The Clash Sandinista!

The Clash: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Billed as “the only band that matters”, The Clash released their debut single ‘White Riot’ in the iconic punk year of 1977. But they weren’t constrained by punk – their debut explored the reggae they heard on London’s streets and they’d soon start exploring everything from disco to dub. The classic Clash lineup featured vocalist Joe Strummer, one of rock’s best political lyricists, and guitarist Mick Jones, supported ably by the rhythm section of Topper Headon and Paul Simonon.

Despite their obvious merits, The Clash’s discography is patchy – of their 6 albums, I count two classics, three records with flaws, and one write-off. I only ranked their studio albums on this list. But because their discography is inconsistent, I’d prioritise the live record From Here to Eternity: Live and the odds and sods on Super Black Market Clash over most of their studio records. The Clash’s initial tenure lasted from 1977’s The Clash to 1985’s Cut The Crap. Jones and Strummer had recommenced writing together shortly before Strummer’s untimely death.

If you’re reading this post in the WordPress Reader, I tried messing around with some fancy new blocks in WordPress – if it comes out funny, read it directly on my site at https://albumreviews.blog/.

06

Cut The Crap

The Clash’s final album was made without musical lynchpin Mick Jones and ace drummer Topper Headon. Jones was fired for musical differences after he started experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers. While The Clash recruited new members, Cut The Crap was created in a cheap Munich studio by manager Bernie Rhodes and Joe Strummer, dominated by drum machines and synthesizers. There’s one strong song, the world-weary ‘This Is England’, but you need to wade through dreck like the failed anthem ‘We Are The Clash’ and the third-rate ‘Fingerpoppin”.

05

Sandinista!

1980
Caught in a draconian deal with CBS that required 10 albums in 10 years, The Clash released a triple album to churn through their contract. There’s a very good single album hiding among Sandinista!, and even an enjoyable double. But as a triple it’s often tough going, especially the children’s choir remake of the debut’s ‘Career Opportunities’. At the same time it’s The Clash around their peak-era, and there are great songs like the political ‘Washington Bullets’, the dub of ‘One More Time’, and an early foray into hip hop on ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

04

Combat Rock

1982
Combat Rock is The Clash’s highest-selling album, on the back of the singles ‘Rock the Casbah’ and ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ There’s at least one great deep cut in ‘Straight To Hell’. But Combat Rock is strangely inconsistent – I like Brian Burks‘ description of the record “the ‘Rock The Casbah’ single with eleven weird B-sides.”

03

Give ‘Em Enough Rope

1978
The Clash linked up with US producer Sandy Perlman, known for his work with Blue Oyster Cult, to furnish them with a mainstream sound for their second album. The sessions produced the non-album single ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, one of their very best songs with its seamless blend of rock and reggae. But over the course of a whole album, the mainstream sound dampens the band’s impact.

02

London Calling

1979
The Clash worked with producer Guy Stevens on London Calling. Stevens was well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of R&B, and for producing Mott the Hoople. After London Calling, it was clear that The Clash could no longer be pigeon-holed as a punk band. There’s a lot of great songs spread over the double album – the apocalyptic title track, the militaristic reggae of ‘The Guns of Brixton’, the joyful ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and the Mick Jones lead vocal on ‘The Card Cheat’ are all great moments. It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary this break from punk orthodoxy must have seemed at the time, but London Calling does falter a little on its final side.

01

The Clash (US Version)

1977/1979
The Clash’s debut wasn’t released in the US initially, considered too raw for American audiences. Instead it became the highest selling import of its year. When it was eventually released official, it was in a modified version that dropped four tracks from the original, and added four non-album singles. Generally in these situations the original version is superior, but the four new tracks are terrific – ‘Complete Control’ and ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ in particular – adding drummer Topper Headon for a more muscular sound. And the original album is full of great songs – opener ‘Janie Jones’, the sardonic ‘Career Opportunities’, and a cover of Junior Murvin’s reggae song ‘Police & Thieves’.

What’s your favourite Clash album?

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71 Comments

  1. London calling. And not just because it’s considered the greatest album of all time by “Rolling Stone”.
    If you have an early copy of the LP you will see that “Train in vain” is not on the dust cover. It was added at the last minute.

    • Train in Vain helps the 4th side because it’s great, but I don’t really like ‘Lover’s Rock’ or ‘Revolution Rock’ very much.

  2. Interesting rankings. I do not disagree with you about Crap’s, well, crap ranking. As a Clash fan, I think I tried to listen to it all the way through once. That was enough. I’m sure there may be a contrarian or two who’d rank it higher than last. To each their own.

    (Here is the best “contrarian” appreciation of Cut The Crap:
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36436604-we-are-the-clash?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=fxVudJGsad&rank=1
    Actually caught the author at a reading here in Portland. I didn’t bother staying for the whole thing. When your “reading” is mostly shouting out the lyrics from Cut The Crap, you lost me.)

    And I’ll be the contrarian and say it: Sandinista is my fave. And I can’t exactly articulate why, but will try: I got Sandinista after getting all the other albums (‘cept Crap). I knew about the album’s reputation, so I was ready to listen to it with open ears/mind. I remember reading somewhere Strummer saying that the people that “got” Sandinista were folks in places like deep-sea oil rigs, places where you had a lot of time in isolation. I really connected with Sandinista on a train trip across the US, looking out the window as the stark and lonely scenery of North Dakota and eastern Montana passed by. Maybe that’s what you need to get into it.

    I also like Combat Rock quite a bit, but not as much as the first or London Calling.

    That linked review website was…interesting. I like some of his takes, disagree with others. It just reminds me a lot of those circa-turn-of-the-millenia music review sites. Online music writing/blogs have definitely improved.

    And one last point to close out this long comment, regarding their crap contract: Rhodes’s strategy was to take the first contract they came across. He figured they’d be quickly dropped and then he’d get a better deal from another label. This is what happened with the Sex Pistols, so he figured it’d be same with The Clash. How wrong he was…

    • I didn’t know Cut The Crap had defenders. I always found it interesting that punk was dying off in the UK as Thatcher came in and the Falklands War happened – seemed like there’d be plenty of ammo for punk.

      There’s a great album on Sandinista – just a lot of stuff to wade through.

      I don’t think I read that about Rhodes and the contract. 10 albums in 10 years is a lot – not many bands make it through 10 albums with the crucial relationships intact.

  3. Strangely enough my only favorite album by them is Sandinista. Of course it’s too long, but only because it has too many of those dubby tracks and a few more unspectacular ones. But otherwise all my favorite clash songs are on this album. And I prefer this Career Opportunities over the original. And things like Hitsville UK and Lose This Skin are a lot more interesting than their punk stuff. And I think Police on My Back is their best punk song ever. Other than TraIn in Vain and the title track, I’m not that crazy about London Calling. I think that would have made a better single album than Sandinista would. And I’m sure their earlier albums sounded better at the time, but now they don’t sound like much.

    • My single-disc Sandinista would have these tracks:

      Magnificent Seven
      Something About England
      One More Time
      The Call Up
      Washington Bullets
      Police on my Back
      The Sound of the Sinners
      Somebody Got Murdered
      Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
      and probably a couple more?

    • Have you checked out the post-Clash stuff from anyone – the only thing I’ve heard is Simonon playing bass on The Good, The Bad & The Queen.

  4. To me they made a better dance band than a rock band. If you take Magnificent Seven and Magnificent Dance and a few more tracks from Sandinista, along with things like Radio Clash or Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go, and other odds and ends, then you would have a really great dance album. And that would be their best album. Ha ha

    • That’s an interesting take! I do dig their dancy stuff they did on Sandinista and Combat Rock. It would have been cool if they did more of that.

      The whole issue with that is that only half the band would really be on board for a more dancy Clash: Topper and Mick. Paul Simonon was a competent bass player at best (amazing how he basically learned to play in the band) but didn’t do well with funk. The funkiest songs on Sandinista had Norman Watt-Roy on bass instead, and with Combat Rock Topper wrote and recorded most of the music of “Rock the Casbah”. (And Watt-Roy was possibly playing on a few other Combat tracks as well.) For example, the live version of “The Magnificent Seven” is pretty different than the studio, with much more emphasis on Mick’s guitar. And after playing a lot of first album songs with original drummer Terry Chimes on the Combat Rock tour, Strummer wanted to go back to more direct and simpler songs, something that was in opposition to what Jones wanted to do.

      In the end we got the worst of both worlds on Cut The Crap: Strummer’s simple direct songs with shout-along choruses mated with sorta synthy dance tracks performed by someone with little musical skill or taste (their manager Bernie Rhodes.) Jones kept along the dancy/techy path with Big Audio Dynamite, which I like. But Strummer was the missing ingredient. Strummer’s involvement with 10 Upping Street makes it my fave BAD album.

      • I didn’t know all that about who was playing on all the different tracks you mentioned. Makes sense though.
        Actually there’s enough on Sandinista to make a pretty good dance album. And the best stuff are the ones with the danciest beats. I think it gets a little bogged down in the slower dubby ones, but all the tracks with the swifter beats are fantastic. And the sound on the whole album is great. I only like some of Combat Rock, and Cut the crap is just baffling to me.
        My favorite BAD song is on Upping St., which is V Thirteen. But I think their best songs came at the end on the Higher Power and F- punk albums. It was only a couple tracks but it was a big improvement over a lot of the earlier BAD stuff. Instead of those clunky ’80s dance beats they started using slicker and faster beats. And much more exciting guitar that was really different than before. That’s why Looking for a Song and I Turned Out a Punk and Harrow Road (but only the version that’s on the greatest hits album) are my favorites after V Thirteen and E=MC2. There’s even a couple more that I like. I also like some of the songs on the BAD ll album.

          • He formed a band with Tony James (ex Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik) in the aughts called Carbon/Silicon, and it continued in the spirit of old BAD. They were OK. I saw them (for free, suprisingly!) when they passed through Portland in 2007 or 8. It was a decent, but short show, and the only time I saw Mick Jones live. Carbon/Silicon went dormant at the end of that decade, and it looks like Jones has done some random things since then, including being featured on a Flaming Lips album. I suppose at his age he doesn’t feel the need to do solo stuff or form another band.

        • BAD was never as good as I hoped, pun intended. I tried their last two albums, and while there may have been a bit more guitar and faster beats, I found both of them a chore to listen to. F-Punk suffered the mid-90s syndrome of “Well, the CD at 74 minutes is now the ‘standard’ album length, so let’s fill it up”. Too many one-idea songs stretched for an absurd length.

          F-Punk starts out OK enough with “I Turned Out A Punk”, then jumps rails with the next song “Vitamin C” that just goes on and on with just one thing repeated. I just checked, the length of the song (per Wikipedia) is ONLY 5:27, but it feels longer. Then the next song is over 7 minutes. I’m guessing these long songs with repetition sounded good on the dance floor and high on something…

          • Yeah. Each BAD album had about two tracks that I liked, at most. I particularly like the ones on the last couple albums. Actually they made one more unreleased album that I listened to on the internet. I can’t remember the name though. It was very bad. As a singer they had Ranking Roger from the 80s band General Public, and The Beat.. It was dreadful. It’s no mystery why it was never released.

      • I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single B.A.D. song – I used to see their stuff in bargain bins a lot, but haven’t heard about them for ages. 10 Upping Street sounds interesting though.

  5. I like London Calling… the two that I haven’t listened to all the way through is Sandinista! which I want to…and Cut the Crap…which I don’t.
    BTW the format looks fine and I’m in reader

  6. Graham – as you know, for any of us who “were there” in 1977, as I was, it is the original UK release of the debut album all the way. The US one, for example, features I Fought the Law, a track which came out over two years later (May 79 compared to Feb 77).

    It was the original album that so many of us (including Elvis Costello, by his admission) listened to again and again, for hours and hours. There is simply no other album that I have done that with.

    I was lucky enough to see The Clash four times live (78, 79, 80 and 82). They were some of the best gigs I ever attended. Oh, and I saw the later incarnation once too.

    If you rate Mick Jones, you simply MUST listen to BAD’s first four albums at least. Check out Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros albums too.

      • Nah, it was pretty BAD. 😉

        I think a comp would be a good place to start. “The Globe”, the first album after the original lineup, was pretty decent and had “Rush”, their biggest State-side hit.

      • Watching the Strummer/Simonon plus hired guns band was a bit like watching a Clash tribute band.

        Regarding BAD – it has to be the albums – they are all really good. The details are on my site.

  7. Dig around on the internet long enough, you’ll find that EVERY bit of pop-culture has its defenders! 😉

    I guess it’s better than the early days of the internet, like that site you linked, where reviewer’s tastes were usually aligned with the “received wisdom” of decades of professional rock critics.

  8. I’m the rare “Combat Rock” devotee . . . my fave album of theirs, easily. “Casbah” and “Should I Stay” have gotten a bit over-worn, yeah, but they’re still great, I think. And I love the “odd B-sides” (great description!). One of the Clash songs we play most in our house, in fact, is “Death Is A Star.” Completely unlike most anything else in the catalog, but such a weird, tiny gem. No duds on the disc to these ears, and it felt so tight after the sprawl of the two albums preceding it.

    I’d rank the rest thusly . . .

    1. Combat Rock
    2. London Calling
    3. The Clash
    4. Sandinista (agree that it would be higher if it were at least a third shorter; I made a C-90 tape of its best bits when I was in college, since the whole thing wouldn’t fit, and that was pretty much perfect!)
    5. Give ‘Em Enough Rope
    6. Cut The Crap

      • No, I had all of them in close to real release time. It juat felt like a tight distilation of the sprawl that had come before it, and I really liked the variety and experimentation it included. And that has aged well for me!

  9. For me, Death Is A Star is dreadful. However, I’ve always been a fan of Sean Flynn, which most consider the same. My favourite on Combat Rock is Car Jamming. A good ‘b’ side from the period is First Night Back In London.

    • First Night Back in London is great – I like Super Black Market Clash better than most of their studio albums, and has my favourite Clash song (Armagideon Time).

  10. Glad you mentioned it, as I never lumped them in with punk bands. Your rankings are cool, I always struggle with those and admire anyone who manages it. London Calling is a perfect record if they’d just left off Lost In A Supermarket. Sigh. I have a lovely 3LP copy of Sandanista! here, it’s cool.

      • I should have clarified that. It’s the one album I dont know that much. By then I guess I had moved on. By your take it sounds like Im not missing much. Still curious now. Ill give it a go.

      • Just listening to it. Familiar with a few. Lots of it works for me. Kinda the direction Strummer was taking the band near the end. Some is a bit of a mash but maybe that’s what they were going for.
        I like some of the ideas here. It still has some of the original vibe. Maybe CB is getting more forgiving as he travels. Thanks for nudging me to the ‘Crap’

  11. I would go with London Calling, but the debut is a worthy top choice too.

    I guess I like Sandinista much more than you do. Yeah, Side 6 is pretty bad, but through the first 5 sides I cannot find a tune I truly dislike, and most of them are at least very good in my opinion. And it’s not every day I can find an album with 5 sides that please me greatly.

    • I can’t think of many three-disc albums – Prince’s Emancipation is pretty patchy, and Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs is very good but samey.

      • I don’t know many either. I haven’t listened to those two you mentioned. Sandinista might be the only one I know, which makes it even more incredible in my mind that they put 5 solid sides of music in it.

      • I can’t think of any other good three disc albums either. The only ones I can think of that I like are all specialty albums like either live albums or collections but not regular studio albums. There’s All Things Must Pass but I only like some of it. The only ones I can think of that I ever liked are the original Woodstock, and Wings over America by Paul McCartney and Chicago at Carnegie Hall, but those are more like sentimental nostalgic albums for me because my father had them so I’m familiar with them. Also Yessongs by Yes and Welcome Back My Friends by Emerson lake and Palmer. But those are just triple live albums that I only like parts of.

          • Yeah just like I thought. All live albums and compilations. Only a few on the Wiki list sound like they might be regular releases. I forgot that the Chicago at Carnegie Hall that I mentioned was a quadruple album not a triple. And it said that a few months ago a 16-CD version was released.. 16!!!! And I thought The Doors Lve in New York was extreme with six CDs!!! Same idea though. They were both an entire week’s worth of shows.

  12. More recently I did my best 70s songs list and almost included The Clash’s ‘London Calling’. Also it came so late in 1979 that I chickened out only because The Police and ‘Roxanne’ deserved a spot.

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