The Clash 1977 Debut Album

The Clash’s Best Album: The Clash (U.S. Version)

The Clash were a key band from the first wave of British punk in the 1970s. Built around the songwriting team of vocalist Joe Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones, they quickly outgrew punk orthodoxy. The group topped their music with intelligent political statements – Strummer was a committed socialist. The Clash were labelled as “the only band that matters”, and enjoyed the adoration of UK critics.

The Clash Sandinista!

Terry Chimes (aka Tory Crimes) drummed on The Clash’s debut, but left soon afterwards and later enjoyed a career as a chiropractor. The Clash classic lineup’s rhythm section of Paul Simonon and Topper Headon were nimble and inventive players who adeptly adapted as the band move before the four-to-the-floor, three chord constraints of punk. By 1980’s ridiculously long triple-album Sandinista! The Clash were dabbling in everything from disco to children’s choirs.

Despite their later eclecticism, their punk debut is my favourite Clash album. Alarmingly for purists, my preference isn’t for the original 1977 version, but the bastardised 1979 release. The original 1977 version of The Clash was deemed too raw for the US market, although the album sold 100,000 copies as an import. When it was belatedly released in the US in 1979, it was a reworked version, with four of the original tracks replaced by five songs from later singles, as well as a more recent version of ‘White Riot’.

This makes the U.S. version of The Clash a compilation. The new songs are obvious, with crisper production and the upgrade of drummer from Terry Chimes to Topper Headon.

Why the U.S. version of The Clash is their best album

The Clash Give Em Enough Rope

For a beloved band, The Clash’s discography is patchy. They released six studio albums, but in my opinion there are only serious contenders for their best – 1979’s London Calling and The Clash. 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope suffers from a sterile corporate-rock sound, 1980’s overwhelming triple Sandinista! has a lot of great material and a lot of dreck, while 1982’s Combat Rock was accurately described by Brian Burks as “the ‘Rock The Casbah’ single with eleven weird B-sides.”

1985’s Cut The Crap was recorded after musical lynch-pin Mick Jones was ousted from the band, and is a textbook answer to the question “Name an awful album from a once-great band.” For me The Clash’s discography is spotty enough that The Clash’s out-takes collection Super Black Market Clash is their third best record.

The Clash London Calling

The double album London Calling is loaded with great tracks – as well as the epic title track, there are classics like Mick Jones’ ‘Train in Vain’, Paul Simonon’s spotlight ‘The Guns of Brixton’, rockers like ‘Spanish Bombs’ and ‘Death or Glory’, and the ska of ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’. It’s a terrific album and a half, but tails off towards the end.

The Clash maintains its intensity from start to finish, and the US version adds diversity, with the mainstream rock of the newer singles rubbing against the basic punk of the original album. It also might be fate – the US version of The Clash was released on 26 July 1979, almost exactly forty years ago, and two days before I was released into the world.

Key Tracks

(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais

One of the new songs added to the US version, ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ is an incredible hybridisation of reggae and rock. It starts with a big rock riff, drops into a reggae groove, then alternates between reggae and rock, throwing in a harmonica solo.

It’s an ambitious piece but the tight band make it work. Topper Headon’s drum work is superlative, jumping between showboating rock fills and a chill groove. Joe Strummer’s vocal is charismatic, especially his rolled rs on “Onstage you ain’t got no roots rock rebel”. Strummer later said “we were a big fat riff group. We weren’t supposed to do something like that.”

In 2003, the British music magazine Uncut ranked ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ as The Clash’s best song, voted by a panel including Jones, Simonon, and Chimes.

Complete Control

Another strong song added to the US version of the album, ‘Complete Control’ blasts CBS records for releasing ‘Remote Control’ as The Clash’s second single without consultation. The song was produced by dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, and marked Headon’s first recording with The Clash.

This is Joe Public speaking
I’m controlled in the body, controlled in the mind

Joe Strummer, Complete Control

Janie Jones

Name-checked in High Fidelity as one of the five best track one, side one songs ever, on the US version of The Clash ‘Janie Jones’ is relegated to opening the second side. It’s one of the raw punk songs that characterise the debut,

‘Janie Jones’ was titled after a real person, a cabaret singer famous for her 1970s sex parties, who was jailed for “controlling prostitutes.” Members of The Clash played on her 1983 single ‘House of the Ju-Ju Queen’, while both Janie and Mick Jones appeared in the music video for Babyshambles’ 2006 cover of ‘Janie Jones’.

Police & Thieves

The Clash’s six minute cover of Junior Murvin’s reggae ‘Police and Thieves’ is an obvious outlier among the rapid-fire punk songs of The Clash. Simonon in particular was a fan of reggae, growing up in London neighbourhoods with large West Indian populations, and recording the cover was a show of solidarity for an immigrant group that had been systematically targeted by the police. Murvin’s first reaction to The Clash’s interpretation was that “They have destroyed Jah work!”

Do The Experts Agree?

Robert Christgau wrote in Village Voice that “Cut for cut, this may be the greatest rock and roll album ever manufactured in the U.S. …. The U.K. version of The Clash is the greatest rock and roll album ever manufactured anywhere.”

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  1. The US version is the one I knew the best. I really liked their take on I Fought The Law and I also liked Jail Guitar Doors…
    As far as my favorite…it would probably have to be London Calling because I played it non stop. Both are great albums.

    • The US version was the only one available in NZ when I became a Clash fan. You’d think it would make sense to make a deluxe version with the original UK version first and everything else as bonus tracks. If you buy all their original albums, you miss out on the singles that were added to the US version of The Clash, and that’s some of their best stuff IMO.

      • It would make sense to do that. You should have a choice to have it all. I do agree with you on the album…there is more diversity on the US version…

  2. I have never come across this US version and the additions are good. I trust it includes my favourite tracks from the original: I’m So Bored With the USA and Career Opportunities, plus Garageland, one of the most deceitful lyrics ever written, in which boarding school-educated Strummer claims to be a working class kid, whereas he and Simonon were pure middle class and just cashing in on the punk explosion. There is, of course, nothing wrong with coming from such a background – and nothing you can do about it anyway, but it does make me feel I was duped. I started to smell a rat around the time of London Calling, in which Jimmy Jazz was just too sophisticated for its own good (nice tune though it is). And when they got Euro-political on Spanish Bombs the alarm bells really rang. How many of va kidz in Lahndahn had even heard of Andalusia, never mind giving a toss about it.
    If your word “spotty” means what I would call patchy, it’s an accurate description of their albums. Diamonds and dross.

    • I always understood that Jones and Simonon were working class – Strummer obviously wasn’t. But on the other hand Strummer wrote most of the lyrics. Garageland was the name of a relatively prominent NZ alt rock band – obviously named after The Clash Song.

      All those tracks are on the US version.

  3. If my math is correct, happy 40th!
    If asked prior to reading, I might have said London Calling was the preference – but I may be convinced that this one could be superior!

    • It’s a close (and controversial) call. If I was in charge of sequencing/collating London Calling I would have included the ten minute dub b-side ‘Armagideon Time/Justice Tonight’ – it would have ruled.

    • I think it fell victim to its own hype for me – when I became a fan it was getting lauded left, right and centre. Hard to live up to those expectations, and I think there are a few nondescript songs near the end like ‘Lover’s Rock’ and ‘Revolution Rock’.

  4. The U.S. version of The Clash is also my favorite of theirs. I don’t think I’ve even heard the original UK version. This is the album that turned me on to punk rock. (I stayed with punk, oh, maybe a fortnight!) It’s more raw, angry, and English than London Calling, which is why the latter did better in the states. After hearing both records, I bought Give ‘Em Enough Rope and was very disappointed. I think Guy Stevens produced it, and the sound was just flat.

  5. Such a hard call. Like and agree with your US version call* but will award this and LC a tie.

    * Have you noticed that in the years since its release in the US, that LP version of Magical Mystery Tour (UK EP + singles) has become the ‘standard’? Another example of a compilation that enhances.

  6. I think we were done this road when I first found your site. I might like ‘Rope’ a bit more than most people that are commenting. I just like them but I do like when they rock. It’s what drew me to them.

  7. Sorry Graham, as a Clash aficionado of 1977 vintage, the US version of the debut album has no place in my consciousness! Old Christgau is right about the UK version. I remember playing it virtually non-stop, again and again on a car journey from Buckinghamshire to Manchester and back in those wonderful days. We had not heard the like.

    I rate Give ‘Em Enough Rope much more than you do too, but I agree that London Calling isn’t quite all it is made out to be.

    My Clash top ten:-

    (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
    White Riot
    London’s Burning
    Safe European Home
    Complete Control
    Straight To Hell
    Washington Bullets
    All The Young Punks
    The Prisoner

    I’ve tried to spread them out across the albums. I could have picked ten others. Garageland, for example is unlucky not to be in there.

  8. The thing about the US version is that it contains material such as (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, which was released in June 1978, a full fourteen months after the release of the original UK album and May 1979’s I Fought The Law. Therefore it is from a different time in The Clash’s musical development (a bit like putting Hey Jude on Sgt. Pepper) and, maybe just as important, a completely different time in my own personal history.

    That said, though, I do understand why the US version appeals to you, though, coming to it as you did many years later – why should it not? Good music is good music. However, anyone with aspirations to full-blown Clash appreciation has to listen to the debut album in its glorious, original UK incarnation.

    Diverging slightly, another interesting thing to read is US listeners’ attitudes to/memories of Beatles albums like Rubber Soul, when, of course, they initially listened to a slightly different collection of songs released as Rubber Soul – no Drive My Car etc. For them, Rubber Soul has no Drive My Car, it opened with I’ve Just Seen A Face.

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