummer disappeared. The band continued to tour, but by 1983, the years of constant touring and recording took their toll. They were growing as musicians and individuals, but they were not able to cope with the tension and stress. Chimes left the band after the 1982-1983 Combat Rock tour, due to the in-fighting and turmoil. In 1983, drummer Pete Howard joined the band for the US Festival in San Bernardino, California, of which The Clash were, along with David Bowie and Van Halen, co-headliners. The crowd of roughly half a million was by far the biggest of the Clash's career. This was Jones' last appearance with The Clash. In September 1983, Jones was fired due to his problematic behaviour and divergent musical aspirations. Jones went on to found Big Audio Dynamite (BAD) with Don Letts, and both Strummer and Simonon collaborated with BAD at various times. The band picked Nick Sheppard, formerly of the Bristol-based Cortinas, and Vince White as the band's new guitarists. Howard continued to be the drummer. The band played its first shows in January 1984 with a batch of new material and launched into a self-financed tour, dubbed the "Out of Control" tour, and they toured heavily over the winter and into early summer. At a striking miners' benefit show ("Scargill's Christmas Party") in December 1984, they announced that a new record would be released early in the new year. The recording sessions for Cut the Crap were chaotic, with manager Bernie Rhodes and Strummer working in Munich, Germany. Most of the parts were played by studio musicians, with Sheppard and later White flying in to come up with guitar parts. Struggling with Rhodes for control of the band, Strummer returned home. The band went on a busking tour, playing in public spaces in cities throughout the UK where they played acoustic versions of their hits and popular cover tunes. After a gig in Athens, Strummer went to Spain to clear his mind. While Strummer was gone, the first single from Cut the Crap, "This Is England" was released to mostly negative reviews at the time. However, it should be noted that respected critic Dave Marsh later championed "This Is England" as one of the top 100 rock singles of all time, in his book "The Heart of Rock & Soul", and the single has also received retroactive praise from Q Magazine and others. "This Is England", much like the rest of the album that came out later that year, had been drastically re-engineered by Rhodes, with synths, drum machines, and football-style chants being added to Strummer's incomplete recordings. For the remainder of his life Strummer publicly disowned the album, although he did express the sentiment that "This Is England" was the last good Clash single. To this day, however, most fans disregard the existence of Cut The Crap as a legitimate release by The Clash, and even some officially-sanctioned Clash discographies and and histories omit any mention of it. Other songs played on the tour remain unreleased to this day: "Jericho", "Glue Zombie", and "In the Pouring Rain". Although Howard was an adept drummer, virtually all of the percussion tracks were produced by drum machines. The Clash was effectively disbanded in early 1986, and the members went on to other projects.
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