The problem with punk & nailing its politics is that it was never political to begin with. The movement was a rock & roll revival with an experimental ting bred out of New York arty farts. Television were talented musicians who showed it off, Patti Smith was providing crass poetry, Richard Hell talked of a “Blank Generation”, and the cornerstone punk band, the Ramones, provided that ever so simple blueprint for all wannabe rock & rollers.
It became political. Punk is most often angry & candid, it suits political dissent. Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and Minutemen provided a commentary in the USA. Overhear where Punk has had the most influence on cultural life, it has provided a backdrop for many political songwriters. I can go on like every BBC DJ on how the “Sex Pistols almost destroyed the Monarchy” with God Save the Queen, but I’d be lying. The Pistols, albeit being the greatest Pop group of the 70s, were just that. A Pop group. One ponders if Johnny Rotten even knew (knows) what “anarchy” means when he snarled it out in glee for the camera. I love him all the same.
The Clash politics went well with their music; overtly preachy, trite, and middle of the road. One of the first major punk bands in the UK and yet their songs are dull and the lyrics akin to an Indie rock band run by sociology undergraduates. You’d think with that open space of a new music genre they could have done a something a tad more interesting with it.
The only band that comes close to their drivel is U2 who, bar that Bono & The Edge are heavily influenced by The Clash, share common interests:
Both are ideal optimal torture intake of exceptionally bland rock
Both have highly lauded albums by critics who skip the 80% of filler for the four catchy songs
Both are held in high esteem by said critics of the Rolling Stone Conclave Monopoly
Both have lead singers who have faux intellect problems and sing with the fiery passion of whales mating
My last point rings the core problem of both groups. Bono is an egotistical buffoon who thinks singing about Nelson Mandela is a profound deep-thinking treatise for the masses. Strummer thinks talking about Spanish Communists is teaching the proles of their heritage. I’m left apathetic to it all, and from their singing, so are they.
The band that are termed “ripoffs” of the Clash sing with the passion and vigour needed. When Irish punks, Stiff Little Fingers, scrawl themselves with high power velocity about injustice during the Troubles in Suspect Device, I believe every word he shouts. When Angelic Upstarts informs me that Margaret Thatcher is the woman who captained the Bounty, I put blind faith in it. When Strummner mumbles like a care-home applicant that American soldiers should father their Vietnamese children, I share his innate apathy.
Sham 69 was the band that had it. Whilst the Clash tried to be clever, Sham were proud of its dumbness, relishing the simpleness of beer banter. The Clash mixed genres in a punk blend, for better or worse effect. Sham knew what they were and almost every track featured a shouting chorus by Football fans. Deviation happened in the world of Sham 69 but not enough to make me cringe at the composition.
The first single ever produced by Sham 69 is superior than any other single, EP, or album churned out by the Clash. Three songs. Produced by Velvet Underground founder John Cale and written by front man Jimmy Pursey and guitarist Dave Parsons.
I Don’t Wanna, the A side. A simple romp. D5, A5, E5, B5. Repeat for a minute. Add an F5 during the solo. Then repeat the pattern for 20 more seconds until the sudden stop on “BE!”.
The lyrics repeat the title 24 times, 52 percent of the tune lyrics being one of the three words. That doesn’t stop it being devoid of any substance, the simple message is reinforced by the repetition. “I don’t wanna work in no factory”, don’t want no “pension book”, don’t want to live in no “skyscraper”. Rejection of all the echelons.
The B side is compensated with two songs, Ulster and Red London. Both share a similar world view. The former being a rallying cry against IRA terrorists and the latter being against socialists and their distaste for the mighty individual. Both have heart. A sense of perspective, Pursey & Parsons lived and were brought up in London. Unlike many sympathetic to the causes for a Soviet London and Irish Republicans, they experienced the hassle that brought. Ulster could never have been written by an Irishman, only by Englishmen. Just as Red London could have only been written by a Cockney. Strummer was born in Kenya to a civil servant. Mick Jones is from the same bloodline as Grant Shapps. When they talk of matters greater than themselves, they can’t gain the heart required.
I don’t suggest that a man should only write about what they’ve experienced in life. Or they would be objectively superior to someone who didn’t. That would be foolish. Milton’s Lycidas is dedicated to the poet Edward King whilst Milton only knew him as an acquaintance, the poem is powerful & touching to King’s character. The Clash do suffer from lack of experience that would have their made songs worth being inspired by, rather than being left wishing you could travel to the soundless vacuum of space.
© @Adam J. Young (MyHyde) 2018