A new Clash box set called "Sound System." is set to be released next week, so I thought now was as good a time as any to reflect on their legacy. The collection, which is shaped like a boombox, contains newly remastered versions of the group's five official albums, as well as three CDs of demos and singles, a DVD of video footage, a new edition of the "Armagideon Times" fanzine, and even some badges.
The Clash became one of the biggest bands in the world in the late seventies and this box set celebrates their legacy. After all the clash are not just any punk band, indeed calling the Clash a "punk band" is like calling the Beatles a "Merseybeat combo." Their music included dollops of rockabilly, reggae, country, rap, soul and jazz, a true mix of styles that made for some of the most exciting records and live shows of the rock 'n' roll era.
Here are my five reasons they still matter...
1. The name says it all! The name itself, taken from current affairs, represents their intentions and ideas. Whether referencing news reports on the clashes between rioters and police, or the clash of nations in conflict. It represents the aggression they sometimes inspired, a clash of opposing forces and a clash of styles they espoused artistically.
At the time pop music or at least white mainstream rock was a boring joke that said nothing, old music held all the excitement. They had seen the excitement of the 60’s and were the antithesis to the standing for nothing 70’s Rock scene.
2. They never forgot their fans As famous as they became, they never forgot what it was like to be the devoted fan in the audience. They remembered the feeling of loving a band with all their heart and soul. They never forgot the power the best bands have over their audience and the responsibility that came with it. There is no more proof of this needed than the legendary stories of them smuggling broke fans backstage, giving fans a lift home from gigs and letting them crash on their hotel room floor.
3. They reflected the area and times they grew up in
They rehearsed in the old British Rail buildings near Camden Lock, the Clash’s placed W10 and W11 at the centre of their iconography and sound. White Riot for instance, placed listener in the centre of the riot that ended the Notting Hill carnival of 1976, with news reports talking of “clashes” between police and carnival-goers.
4. They had diverse influences. The Ramones were a massive influence for almost all the punk bands that popped up in the late 70’s and the Clash were no different. However, unlike these bands their influences were spread far and wide, in particular Reggae played a massive part in their sound. London was awash with the sounds of Reggae and Dub in the 70’s and they uniquely reflected this. It it’s proof you’re looking for, just listen to the bass line on “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”, the cover of “Police and Thieves”.
At their best, The Clash broke down barriers. Dub. Reggae. Punk. Soul. Rock. Element’s of all of these took roots in their music.
5. They didn't carry on forever. Unlike many of the great rock bands in history there was no money raking reunion world tours, neither was there a procession of uninspired and complacent albums made when they were too rich to care. All their music was vital and had something to say, they were always about change and the idea ‘there must be a better way’.As much as they weren’t constrained by a genre, they weren't constrained by the idea of making as much money as possible either, which is possibly why the legacy of their music is so great.
They went global and became superstars, but their accents remained defiantly British and so did their music, always reflecting the unique mix of people that make up the urban inner cities of the UK. This same lineage can be found in music such as Rave, Drum N Bass, Grime, Dubstep and much more besides.
And finally, in my opinion in today’s confused political world a band like The Clash is needed more than ever.