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Why The First Clash LP Could Have Been So Much Better

February 4, 2019

The first time I saw the Clash live they were a five piece with Keith Levine, and I followed closely their development via gigs at the 100 Club and the Screen On The Green through 1976 and into March 1977, when CBS released their debut, self-titled LP. The previous month had seen the release of debut single White Riot, whose poppy catchiness had been remarked upon by Nick Kent in the NME.

I wore that LP out. It was a flat out raver, the only non-amphetamined track being the cover of Juniour Marvin’s Police and Thieves. At 8m 56s this was about four times longer than the other tracks and was more Hawkwind than Bob Marley. Eventually I got to see the Clash on a proper stage with a decent PA (Guildford Civic, May 1st 1977)  and I bought all their records and went to every gig I could , right up to the London Calling  Tour (Manchester Apollo, February 3rd 1980). I loved both Give’ Em Enough Rope and London Calling but rarely played the debut . Compared to what followed, the songs on The Clash sounded one-paced, Mickey Foote’s production was flat and the drumming was unimaginative – the explosive Topper Headon only took over the drum stool after the first LP was recorded.

Eventually during one of my periodic purges I sold the Clash LP to free up some shelf-space and didn’t miss it. After all, if I wanted to play White Riot or Police And Thieves they were on my 3CD Broadway Clash box set.

And yet it felt wrong not to have a vinyl version of Police And Thieves. So this year I thought about rebuying that first LP, but the thought did not fill me with much enthusiasm. If only Police & Thieves had been released as a 12” single…

But what I had forgotten about was the US version of the first Clash LP. Issued by Epic in 1979 it combined the best tracks from the1977 UK release with the A and B sides of the amazing singles the Clash released around this time.  So Side One includes Clash City Rockers, the immaculate Complete Control, White Man In Hammersmith Palais, and their rocked-up version of I Fought The Law plus a version of White Riot different to the single. Side Two includes Police and Thieves (yeh!) and the groovy Jail Guitar Doors. The album I found on Discogs was a Japanese copy called Pearl Harbour ’79, which came with a free single Groovy Times / Gates Of The West and a fold out triple booklet with a pretty fair stab at Strummer’s lyrics.

It is a great record, The two minute wonders from the initial LP like Janie Jones and I’m So Bored With The USA are tempered by the more varied tracks that followed, lending the LP a little more light and shade whilst still remaining ridiculously exciting.

Around the time of Bankrobber the Clash announced they were not releasing LPs any more, they were only going to release single after single. The plan was curtailed after an unnamed CBS exec described Bankrobber as sounding like David Bowie backwards (no, me neither). When the Clash should have pursued this strategy was in 1977 and 1978. They would have unleashed a series of five stunning singles – let’s leave Remote Control out of this – all of which could have and should have been included on their debut LP. The only way the US version of The Clash could have been improved was by adding the original version of Capital Radio, sent out free to NME readers who sent in a red sticker contained inside early copies of the UK  LP.

But that is my only criticism. Buy the US version of The Clash and show Never Mind The Bollocks who’s the boss…

From → Music

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