Culling The Herd - The Clash

Read the original "Culling the Herd" post here.

In some ways, The Clash are the reason I'm doing this in the first place.  They've been such a big part of my musical life, and for so long, and I have so much of them (although, as will become clear, less than I realized).  It's hard to imagine my musical life before I started listening to them, and it's hard to imagine my musical life without them now.

The Clash, "London Calling" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

We used to all stand in the main vestibule at Catholic Central after we ate our lunch.  Mostly St. Francis guys, but a few guys from Sacred Heart, a few from the MCC Junior High down the hall, but mostly St. Francis guys.  Not sure why that matters, but whatever.  So we're standing there one day, talking girls and sports and whatnot, and The Clash come up in the conversation.  At this point I was still into conventional WLAV-type classic rock, and something like new wave or punk was still something to ridicule.  Brad Winicki was there.  Brad was a bigtime classic rock fan, into Led Zeppelin and the like, and I secretly looked up to him, music-wise.  At the mention of The Clash, he sneered "Sandineeeesta," and that's pretty much all I needed to hear at that moment.  I was done with The Clash.

Eventually, though, I went to Ann Arbor and started veering toward "college" music into new wave and eventually punk.  Sometime during my freshman year in college, I bought London Calling, and I was done.  The pump had been properly primed, and it grabbed me immediately.  It was so new, so unlike anything I'd heard before, just so...*great.*  It literally felt like I was discovering a new world.

Listening to it now, it's amazing how fresh it still sounds.  I've listened to this record literally thousands of times, and I still listen to it, beginning to end, every time it comes up.  All 19 songs, every single one of which is at least 4 stars.  Most are 5s.

There's a scene in "Men in Black" where Tommy Lee Jones is showing Will Smith all the technology they've captured from the aliens.  He picks up a dime-sized disk and says "this will replace CDs.  Guess I'll have to buy the White Album again."  Which is *exactly* how I feel about London Calling.  I have listened to this record literally thousands of times and bought just about every possible medium possible; Vinyl first, then cassette so I could listen to it on the bus, then CD, and then high-bitrate digital.  If they ever come out with some sort of biological version of it, I'll be first in line.  Greatest rock and roll album ever.

The Clash, "Combat Rock" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

My high school has for many years had a mother-son dance for the senior boys.  I went, of course, with all my buddies and our moms.  I think we had dinner somewhere, then went to my friend Ralph's house and hung out and had a couple of beers...such simple times.  Ralph's sister Barb was home from freshman year at college and took it upon herself to get me drunk on tequila (it was probably two shots, given my light-weightedness at the time).

Okay, I'm back.  Anyway, so we went to the dance; at some point "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" came on, and my friend Bob Basta - a musical early adopter - immediately started jumping up and down like a pogo stick and running manically from place to place in our high school cafeteria.  I remember thinking a) what a lunatic, b) what a cool lunatic and c) man, that's a great goddamn song.  Why wouldn't you want to dance like that to a song that great?  I was not all-in on The Clash quite yet, however.

But by the time I bought "London Calling" a few months later, I was, and I bought "Combat Rock" in short order.  Pulling it out now, a few years away from a beginning-to-end listen, I expected to hear an artifact, but it holds up really, really well.  I'm not sure why that's the case - it probably has something to do with the fact that it's pretty well grooved into my brain, but it's also pretty fresh in that it grabs musical styles and references from literally all across the globe (there are African references here, and rap, and jazziness and a dozen other styles), plus it didn't get copied, and poorly, fifty different ways.  There aren't a lot of records like it, still, because there aren't a lot of bands that could pull it off.

"Rock The Casbah" and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" are the hits, and rightfully so, but there are some other really great songs here, even in the face of some pretty over-the-top self-importance and "smarter-than-thou-ness" from Joe Strummer.  "Car Jamming" is a really fun, silly groove.  "overpowered by funk" opened side 2 on vinyl, and it still feels like that - a cold, bracing grab of the lapels reminding you to keep listening.  Even a truly weird song like "Ghetto Defendant" gets listened to, all the way through.  Still a great record.

The Clash, "The Clash" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

...and a year or two later I grabbed this one, The Clash' first  and most straight-ahead punk album.  There are songs here that are not much more than a couple minutes of (delicious) youthful rage over two chords.  But there are some hints of what they would become.

The Clash, "Pressure Drop" - 5 stars.  Dig it.

I have three copies of this song...the original straight reggae version from the wonderful "The Harder They Come" soundtrack, by Toots and The Maytals, the Ska version, by the Specials, and this one, which kinda combines the reggae and worldbeat-type versions and layers a big pile of guitars on top of it.  So great.