At first glance it’s hard to see how time has passed by so quickly. To most fans, journalists and certainly Mick Jones, The Clash came to an end in September of 1983 when Mick was ‘sacked’ by the band. Although Cut The Crap did see the light of day the band really ended the same time that Jones was ousted. The seeds of the breakup were probably just as deeply sewn with Topper Headon being fired before Jones. All of that is worthy in some future posts but I wanted to focus on the passing of time.
So this Thursday sees Mick Jones turning 54 years old, it’s nearly 26 years since The Clash disbanded so Jones would have been 28 when his own band kicked him out. When you consider The Clash were only active in the traditional sense from the Summer of ’76 til the Jones dismissal it’s truly amazing how prolific they were.
Three single albums, a double album and a triple in 7 years! When you add in all of the singles they made the equivalent of 9-10 cds worth of music in 7 years. Times were of course very different then, Punk lit the touch paper, bands were signed, rushed into the studio and records were squeezed out in a few weeks. The shelf life of Punk might only last months, perhaps a year, despite the contract CBS offered the band I doubt many knew they were signing a band that might see in the new decade. The sheer volume of work by them in that 7 year spell is amazing to me – I’ve been a music fan ever since and nobody since has written as much great material in such a short spell.
Don’t forget this was a band that played live a lot also, so if they weren’t writing and recording they were in the studio. It would be fascinating to document the time away from the band the four spent over those seven years. I’d guess a handful of weeks at most until 1982 or so. I’ll use the example of Radiohead to draw a comparison, and this is no knock on their music which has been top drawer for a long time now. Radiohead formed in 1992 and Pablo Honey came out in ’93. Since that time the band have released a further six albums. So….17 years as a band equals 7 albums – all of them singles. 14 ‘sides’ (vinyl lovers) of music in 17 years versus The Clash 18 ‘sides’ in just seven. Yes the pressure is different now, the industry has changes and yes Thom Yorke has made a solo album and Jonny Greenwood has done soundtrack work, but the disparity is amazing.
How can the same excitement build for a band that releases a record every 3+ years? How can the the same passion be found in a market where singles are no longer critical? Radio is dead, the charts have lost all cache and any track released as a single would never be on your album back in 1977.
All this and The Clash explosion was in a time with no internet, no youtube or myspace. Fanzines were embroyonic, few DJs played the Clash, the guiding light for record buyers was the music press. As a kid waiting for a new single was as exciting, actually more exciting, than waiting for an album. There were no 12″ singles yet, no mp3 just 2 sides of vinyl – and fans hit the record shops the day the single came out. I know – my first job was in a record shop – Smiths fans were the best, there was somehow far more valour in purchasing Sheila take a bow on the day of release than the day after. I know too…I was one of them.
Living in London was great, if you were close enough to Fleet Street you
could get the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds on your lunch break on the Wednesday. You’d turn straight to the live listings to plan your week (ticketmaster? what?) and then the singles of the week. If you were lucky a Robert Smith interview here and a Joe Strummer snippet there. Those were the days when the only chance to know what your musicians had to to say was the lyrics or the music press. The Clash played that game as well as anyone, yet in true English style the big 3 papers merely built them up to knock them back down.
Hindsight is fascinating, I recently read many of the press reviews of London Calling at the time of release. The reviews were good…some very good, other cried a ‘messy pastiche’. Masterpiece…? The British press…? No such luck.
The simple fact that The Clash built such a loyal following was down to their attitude towards their fans, their ability to work the press (initially) but most importantly the quality of their work. 20 years on The Clash would have taken a (Radiohead like) hiatus. Jones would have gone to New York, Joe to Spain and Topper to rehab. Paul would have called everyone 3 years later and they would have written whatever should have followed Combat Rock.
Everything happens for a reason it would seem.
Over the days ahead I’ll map out the blog and what features you can expect – equally important I’d love to hear from you.
Til tomorrow ~