The Clash got together in 1976, and they are one of the most memorable names in 1970s British punk music to this day. They experimented with numerous other musical styles, including funk, reggae and rockabilly. While the band’s members changed a few times, their classic lineup included drummer Topper Headon, bassist Paul Simonon, guitarist Mick Jones, and lead vocalist Joe Strummer.
The band’s raw and energetic music style was clear from the release of their debut self-titled album in 1977. They never shied away from politically charged lyrics, their first album containing songs such as “White Riot,” “London’s Burning,” and “I’m So Bored with the USA.” The album also contained “Career Opportunities,” a song that the band would later move away from when they got famous. They refused to look like hypocrites, and recognized that they could not sing about financial struggles once they had achieved fame and success.
The Clash had a number of fast-paced and raucous hits, but they also knew how to slow things down. Their third album, and one of their most popular, was 1979’s London Calling. The album contained relatively fast-paced hits such as “Clampdown” and “Rudie Can’t Fail,” but also contained songs that combined a sense of energy with a steady and determined beat, such as “London Calling” and “Lost in the Supermarket.” The album also contained one of their most notable reggae-inspired songs, “The Guns of Brixton.”
Moving into the 1980s, the Clash became more and more inspired by other genres of music. Their fourth album, Sandinista! contained songs that were inspired by everything from calypso, funk, jazz and reggae to gospel, folk, rockabilly and R&B. A rap influence can even be heard in the song “The Magnificent Seven.” This was also the last studio album to contain “Career Opportunities,” albeit an altered version with much younger vocalists. The band would then release their last commercially successful album, Combat Rock, in 1982, containing songs such as “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Their final album, 1985’s Cut the Crap, contained one notable song, “This is England.”
Throughout the band’s career, they consistently took on political issues that they considered to be notable. This is particularly astounding considering that the band’s personal backgrounds were relatively varied. While Joe Strummer was the child of a diplomat, Paul Simonon’s background revolved mostly around art school. Whether from a background that involved struggle or privilege, the band’s members were able to agree upon certain societal changes that they wanted to see, and they used these beliefs to drive the lyrics of their most popular songs.
The musical style and political leanings of the Clash were influential on many music groups that would follow them for years to come, such as Nirvana and Green Day. Along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash are one of the major reasons that political rebellion is so ingrained into punk culture. It is a testament to the band’s legacy that their music is still as memorable today as it was decades ago, when a relatively unknown band first rose to popularity in the British music scene.
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