Feb 26, 2014
They were my first love, from the moment I put the self-titled debut LP by The Clash on my primitive teenage turntable nothing would ever sound the same again.
I think I probably love the Clash more than their uneven output deserves; for every moment of genius, of brilliance, there is an equally indifferent track, or, in the case of triple-album Sandinista, around two LPs’ worth.
But when they were good, they were so, so good and never better than on this single from 1978. There’s so little to say that hasn’t been said and in this case it’s been neatly summarised on Wikipedia, give or take a handful of smithsocktweaks.
The song showed considerable musical and lyrical maturity for the band at the time and is stylistically more in line with their version of Junior Murvin‘s Police and Thieves as the powerful intro of descends into a slower ska rhythm, and was disorienting to a lot of the fans who had grown used to their earlier work.
“We were a big fat riff group, we weren’t supposed to do something like that,” Clash frontman Joe Strummer said in the documentary, The Clash: Westway to the World.
The song starts by recounting an all-night reggae showcase night at the Hammersmith Palais in London’s Shepherd’s Bush that was headlined by Dillinger, Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson. Strummer was disappointed and disillusioned that these performances had been more “pop” and “lightweight” similar to Ken Boothe’s brand of reggae with Four Tops-like dance routines, and that the acts had been “performances” rather than the roots rock rebellion that he had been hoping for.
It then moves away from the disappointing concert to address various other themes, nearly all relating to the state of the UK at the time. The song first gives an anti-violence message, then addresses the state of ‘wealth distribution’ in the UK, promotes unity between black and white youths of the country before moving on to address the state of the British punk rock scene in 1978 which was becoming more mainstream.
Or, too put it more succinctly, it’s one of the greatest records of all time, a magnificent triumph that’s as relevant today as it was 36 years ago
The Clash :: (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais ⬇
The rules say that for every five-star record I blog about, I have to follow it with four-, three- and two-star tunes that are somehow connected. But the rules don’t insist on the order, so, with three-stars, here is a largely impenetrable number from No Sleep ’Till Hammersmith, a hugely successful live LP released at the height of the new wave of British heavy metal in the early ’80s. Like the new wave of new wave that briefly waxed 10 years later, it was largely characterised by mediocre posturing, but that’s a criticism you could never direct at Lemmy and friends, whatever you might think of the music—or the lyrics.
Fourth day, five day marathon,
We’re moving like a parallelogram.
Motörhead :: Motörhead ⬇
Superfluous umlauts have generally the preserve of metal bands, so much so that the metal umlaut has it’s own Wikipedia entry. But you couldn’t get more musically removed than this French trio, whose umlaut masked an assumed name and a sensitivity not normally associated with that diacritic.
Herman Düne :: Drug Dealer in the Park ⬇ [free]
That two-star track only emphasises that the Düne were never quite as good as I hoped they would be. Although they were never confused with similarly-decorated metal bands, they were often assumed to be Swedish, which may be why they dumped the diacritic.
Equally lacking in Swedishness were perhaps the most underrated band on Factory records, just a decent name and a decent singer away from ’80s indie stardom. Certainly this track is well worth of the four stars that it receives in any comprehensibly meta-tagged iTunes collection.
Stockholm Monsters :: National Pastime ⬇
Strummer latterly performed (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais with his band the Mescaleros until his untimely 2002 death from an undiagnosed heart problem. And he was, he is, still right: if Adolf Hitler flew in today, Cameron would be there to meet him at the airport.
Joe Strummer :: White Man in Hammersmith Palais
Hammersmith Palais was demolished in 2012.
Photo: The Burton Cool Suit takes the heat off by SA_Steve.