By Joel Francis
Every Christmas Eve, a significant block of time is set aside to honor the late Joe Strummer, who died on Dec. 22, 2002. This year, The Daily Record examines four songs from the last days of The Clash and Strummer’s reluctant transition to solo artist.
“This Is England” by The Clash, from “Cut the Crap”
The final single in the Clash’s illustrious career, “This Is England” has been unfairly overlooked. After firing manager Bernie Rhodes in 1978, Strummer convinced the rest of the group to bring Rhodes back in 1981. That decision hastened the end of the band. Rhodes played Mick Jones off of Strummer, and after the difficult “Combat Rock” sessions convinced Strummer the band would be better with him in charge and without Jones.
Strummer fired Jones, but regretted the decision for the rest of his life. Realizing he had been duped, Strummer and Paul Simonon, the only remaining members in the band at the end, abandoned the material recorded for the post-Jones album “Out of Control.” Rhodes finished the album alone, changed its title to “Cut the Crap” released the album without the band’s permission.
As sad and unfortunate as this tale may be, it shouldn’t detract from the greatness of “This is England.” The synths and drum machine may not line up with the Clash’s established sound, but the diatribe against the Motherland, soaring chorus and knife blade guitars are pure Strummer.
“Sightsee MC” by Big Audio Dynamite, from “No. 10 Upping Street”
When Mick Jones found artistic success with his post-Clash ensemble Big Audio Dynamite, Joe Strummer was both elated and devastated. He was happy for his old friend, but fell into a depression, because he knew the Clash were over. Strummer found a way to work with Jones again, though, when he appeared in the studio and offered to produce the group’s second album.
Despite being penned by its two best-know members, “Sightsee MC” sounds nothing like The Clash. Full of samples, synth beds and big drums, the production hasn’t aged well, but the song was very its time when it was released in 1986. Jones’ rap delivery recalls the Clash song “The Magnificent Seven,” and the Jamaican patios fits in with the band’s love for reggae. Spidery guitar line and references to “send out a mayday to London” delineate Clash connection.
Strummer frequently performed “Sightsee MC” in concert during his 1988 “Rock Against the Rich” tour with his new band, the Latino Rockabilly War.
“Filibustero” by Joe Strummer, from the “Walker” soundtrack
After writing songs for “Sid and Nancy” and “Straight to Hell,” Strummer became British director Alex Cox’ go-to guy for soundtracks. “Walker,” Cox’ 1987 “acid Western” starring Ed Harris and Peter Boyle has been mostly forgotten, but its soundtrack stands proudly as Strummer’s first post-Clash, solo LP.
Strummer was surprisingly tentative in his leadership of the project, though. Every day he showed up at the Russian Hill recording studio in San Francisco with a boom box and cassettes of sketches and ideas he had heard and recorded the night before. Instructing his musicians to “work something up” he’d disappear for several hours, then return to hear what developed. Under those circumstances, it’s amazing the music not only turned out well, but pleased Strummer.
The lead-off track, “Filibustero” sounds like something out of the Buena Vista Social Club or Afro-Cuban All-Stars. The former punk rock warlord uses Latin American rhythms, arrangements and melodies to capture the film’s Nicaraguan setting. For some reason, “Filibustero” was released as a single, which included several remixes. It did not chart, but it did establish Strummer on the road to world music he would explore in depth a decade later with the Mescaleros.
“Trash City” by Joe Strummer and the Latino Rockabilly War, from the “Permanent Record” soundtrack
Strummer’s work on the “Permanent Record” album marked his fourth soundtrack in as many years, but these sessions were different. After flirting with world music on “Walker,” Strummer was ready to rock out again. He recruited several L.A.-based underground musicians, including former Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss and former Red Hot Chili Peppers/future Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons, and dubbed them the Latino Rockabilly War.
Of the five songs the group contributed to the “Permanent Record” soundtrack, only “Trash City” was released as a single. The track fades in like a party already in progress, as Iron’s drums and Strummer’s guitar hammer the rhythm home. Dropping his normally serious, political façade, Strummer sings about visiting “a girl from Kalamazoo” and tosses in non-sequiturs about coffee shops in Seoul, bowling and vandalism for good measure. The yelps and scream on the outro show how much fun Strummer is having.
Happy Clash-mas Eve (2008)
Review: Carbon/Silicon at the Record Bar (Mick Jones/Terry James project)