Top Ten Songs by the Clash

The Clash represent the best of what punk could be, as well as the worst. They created some of the most defining songs of the movement, but they also stand as an example of what unbridled passion can do to a band. The Clash exploded, seemingly incapable of containing their own brand of incendiary politics. When you look around and witness the falsity in front of you and respond by attempting to crash through it and expose it, shrapnel is going to fly and some of it will come back on you.

That said, boy could we use a band with half the passion of the Clash right now. It’s pretty sad that two middle-aged folk-rockers like Billy Bragg and Neil Young have to carry the torch for activism against fascist aggression. The music industry is in the midst of one its typical creative slumps right now-going on ten years this one is-and we have yet to see any band of the stature of The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Gang of Four or even Nirvana rise to the occasion.

Oh well, at least we still have The Clash.

10. Death is a Star

An unusual Clash song. Quiet, downbeat, almost something you’d expect to hear in a smoky cabaret. It’s a story song, almost a horror/slasher story, but there seems to be something more profound at work. Probably the most overlooked song ever recorded by the Clash and that’s a shame. Drag out your copy of Combat Rock and give it another listen.

9. London Calling

Well, of course. London Calling kicks the greatest double album ever recorded. Just remember, the ice age is coming, but it’s the meltdown that we really need to fear.

8. Police & Thieves

A great song to listen to headphones. I love the way it was recorded with the music ping-ponging back and forth from speaker to speaker. A terrifying song in many ways, but absolutely brilliant evocation of a particular time and place.

7. Rudie Can’t Fail

Love the ska. I just love the ska. So much better than the reggae. This song is worthy of being on this list if only for the classic line-which would seem so much more at home on a Gang of Four record-“I went to the market to realize my soul, ’cause what I need I just don’t have.”

6. Death or Glory

I especially love the part in this song where it just doesn’t seem able to hold; the center falls apart and every member of the band seems to just walk away. But the drumbeat turns martial and pretty soon they call come back together and start asserting they are going to fight you brother until you lose, that they are going to raise hell then you know that death or glory isn’t just another story.

5. Police on My Back

Not a Clash song, true, but their version is just as unstoppable as the train that runs through it. It’s a great car song, except that it does tend to make you drive way too fast. Even if you’ve never been running from the police, even if you’ve never felt the law at your back, you’ve got to be able to connect with this song. Authority is always after you, even if you don’t know it. Especially now, you’ve got to go on the assumption that you are being watched.

4. Janie Jones

I’ll be honest. I didn’t even know what the heck this song was about until I finally saw the lyrics on the internet. And the lyrics still don’t matter to me. Because, man, that drumming is something else! And the song just powers along, almost as if it doesn’t matter what the lyrics. It’s not about the lyrics, it’s about the sound and the energy.

3. The Right Profile

Okay, I’m partial to this song because it’s about my favorite actor, Montgomery Clift. Although James Dean and Marlon Brando got the legacy, Montgomery Clift got the song. Some might consider this less a tribute than a mockery, looking at Clift from the point of view of where he was after his career tanked following his addiction to painkiller and booze after his near-fatal accident. Yes, those horns do have a mocking sensibility about them, but listen at the end when the singer cries out “That’s Montgomery Clift, honey!” You can feel the admiration there for the talent beneath the broken man.

2. Spanish Bombs

A terrific song about the battle against fascism. The song has an ambient quality to it that makes the sound of falling bombs almost palpable within it. It is a rousing song, a call to arms almost. In the hands of the wrong people, listened to uncritically, it could be used as patriotic military recruiting song. Filled with vivid images of the battle against the Franco, the murder of Lorca, and those echoes from the days of ’39 which grow louder each day.

1. The Card Cheat

Probably not the choice of many people for the best song by The Clash, but this gem from London Calling is epic in scope, breathtaking in sound and features the verse that I feel really stands in for every verse of every song The Clash ever sang. It is a message to the young men and women to think about history before they nod their head yes and agree with their leaders that there is something out there worth laying their lives on the life for. There’s a story on the surface of this song, but there’s an even better story buried within its meaning.

“From the hundred year war to the Crimea
With a lance and a musket and a roman spear
To all of the men who have stood with no fear
In the service of the king”

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