It would be the summer of 1978, or possibly even later, that I first heard The Clash’s self-titled debut album, even though it had been out more than a year by then. Since 8 April 1977 to be precise – 43 years ago today.
It was during the summer holidays that my pal’s big brother – 13 and two school years older than us – played me his punk records, including that one. I loved the raw energy, the hooks, the vocals – even though as an 11-year-old I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were singing about.
I don’t remember precisely when I got my own copy. I do recall that the first Clash single of I bought when it came out was Tommy Gun, released in November 1978.
I quickly picked up their previous releases: White Riot, Remote Control, Complete Control and Clash City Rockers were all added to my record box, and played until I knew them inside out.
For some reason I never got round to buying possibly the greatest Clash single of them all (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, and in fact it was many years before I picked a copy. There were too many great records to buy – I was also enthralled by the Sex Pistols (of course), Buzzcocks, The Dickies, The Jam, Sham 69 and a few more.
I do know I got the first album at about the same time as the second, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, so it was probably Christmas 1978. For all their sloganeering, they weren’t ‘the only band that mattered’ to my young ears, but it’s fair to say I bloody loved The Clash. As well as trying to decipher Joe Strummer’s lyrics, I pored over every word the ‘inkies’ wrote about the band, and even painted their logo (badly) on my haversack.
Anyone of a certain age who says they don’t like the music The Clash made between 1977-79 has never listened it properly, has cloth for ears, or is telling porkies to seem cool. Along with the Pistols and The Jam, they were the band who were adored by all the young punks that I knew.
What’s not to like about the first album? From the opening adrenalin rush of Janie Jones, through the infinitely superior original demo version of White Riot, What’s My Name, Career Opportunities, Police And Thieves (the song that made me explore reggae) all the way through to the closing Garageland, it’s a punk classic.
I liked Give ‘Em Enough Rope even more, with its beefed-up guitars and huge Sandy Pearlman production, unashamedly aimed at breaking the band in the US of A. Speaking of which, The Clash belatedly got a proper release in America in 1979, after the UK version became the best-seliing import.
Except it wasn’t the same version. The US version was even BETTER! When a friend acquired the North American version which came to the UK on import we were mesmerised; its cover blue where the original was green, and the tracklisting in red rather than orange. Oh my word, the tracklisting…
Apparently their record company CBS didn’t think the unpolished UK version would sell in the US, so what they considered four of the weaker tracks were dropped, and five more radio-friendly songs put in their place.
Out went Deny, Cheat, Protex Blue and 48 Hours, and in their place came Clash City Rockers, its B-side Jail Guitar Doors, Complete Control, I Fought The Law and White Man In Hammersmith Palais. To my mind the record company got this spot on. It made an already great album even better.
I’ve got both versions, of course, and I’m still thrown every time by the US version starting with Clash City Rockers instead of Janie Jones, but The Clash is still one of the most influential punk albums every made, whichever version you choose.
And other than The Beatles’ Abbey Road and its iconic zebra crossing, which other album cover has inspired so many fans to make a pilgrimage to where a cover image was shot? See you at the ‘Clash steps’ in Camden and you can tell me the answer.