International Clash Day
Written on February 7, 2018
International Clash Day celebrates the legendary British punk band, the Clash. According to the days’ official website, the day is for “celebrating music as a tool for social consciousness, and a band that made it sound so damn good.” On this day, radio stations across the globe pay tribute to the band. Numerous cities also make proclamations, record stores participate, and events are held around the world. John Richards of KEXP in Seattle started the day on February 7, 2013, after spending the day playing the Clash on his radio show.
The Clash were once dubbed as “the only band that matters,” but why did they matter, and why do they have their own day? For one, they were genre bending. Not only were they a punk and rock & roll band, but they were influenced by, and experimented with, reggae, dub, ska, rockabilly, funk, rap, and New Orleans R&B. Just as important, if not more so, the Clash brought passion and a social consciousness to rock and roll. They stood in contrast to many punk bands of their time, by embracing idealism instead of turning to nihilism. They wrote songs of protest, spoke out against police brutality, and for the disenfranchised. They also participated in causes, such as playing for Rock Against Racism.
The main lineup of the band consisted of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, who both sang and played guitar, as well as bass player Paul Simonon, and drummer Topper Headon. At their height, they were only second to the Jam in popularity in England, although they never quite achieved the same level of acclaim in the United States. They were formed from the ashes of two other bands, Simonon and Jones’ London SS, and Strummer’s The 101ers.
The Clash played their first show opening for the Sex Pistols in the summer of 1976. They went on to be part of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the U.K. tour later that year. In February of 1977, they were signed to the British CBS label, and their self-titled debut album was released in Britain that spring. It went to number 12 on the British charts, but Columbia, the label’s American counterpart, refused to release the album, as they thought it was too raw and crude, and would not be a good fit for radio play. It soon became the largest selling import album of all time.
Soon afterwards, Topper Headon was recruited to play drums, and the band recorded their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope. It went to number 2 in Britain, but only to number 128 in the States. The Clash toured America for the first time in February 1979, and Columbia was persuaded to release their self-titled album in the States, with a few changes to the tracklisting. The band once again toured America in the fall.
London Calling, a double album, was released in late 1979, and contained elements of reggae, ska, rockabilly, and New Orleans R&B. A single, “Train in Vain,” went to number 23 in America, and the album itself went to number 27 there, and to number 9 in Britain. Not only was it a commercial success, it was critically acclaimed as well. The Village Voice voted it the number one album of the year, and it has since been named the eighth best album of all time by Rolling Stone. Following the album’s release, the band toured the United States and Europe.
They next put out Sandinista!, a self-produced, anti-commercial, and experimental album. It was a triple album, and the Clash sold it for less than how much a double album usually would cost; the band paid for the cost cut, when Columbia took it out of their royalties and tour support funds. It went to number 24 in America and number 19 in Britain, and for the second year in a row, a Clash album won the Pazz & Jop best album poll.
The band soon recorded Combat Rock, and shortly thereafter, Topper Headon left the group. The album was released in May of 1982, and was their most commercially successful release, going to number 7 in America, and number 2 in Britain. Elements of funk and rap could be heard on the album, along with their usual punk and rock and roll sound. The album included the band’s biggest hit, “Rock the Casbah,” which went to number 8 on the Billboard charts; it also included “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” which went to number 45. The band toured for the album in the summer of 1982, and then was the opening act for the Who’s It’s Hard tour. This opportunity gave the Clash their biggest audiences yet. In the Spring of 1983, they headlined the US Festival in California.
By this time the band was falling apart. Mick Jones was soon kicked out, and Simonon and Strummer soldiered on, bringing on two other guitar players. They released Cut the Crap in 1985, which was panned by critics and dismissed by fans. The band broke up soon afterward.
Mick Jones went on to play in Big Audio Dynamite and Carbon/Silicon, and worked as a producer. Paul Simonon played in Havana 3 A.M., and went on to pursue painting. In the 1980s, Joe Strummer worked on music for a few films, starred in some films—such as Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train—and put out a solo album, Earthquake Weather. He was inactive for most of the 1990s, but formed the Mescaleros in 1999. Mick Jones and Joe Strummer reunited on stage for the first time in almost twenty years at a Mescaleros show on November 15, 2002, and there were rumors of a Clash reunion. Sadly, on December 22, 2002, Joe Strummer died of an undiagnosed congenital defect. The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year, and their legacy lives on in the countless bands they have influenced, and through International Clash Day.
International Clash Day is being observed today! It has been observed annually on February 7th since 2013.