5. White Riot (Single, 1977, then The Clash, 1977)
The band’s first recording and first single is one of their best songs. Written by Strummer and Jones (Strummer/Jones have the same resonance as Lennon/McCartney in my book), the song was not about white power—as many believed. No, this song was telling white youth to take to the streets and riot the same way black youth was, for equal rights, for the power of the people, and for justice for all. The single charted up to number 34.
Years later, The Mekons recorded a response to it titled, “Never Been In A Riot”:
Further listening: Know Your Rights (Combat Rock, 1982)
4. London Calling (London Calling, 1979)
An iconic cover, a revolutionary blend of genres, and a perfect title track made London Calling The Clash’s most popular album—and one of the best rock and roll records of all time. The song hit #11 on the British charts—their biggest hit I England until the re-release of Should I Stay or Should I Go? in 1991, long after they broke up. The lyrics are unmistakably punk, the melody and textures are reggae and ska, but overall this is a pure rock song.
Further listening: London’s Burning (The Clash, 1977)
3. Complete Control (The Clash (American release), 1980)
The band’s label actually didn’t include this song on the band’s first album—until the album made its way across the pond to the USA. And that’s why is starts with the lyric, “Translation in progress. Please wait…
They said release Remote Control, but we didn’t want it on the label” before moving to the snickering chorus: “Ooh ooh ooh someone’s really smart/Ooh ooh ooh complete control, that’s a laugh!” Yeah, the band got the last laugh and got the song released, despite how they spoke about their slave owners: “They said we’d be artistically free when we signed that bit of paper/They meant let’s make a lot of money and worry about it later.” Bands from the Pistols (EMI) to Prince to Jay-Z have talked about artistic control, but few have done it as well as this.
Further listening: Capital Radio One (Capital Radio EP, 1977)
2. Rock the Casbah (Combat Rock, 1982)
One of the few Clash songs that didn’t feature Paul Simonon on bass (drummer Topper Headon took over), Rock the Casbah was the band’s biggest hit–#7 on the U.S. charts (and #2 in Europe) nine years after it’s initial release, when it was used by U.S. combat troops during the Gulf War, much to Joe Strummer’s dismay. Topper Headon also composed the music to this percussion-heavy song.
Further listening: This is Radio Clash (single, 1981)