The Clash (2) – Thinking Man’s Yobs

Yob – The antithesis of what a good boy should be – rude, obnoxious, violent and stupid. Formed by spelling ‘boy’ backwards.

Drummer Terry Chimes had felt for a while that this wasn’t the band for him. “I was uncomfortable with the constant hardening up. I’m not very happy. What’s the point in being in this band if I’m not happy.” So the band started looking for a new drummer. (This explains why he is not on the cover of The Clash.)

At a Kinks concert, they bumped into Nick Headon who had auditioned for London SS. He auditioned for The Clash, got the job, and was fairly quickly rechristened ‘Topper’ for his supposed resemblance to Mickey the Monkey from The Topper, a British comic strip.

Headon is widely regarded within the band as a powerful and very versatile drummer. Every one of them admits that it was his versatility that allowed their music to expand beyond punk. This is important because even on their first album they were experimenting with reggae.

The band, by now the hottest thing in punk in the UK, continued touring and making little money. (Either they weren’t interested in it or someone else in management was hanging on to it. Other than Mick Jones – who wanted a little more of a rock and roll lifestyle – they didn’t seem to give a shit how much money they had or where they lived.)

Thinking Man's Yobs

In the summer of 1978, the Clash released the ska/reggae single “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais,” which was based on an all-night reggae party that Strummer and some of the Clash entourage had attended. Rather than a celebration, it details Strummer’s frustration that instead of the music being socialist/militant cant, it was smoothed-off reggae pop:

But it was Four Tops all night with encores from stage right
Charging from the bass knives to the treble
But onstage they ain’t got no roots rock rebel
Onstage they ain’t got no…roots rock rebel

White youth, black youth
Better find another solution
Why not phone up Robin Hood
And ask him for some wealth distribution

Their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, was released in late 1978. (Interestingly it was released the same month as the first album by The Police, a band that – for one reason or another – they despised. Stupid yobs?) This album was produced by Sandy Pearlman who produced much of Blue Oyster Cult’s output.

Here’s “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad.” I like this one. Shows how they’re branching out a little bit. Blue Oyster Cult’s Allen Lanier on keyboards. Gumbo!

Time has been kind to the album (87th greatest ever per NME.) But it’s difficult for any band to follow up a classic (sophomore syndrome) so they got hammered for lacking any reggae and for the album feeling ‘overproduced.’ The album was more autobiographical of the Clash as a group.

Looking back years later, Strummer mused, “We’d got so involved in the lifestyle of the group we no longer had lives to write about. I think Bob Dylan feels that. His life is far too removed from ordinary experience.”

Meanwhile, they kept gigging and getting caught up in the polemics of their manager Bernie Rhodes. After they inquired how much they were making on one gig, Rhodes said, “It is important that we understand the political structure of the French struggle.” Mick Jones said sure but how much did we fucking make?  Bernie was also a control freak and it was his spoken desire for “complete control” that inspired their 1977 single.

1978 was a breakthough year for the Clash. While not yet international sensations, they were the biggest thing in punk in the UK. (Sex Pistols by now having broken up.) And yet, they had a hard time enjoying it as, given the nature of the punk ethos and their own integrity, they didn’t seem to know what to make of it, how to enjoy it.

And while Mick Jones and Joe Strummer continued to be the main songwriters, they were such different people with such different goals that it caused friction. That friction was good in a songwriting sense but would lead to dissension and power struggles within the band.

But despite all that, the group continued and even thrived. And within a year of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, they released an album that not only took them far afield from punk but is universally hailed as one the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time.

Next post – Westway to the World

 

3 thoughts on “The Clash (2) – Thinking Man’s Yobs

  1. Never heard that Hammersmith Palais track before. Noice.
    Enjoyed hearing the origin of ‘yob’. Not a word commonly used anymore due to ‘demonizing the working class’ and whatnot… Bah. I think the Clash were to proud to be yobs.

    Great post. They’re a band whose music I’m familiar with but am ignorant of much of the story behind it.
    You referenced Sandy Pearlman who only died three days ago, and I’m thinking of doing a post about BOC in his honour. Great lyricist and producer.

    Like

    1. Interestingly, at the end of that ‘yob’ statement, it said that the ‘British upper class were fond of speaking backwards in the 18th century.’ I initially had that in the post but it sounded like bullshit and I couldn’t find any corroboration so I pulled it.

      Pearlman died, eh? No shit. Hadn’t heard that. He was asked to produce the 2nd album because CBS thought the Clash’s sound was too ‘rough’ for our poor little American ears. This despite the fact that the Ramones had already been doing their thing. If we have good music, it’s despite record company execs, not because of them.

      Look forward to your BOC post. They’re on my to-do last but not any time soon.

      Like

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