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Clash, The

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Clash, The, the first British punk band to capture the attention of American audiences. MEMBERSHIP: Joe (real name, John Mellor) Strummer, voc., rhythm gtr. (b. Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 21, 1952); Mick Jones, voc, lead gtr. (b. Brixton, London, England, June 26, 1953); Paul Simonon, bs. (b. London, England, Dec. 15, 1956). Early guitarist Keith Levene left after the group’s first tour. The group’s drummers were Tory “Terry” Chimes, Nicky “Topper” Headon (b. Bromley, England, May 30, 1955), and Pete Howard. Mick Jones left in 1983, to be replaced by guitarists Vince White and Nick Sheppard.

The Clash persevered with their assured, overtly political music while the Sex Pistols quickly self-destructed as a consequence of their defeatist nihilism. Along with Elvis Costello, the Clash were the prime innovators to emerge from punk and displayed a remarkable eclecticism (unlike their contemporaries), exploring reggae and rockabilly, as well as rock, from their very start. Ironically, while establishing themselves in Great Britain with disenfranchised working-class youth in the late 1970s, the Clash broke through in the United States to middle-class audiences with their 1982 hits “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah.” Hailed for both their debut album and London Calling, the Clash ultimately disintegrated in the mid–1980s.

Formed in May 1976 by musicians from the 101ers and London SS, the Clash toured Great Britain and the United States on the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated Anarchy in the U.K. tour that December. Early guitarist Keith Levene, who later surfaced in Public Image Ltd. with former Sex Pistols vocalist Johnny “Rotten” Lydon, left the band after the first tour, when the band added drummer Terry Chimes. Signed to Columbia Records in February 1977, the Clash’s debut album was judged too crude to be issued in the United States. It was eventually released, in altered form, on Epic in 1979. Hailed as the definitive punk album, The Clash included the rebellious “White Riot,” “London’s Burning,” and “Hate and War,” and featured musical attacks on unemployment (“Career Opportunities”), record companies (“Complete Control”), and cultural imperialism (“I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.”), plus their signature song, “I Fought the Law.”

With Nicky “Topper” Headon taking over on drums and Joe Strummer and Mick Jones acting as the group’s primary songwriters, the Clash recorded their next album (and American debut), Give ‘Em Enough Rope, with Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman. The album contained their first British hit single, “Tommy Gun,” and included “All the Young Punks,” “Guns on the Roof,” “English Civil War,” “Safe European Home,” and “Stay Free.” They debuted as headliners in the United States in February 1979 and subsequently recorded London Calling . The album featured explorations of reggae (“Revolution Rock” and “Wrong ’Em Boyo”) and rockabilly (“Brand New Cadillac”), and included “London Calling,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” the ballad “Lover’s Rock,” and their first major American hit, “Train in Vain (Stand By Me).”

Established in America as the only extant British punk band, the Clash next recorded the sprawling 36-song Sandinista album. Their biggest hits came off their next album, 1982’s Combat Rock: the moderate hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and the near-smash “Rock the Casbah,” written by drummer Topper Headon. The Clash opened for the Who’s Farewell tour in late 1982. Headon soon left the band due to ongoing problems with drug addiction; he was replaced by original drummer Chimes, and then in 1983 by Pete Howard. At the pinnacle of their popularity, Strummer and Simonon fired Mick Jones in late 1983. By 1984 only Strummer and Simonon remained from the original group; they managed to record one final album, Cut the Crap, before disbanding in 1986.

Joe Strummer turned to acting (Straight to Hell) and production, and later recorded Earthquake Music and toured with the Pogues, while Mick Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite with New Wave filmmaker-keyboardist Don Letts. The group broke up in 1989; Jones subsequently assembled Big Audio Dynamite II with entirely new members, scoring a moderate hit with “Rush” in 1991. By then Paul Simonon had formed Havana 3 A.M. with Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones.

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