Good evening from a chilly ClashBlog Towers. The Clash Blog dog was shivering today so I had to get her jumper back out of the cupboard to stop her looking quite so pathetic. The things we do for dogs eh? Sorry for the lack of posts these last few days, I’ve had a lot of work meaning that what time is spent in front of the computer is mostly for the paying gig so I trust you’ll understand although there’s been a few updates on Clash Blog News if you click above you to be directed there.
I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at the inner workings and martketing via YouTube in recent weeks and it’s been somewhat interesting in terms of The Clash. For a band that really only caught the very early days of MTV (they really did used to play music videos…hard to believe) The Clash only benefited from the giant impact of music videos from the era of Combat Rock onward…well…for the era of Combat Rock. I’ve no doubt at all that if The Clash had persevered into the 1984-1989 era of rock music being marketed via videos they would have become the biggest band on the planet, in part because they made the music they did and in part because they looked simply brilliant. On the other hand was that ever the goal? Another example of timing being everything, an era that they were poised for was the exact moment that they imploded. I do think you get a least a slight flavour of where they might have gone with video by looking at the official videos of Big Audio Dynamite, especially with the heavy involvement of Don Letts.
MTV launched on August 1 (my birthday) in 1981 at which point The Clash had already finished promoting Sandinista! and were unknowingly already heading into the final furlong. I was shocked to see that amongst the first 100 songs on MTV The Clash didn’t make that list and don’t waste time on that list as it is a bit depressing seeing that did. With the exception of the singles that were released from Combat Rock the only other single that was released was ‘This is Radio Clash’ in November 1981. The song was a minor hit, especially in clubs and I distinctly recall it being the first song that I grew up with and instantly/simultaneously associated the video with it. Before that, seeing ‘official’ Clash videos was extremely hit and miss – it was about 1980 that some music focused shows in addition to Saturday morning ‘kids’ TV in the UK started showing music videos as a semi-regular thing. Not that The Clash didn’t have sanctioned videos paid for by CBS, some were made although by 1981 I’m almost certain the only two I’d seen more than once were London Calling (filmed along the River Thames in the cold and rain) and The Call Up which I think was filmed in Camden Town if memory serves.
Of course by the middle of 1981 a band almost automatically released a video to accompany every single, initially nothing too outrageous (faux live appearances in a white studio were typical) but between early ’81 and late ’82 videos budgets and exposure went through the roof. In many cases videos moved toward being four minute movies with a plot to follow and ridiculous shots on location – in many cases the video causing a bigger impact than the song. Sadly from a music perspective by 1983 the video was usually more talked about than the record in many cases and by the mid-eighties if you refused to make videos you were thought out of touch (or in the case of The Smiths, taking a stance). So many years later I’m not certain how I feel about the video era, it didn’t lead to a huge decline in the sales of music and in many cases enabled bands to break through where they might have struggled without a specific look that caused attention by fair means or foul. Examples that spring to mind would include Culture Club, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Duran Duran. I don’t know that any of the three would have had such significant success before the age of the pop music video, the quality of the music would be debatable.
As for The Clash, Rock The Casbah was the one video that everyone saw and it helped propel the single to becoming so big in the US & Canada and for many not too familiar with the band it remains their synonymous memory of The Clash. It might be the saddest testament to the ending days of The Clash that Topper Headon doesn’t even feature in the video although he created the song having been kicked out prior with Terry Chimes featuring instead. That in conjunction with the fact that the song, whilst good, doesn’t really reflect The Clash or their past glories.
I’ll be back soon with some follow up thoughts and notes on videos this week, did you have an official favourite Clash video or really early memories of MTV?