The Clash - The Clash (Cover Artwork)

The Clash

The Clash (1977)


The Clash’s self-titled debut album, released in April of 1977 in the UK and in 1979 in the US, was and remains an all-time classic for the genre. In fact, the staying power for the record is its incontrovertible link as a blueprint for punk itself. The discussion is certainly an apt one in terms of ‘chicken and egg.’ If this self-titled debut for The Clash was to be a blueprint and benchmark for nearly all punk records that came out after it, how do we even conceive it as a necessarily punk record? I’m not sure that we have to. The fact is, The Clash’s first full length was one of the strongest rock albums ever. Debut or otherwise. That it was a punk record only adds to its legacy and power.

It’s worth clarifying that I’m looking at the U.S. release here. That said, the first track, “Clash City Rockers,” an addition for the US version set the tone for the entire record. The choppy stop-start rhythms of Strummer’s guitar complemented by Mick’s apt and subtle leads offer the listener little time to adjust to what was The Clash’s strongest ability: to create aggressive music that is undeniably soulful and melodic. “I’m So Bored with the USA” only reinforced this ability by offering a decidedly rock n roll rhythm to an otherwise punkified topic. The chorus alone was a blueprint for all who would seek to offer politically charged anthems in the punk realm. Give the audience something to scream about, and then ask them what do about it. That’s blueprint in both songwriting and ethos.

The record’s sixth song, “White Man in Hammersmith Palais,” could very well be the first punk song to call out posers and fakes in the music underground. Another track added to the US release, this song would become one of the strongest in The Clash’s legendary canon. This song also captured the reggae influence of the band, particularly from Paul Simonon’s soulful bass lines. The music lulled the listener with a decidedly relaxed reggae rhythm. Meanwhile, Strummer was indicting us all for being more about the scene than being about the message. As we all played a part in “turning rebellion into money.” And of course, he delivered to us one of the most powerful lessons one should learn about music and musicians, “Offstage they ain’t got no roots, rock rebels.” No hero worship. No one person over another.

And then there was “Complete Control.” Similar to “Clash City Rockers,” the song’s musical rhythms were an exercise in the balance between Strummer and Jones, both laying down rocking but melodic rhythms and knowing just when to add a complex but not-at-all pretentious lead. But the power of this song was the lyrical content. The song seethed with the disenchantment of the working-class artists who’ve had the spotlight abruptly turned on them by bloated predatory music industry. Now that might sound melodramatic, and fair enough. But go back and revisit the song. Tell me otherwise. And what’s better, one can listen to “Complete Control” and not even need that context to feel its sonic power. Strummer yelling at the listener as the rest of The Clash spell out ‘control’ in the background. It’s genius in its simplicity.

Maybe the most recognizable song on the record, “London’s Burning,” was again another blueprint song. There was nothing particularly innovative going on musically or, in this song, even lyrically. But the whole sum of those innocuous parts made for an unforgettable anthem about boredom and isolation. This song would also go on to be one of The Clash’s mainstream favorites. This was a song that we could all enjoy, punk purist or not. It was, simply, a great song.

Interestingly, The Clash’s self-titled debut also included two cover songs in “I Fought the Law” and “Police & Thieves.” The latter was apparently added because the band needed to fill a track slot during production. Both seemed to give shape to The Clash’s aesthetic and ethos, besides being catchy songs in their own right. “Career Opportunities” was another great song clouded by the strength of some of the aforementioned groundbreakers. Similar to the cover songs, “Career Opportunities” did as much to develop The Clash’s ethos as it did to give credence to their sound. A working-class anthem, it offered the listener the opportunity to feel less alone in the workaday world.

The fact is, The Clash’s self-titled debut was more a musical preview of what was to come. In every song on the record, one hears the seeds that would flower into the songs on Give ‘Em Enough Rope and London Calling. The debut wasn’t transformative itself. It was a prelude. And while this self-titled record and those that would come after most certainly transformed the musical landscape, there was also an earnest humility in the music that allowed for so many different audiences to enjoy what Strummer and Jones and Simonon and and Chimes (and Headon) had to offer.