The Essential Clash
It’s debatable whether The Clash were “the only band that matter(ed),” but it goes without question that the impact they had on rock music was enormous. They helped punk rock expand from its repetitive power chord roots by bringing in elements of dub, reggae, rockabilly, and Tin Pan Alley (among others) to breathe new life into the often uninspired genre.
This year saw the release of The Essential Clash the album — a decent, though hardly flawless retrospective of the band’s career. A companion DVD was also issued and, in some ways, surpasses the CD in importance. Whereas all of the music found on the album is available on the band’s proper releases, the DVD features material that is much harder to come by. It is the visual parallel to the Essential CD, a chronicle of the band’s rise from Britain’s gutter pubs to opening for The Who at New York’s Shea Stadium.
People will likely be drawn to this collection primarily for the music videos. Rightly so, as half of their clips predate conceptual videos, meaning the band had to rely on the strength of their live performances to carry the music. For me there was something almost mythical about the pre-Combat Rock era Clash, since I had only seen “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” very occasionally on MTV when I first started watching the station. It’s a shame the network didn’t have access to, or simply didn’t run videos from their more “punk” days. The most impressive and impassioned of these performance come from a 1976 promo session featuring “1977,” “White Riot,” and “London’s Burning.” The amount of rabid energy and power behind the songs is amazing. I only wish more footage from this time period could have been included. As their promos developed beyond filmed concert footage the band, true to form, interspersed dramatic imagery throughout the videos (riot footage, police beatings, urban sprawl/poverty, etc.) This lent an additional weight to the songs’ already socially conscious messages, opening the gates for future videos to make political statements.
The most interesting inclusion on the DVD is the Joe Strummer written and directed short film Hell W10, a humble, thug’s eye view of Britain’s criminal underworld. The film was shot on a break between tours in 1983 and features the members of the band and their friends in various roles. It was abandoned before it was polished and released and for years it was thought to have been lost before being found by fans at a “car boot” sale. The film has the feel of Taxi Driver or Once Upon a Time in America if they’d been directed by Alex Cox. Strummer’s direction shows he had an eye for interesting shots, but lacked the skill to edit them together effectively. The story is rife with typical Clash ideology: the lowest of the lower class taking from their would-be oppressors and exploiters by any means necessary. It harkens back more to their punk/self-preservation days than the globally aware view they’d reached by 1983, but the spirit is still there. It’s not the type of film I would find myself watching repeatedly, but it’s still a much more modest and thoughtful project than I can imagine any other internationally famous rock stars undertaking, and I appreciate that.
This is one of the more fascinating music DVDs I’ve seen in quite a while. Any fan of punk, or even rock history for that matter, should do themselves a favor and check it out.
The Clash: http://www.epicrecords.com/theclash/