Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Progressive Music Classics. The Clash: "Guns On The Roof"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

The punk sound that was causing a musical earthquake in Britain in the late 1970s seemed light years away from where I was living at the time: dreary, boring Corsicana, Texas.

After reading about The Sex Pistols in "Rolling Stone," I desperately wanted to check out the notorious new music---but it was difficult to find. Corsicana only had one record store. It was run by a hippy, who was more into Steely Dan and Yes.

One day, he gave me a free copy of The Clash's new album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, along with a copy of Liverpool New Wave band, The Yachts. Both had been sent to him as promo copies by the record company. He couldn't stand either of them---and indeed, he hated all punk (as did everyone else I talked to about music in Corsicana).

I didn't think much of The Yachts. But The Clash album blew me away. Unlike the band's first crude-sounding, low-budget (but classic) album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, was produced with a sizeable budget by top-flight producer Sandy Pearlman (who'd previously worked with major bands like Blue Oyster Cult). The big-budget, AOR-friendly sound really shouldn't have suited The Clash's music---but it did, and nowhere better than on the stunningly powerful track, "Guns On The Roof."

To this day, I can't help but hear this track and think of all horrors that Reagan's CIA unleashed upon the world in the 1980s, in the "Dirty Wars" in Central America and elsewhere.

Most Americans didn't really become familiar with The Clash until the band hit the U.S. charts in a big way in 1982, with singles like "Should I Stay Or Should I go?" But the fact is, the band's first two albums, The Clash (1977) and ...Rope (1978) were far more powerful than the later, commercial stuff. Having said that, all of the band's music is worth checking out, particularly the underrated, sprawling, 3-record masterpiece, "Sandinista!" from 1980.

People today who think that goddawful crap like Green Day is "punk" really need to check out the Pistols and The Clash. These bands were the real deal. By contrast, Green Day is about as threatening and dangerous as a cup of Starbucks coffee.


Juan Duque said...

Very Nice Post, and i whole heartedly agree with your take on the more FM friendly production of the boys's sophomore batch. It shouldn't ve worked, but goddamit, it did, and in a huge way. To me, Sandinista and Rope stand as their greatest accomplishments.

And speaking of my local scenery,some of these lyrics are all too real..

A system built by the sweat of the many
Creates assassins to kill off the few

thanks for reminding me..

juan d

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Juan, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.
I got the chance to see The Clash in 1979. It was a great show---the only complaint I had was that most of their set was comprised of new, unfamiliar songs from "London Calling" (which hadn't been released yet).

Manifesto Joe said...

The first time I recall hearing The Clash was "Rock the Casbah," off that commercially popular 1982 album. I still regard that as among the still-most-listenable "pop" music of the time. And, courtesy of Internet radio like Pandora, I've heard other Clash cuts that I like.

But a lot about people's response to music is visceral. How to explain it? I'm a jazz freak, a fan of just about every phase of that musical style up to around 1980. I confess that, about then, I started "turning off" popular culture and lost track of most aspects of it, some of it totally. How people respond to types of music is so individual, it's like trying to explain why a person is more likely to be attracted to a blond sex partner rather than a brunette one.

The Clash was clearly an important band. But if you give me a choice of what I'd want to hear a steady diet of ...?

Anyway, just thoughts from one of those old hippies who still digs vintage Steely Dan. (Yes had its great moments, but on the whole was definitely overproduced.)

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Manifesto Joe, thanks for stopping by. A lot of people tend to cling to the music of their youth. Many people tend to think that the music they grew up with is superior to current music.

I recall having fierce arguments years ago with people who came of age during the 1950s. They insisted that the prime Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis of that era was superior to the rock of the 1960s. I agreed with them that the prime 1950s rock was great---but I tried to convince them that worthwhile music was still being produced. I tried to get them to lend an ear to the likes of the Grateful Dead, Dylan and The Band, but they clung to their old Sun Records 78s and refused to give the new music a chance.

The cycle, of course, repeated itself in the 1970s. People who came of age in the 1960s insisted that later rock music was inferior.

This cycle, of course, has been going on for many years. Early jazz and blues were often dismissed as disposable crap by many in the early part of the 20th Century. A lot of Beethoven-loving music fans back then even questioned whether blues was really "music" at all.

So the cycle continues to this day.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi Marc: I don't know if it's entirely a matter of getting stuck in the music of one's youth. Supporting examples: Thanks to Internet radio, I've found that I really like Meat Puppets, David Gray, Zero 7, Nicola Conte, Jaimie Cullum, Katie Melua, Sawyer Brown, Webb Wilder, James McMurtry, Joy Division and a number of other artists that I never (or rarely) heard until I was 50 years old. I was never much of an Elvis Costello fan, but recently heard a cut of his that I absolutely love. I even like some Amy Winehouse that I've heard.

But, in contrast, the popularity of U2 has always mystified me. I gave them the good old college try, but remain perplexed.

I think much simply has to do with things that are hard to explain, just what "gets you in the gonads," so to speak. My tastes run toward romantic/classical styles, as opposed to hard-core avant-garde. And while I can definitely appreciate good lyrics -- first the music has to get me in the gonads. If it doesn't do that, then I'd rather just read the lyrics like a poem.

Anyway, I think just "different strokes" has at least as much to do with it as does age and memories.

Marc McDonald said...

Ah, Joy Division: now that was a truly great band.
RIP: Ian Curtis

"An abyss that laughs at creation,
A circus complete with all fools,
Foundations that lasted the ages,
Then ripped apart at their roots.
Beyond all this good is the terror,
The grip of a mercenary hand,
When savagery turns all good reason,
There's no turning back, no last stand.
Heart and soul, one will burn.
Heart and soul, one will burn."

---"Heart and Soul" by Joy Division, 1980.