Saturday, March 05, 2016

Book: The Clash (Grand Central Publishing, 2008)

The Clash was one of the most important bands in rock 'n' roll history, moving from scuffling for gigs in the squats of London to fame and accolades and then finally the inevitable fall from grace. This is a coffee table book that charts the band's career with an overview and a wealth of photos and illustrations. They begin with providing brief biographies of the four main band members with anecdotes about their upbringing and their path toward music and the eventual formation of the band. Then there is a year by year narrative of the groups activities, whether recording, playing gigs or getting into various forms of mischief. This is an "official" history of the band, so the scurrilous gossip is kept to a minimum. They slowly gain momentum during 1976-1977, building into a protean live band and beginning to record singles and EP's that were getting noticed in the press. The infamous Anarchy in the U.K. tour with The Sex Pistols and The Damned really put them on the map as the chaos and attention grew and led to the release of their explosive first self titled LP. As with each album, the book annotates each song with quips from band members. The first album sold surprisingly well, and when the label elected not to sell it in the USA it became one of the best selling import LPs in America. Then it was wall to wall touring to take their message all around England and Europe as a whole, culminating with a trip to Jamaica and an explosive Rock Against Racism performance. The follow up album Give 'em Enough Rope was controversial since it was produced by Sandy Pearlman and gave the album a bit of a hard rock sheen. The record had an epic side one, but nothing could prepare people for the band's next release, the epochal masterpiece London Calling, one of the greatest albums in rock 'n' roll history. They weren't a punk band any longer but folded that influence into a batter that included reggae, blues and beyond. The band's reach exceeded their grasp on the following album Sandinista! which was a three album set (at a budget price that scalped their royalties) where they threw everything including the kitchen sink into an unruly mess that nevertheless contained some absolute gems. The band had been working non-stop and the book chronicles this with quotes from each member about touring and recording and the tensions that were beginning to build up amidst the immense pressure of playing sixteen straight nights at Bonds Casino in New York City or opening for The Who in gigantic stadiums. Cracks had started to show in the band as they had to fire drummer Topper Headon due to his out of control heroin addiction. Despite the problems, their 1981 album Combat Rock was a huge popular hit: number two in the UK and number seven in the USA. They were experimenting even more, adding influences of the nascent hip-hop movement and Jamaican dub to their music, surprisingly scoring a top ten single with "Rock the Casbah." Unfortunately it was all downhill from there, as Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had a falling out and a rotating drummer replacing Headon. Eventually Jones left and Strummer was left to stumble to the finish in 1984 with the final album Cut the Crap and with single "This is England." So this book works very well as an overview of the band, the members, their albums and tours. The pictures and press cuttings are fascinating as are the glimpses behind the scenes at of the most influential bands that ever lived. The Clash -

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