The Clash remain the seminal punk band of the 70s-80s and were responsible for some of the best political songs of the era. So much has been written about Joe, Mick, Topper and Paul that we’re not even going to try and compete but seeing as their first album was released 37 years ago this month, it seemed like a good excuse to gather some of their leftie songs together into a playlist. The more obvious ones have been done to death so we’ll keep it as obscure as possible. Lets take another look at ‘the only band that matters’:
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
Easily one of their best songs; Hammersmith Palais progresses from recounting a disappointing reggae gig which ‘turned rebellion into money’ and moves on to comment on wealth distribution, class unity and slags off new groups who aren’t political. Eventually quipping that:
If Adolf Hitler flew in today,
They’d send a limousine anyway
We stuck the live version up because its the best one really. This recording of Billy Bragg singing it at a Joe Strummer memorial gig is an amusing alternative if you fancy a rowdy north of England version. Don’t worry about singing in tune.
This is England
The last Clash album is almost universally derided and has been largely written out of the band’s history. This is a shame considering This Is England is a classic that captures the gritty mood of 1980s Britain. The distorted three chord riffs help create an eerie atmosphere along with some great lines:
Black shadow of the Vincent
Falls on a Triumph line
I got my motorcycle jacket
But I’m walking all the time..
I see no glory
When will we be free
If you’ve somehow managed to miss the film of the same name then check it out. Its all about punks, fascists and music, well worth a watch!
Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)
There aren’t many good songs about social housing but this is one of them.
You can’t live in a home which should not have been built
By the bourgeois clerks who bear no guilt
When the wind hits this building, this building it tilts
One day it will surely fall to the ground…
The Spanish civil war has been the focus of some of the best left-wing songs of the last century and indeed the subject itself has been responsible for politicising thousands of young people over the years. Some stand out examples are by Christy Moore, Pól Mac Adaim and the Manics. But no list of would be complete without Spanish Bombs by The Clash. It features references to the poet Fredrico Lorca who was murdered by fascists during the war, our own Connolly Column who joined the International Brigades to fight for the republic and numerous other images:
Oh, please, leave the vendetta open
Fredrico Lorca is dead and gone
Bullet holes in the cemetery walls
The black cars of the Guardia Civil
The live version from Shea Stadium packs more of a punch so we used that. Any Spanish linguists out there should be polite about their interesting grasp of the language in the chorus.
Career Opportunities (Live)
Written about high unemployment, lack of prospects for working class kids and the general drudgery of the late 1970s, Career Opportunities is sadly as relevant today as it ever was.
Career opportunities are the ones that never knock
Something About England
This is an overlooked classic from the Sandinista album. The whole song is a conversation between the narrator (sung by Mick) and a homeless WWII veteran (Joe) and covers all sorts from the lazy racism of the upper classes, the depression of the ’20s and the continuing class war. Well worth a listen.
The twenties turned the north was dead
The hunger strike came marching south
At the garden party not a word was said
As the ladies lifted cake to their mouths
North and South
Another off the last album. If you ignore the dodgy instrumentation then its a great song about the class divide between the north and south of England. While generally quite dark, some of the lines strike a more hopeful tone:
And so we say
We ain’t digging no graves
We’re digging a foundation
For a future to be made
The Call Up
Straight To Hell
Unemployment, racism, Vietnam, immigrants and dystopian futures all feature in this one. Easily one of their finest songs. We linked to the extended version in this post because its deadly, the shorter album version can easily be found elsewhere. A starker and equally good live version can be found here.
Always best to finish with a tune.