THE CLASH: THE BEST OF THE BONDS (1981) (the Bonds top 30)

By mid 1981, The Clash had been recording albums for just four years, and yet they’d managed to put out four records in that time, two of which are two of the greatest albums of all time (The Clash; London Calling), one of which was a double album (LC) and another was a triple (Sandinista!). Who else in history has accomplished this volume of production, other than Lil’ Wayne? And although it’s true that Sandinista! is a little bloated, it’s still got more great songs than some bands put out in their entire careers, including The Magnificent Seven, Somebody Got Murdered, The Call Up, and the classic Eddy Grant cover, Police On My Back.

On May 28, 1981, the band took up residency for two weeks and 17 shows. The had opening acts of such magnitude and variety as Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, the Treacherous Three, Joe Ely, The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, The Fall, The Sugar Hill Gang, The Slits, and even ESG. The year 1981 is my personal pick for their best in terms of live skills–they were all still friendly enough that they weren’t waging war on stage, and they’d just pushed Sandinista! through, despite their record company’s objections, and the album was the band’s most experimental and ambitious. Live, they frequently changed songs, restructured them, and they constantly changed the set lists–and even the lyrics!

You can read more about the Bonds shows at this excellent site for Clash info.

Here’s the best of the shows, in my not-so-humble opinion, excluding the June 13 show, which was released by Epic Records. Support the artists and buy everything they’ve released. I have.

I’ve put these songs in special order–as if this were a real show (albeit an exceptionally long one). If you listen to it in this order, you’ll need to use volume adjustments because the tracks vary in quality over the various shows. Nevertheless, I bet you’ll dig it.

There’s a ZIP FILE, along with a few tastes.

1. London Calling. (5/28) The first song of the first night was perhaps the band’s signature song in 1981. They led most of the bonds night with this song, and this version is blistering, with some of Mick’s best work of the entire Bonds residency.

2. Safe European Home. (6/4) The band played this as the second song each night. In this version, at about the 1:30 mark, the band veers off into a weird jam that might even have been a mess up at first, but it continues, taking the song through some really interesting gymnastics.

3. The Leader. (6/3) Almost always the third song in the set, Joe kicks off this one with, “Who are you gonna vote for?” The sound quality is pretty bad here, but the band is tight. Not my favorite Clash song, but this is my favorite Bonds version of it, and since they played it every night, I figgered the boys would want it included.

4. Train in Vain. (6/1) At song four, the Bonds setlists began to vary, but more often than not, they played Train fourth. Here, the band plays it at a much faster pace than usual, and keeps going for four-and-a-half minutes. The quicker speed and relative length allowed them to jam on it. The Clash’s album material from this time period is so tight, and usually consists of short songs, so we don’t usually think of them as improvisers, but as this set list should be proving, they were.

5. Junko Pardner (5/28). This came out of Train in Vain, and the transition is evident here as the song begins with same basic structure before settling in. The whip sounds, which I believe were coming from Mick’s guitar, emphasize the grit and grime of this old James Wayne blues song.

6. Broadway. (6/12) This isn’t a favorite song of mine, but it’s the only one I’m using for this night. On this, their second to last night at Bonds, the band began to show signs of wear. The set list lacked imagination, and the playing started to seem pro forma in many ways. This song is kinda cool because Joe tells the audience that Holmes just won the Heavyweight bout, in the third round, right at the beginning.

7. White Man in Hammersmith Palais. (6/4) A superb version, complete with time changes and tons of ad-libs. My absolute favorite song ever.

8. Police and Thieves. (6/2) A 6-minute version of this Jr. Marvin cover. The band unfurls here, stretching out through several tempo changes into a crashing climax.

9. Pressure Drop. (6/8) Coming back after a day off, the band offers their first performance of this cover in 4 years.

10. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe. (5/29) Joe introduces Topper, and this underrated anti-war anthem kicks off hard and fast. I dunno how Top can beat the skins and keep up on the vocals at the same time . . . Who does he think he is, Phil Collins?

11. Lightning Strikes. (6/1) “Let the lightning strike!” says Joe, as the band rips into a muscular version on their fourth night at Bonds Casino. I truly wish the mix were better on this boot, because it’s one of the best of the Bonds shows.

12. Street Parade. (6/1) A relatively rare performance of Street Parade.

13. Charlie Don’t Surf. (6/1) After Mick’s solo, Joe writes a new verse on the spot. I guess you’d call this freestyling.

14. Jimmy Jazz. (6/1) The last song from the most excellent June 1 show. This is the first time they broke this song out in NYC, and it’s very intricate. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better version of it.

15. Guns of Brixton. (5/28) Paul Simonon gets his chance to shine, and takes full advantage, playing lead guitar (with Joe on bass). If you dig this, don’t forget about this post!

16. Call Up. (6/5) I’m not sure why, but Joe begins this song asking, “Where’s the trumpet?” He’s ad-libbing a bunch at the beginning, but it’s not easy to hear what he’s saying. Nevertheless, a great version of this rootsy, bluesy number.

17. Washington Bullets. (6/2) The band played this every night at the Casino, with lots of shout-outs about El Salvador. The screaming at the end is a representative from the Democratic Revolutionary Front. He’s hard to understand, but he telling the audience to protest U.S. involvement down there. There’s a drop in the recording, but other than that this an inspired version.

18. Clampdown. (5/29) Throughout the night, Joe had been doing his best James Brown imitations, but here his bandleader instructions come through the rough mix crisply, as he instructs everyone to “shhhhh!” while Mick and Topper deliver phenomenal performances.

19. Complete control (6/2). Mick murders this.

20. Somebody Got Murdered. (6/3) At the end, there’s some back-and-forth between Joe and the crowd, where he asks them if they want to hear some Aerosmith. They don’t. “Just checking!” Joe says. “We don’t do Toys in the Attic.”

21. Magnificent 7. (6/9) Another great version of this fantastic live song, which was always played as an extensive, jam song.

22. Capital Air. (6/10) The Clash backing Allen Ginsburg, a precursor to the Ghetto Defendant collaboration.

23. Spanish Bombs. (6/11) The band broke the song out on June 3, and didn’t play it again until tonight, when they did it much better. The harmonies are a little off, but this is such a wonderful song.

24. Daddy Was a Bankrobber. (6/10) Joe’s ode to Mick’s childhood gets a strong treatment here, with great rhythm guitar work.

25. Radio Clash. (6/4) Topper eats the drums on this. There were many great versions of this tune played at Bonds, and it was hard to pick just one or two to throw up here.

26. Janie Jones. (6/13) Nuff said.

27. Career Opportunities. (6/13) The band did two shows on their last day, and I seem to be missing the afternoon set. But the evening set is a good one, and it’s pretty good quality, too. This song is a highlight because they didn’t do it very often over the course of their stay at Bonds.

28. Armagideon Time. (6/4) Another cover–a song that was pretty hot when The Clash took it on, but they quickly took it over and made it their own. I read that one of the things the band loved about reggae was that the rhythms are so easy to pick up and twist–as if the song is just a building block for the performer. This version features excellent guitar-and-drums work at the end, with Joe just vamping all over the place before the song suddenly ends and cuts into London’s Burning.

29. New York’s Burning. (6/5) As with most nights, Joe screams the intro and screams at the end.

ENCORE: White Riot. (6/13) A rarity for the Bonds shows, this is about as punk as The Clash get in 1981. It was also the last song of the Bonds shows.

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