The Clash were the English punk band who famously fought the law and lost, and now thanks to Google Play you can relive the band’s story with some exclusive never-before-seen footage. Despite being more commonly associated with searches and apps, Google have turned their attention to the late great Joe Strummer and bandmates in a documentary that explores life in one of the most influential bands of the last century.
The Clash first emerged in 1976 during the first wave of the British punk movement but internal struggles put an end to them only ten years later. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of the band or genre, their story is fascinating; as is Google’s involvement with creating such a documentary series.
Who Were The Clash?
The principal members of The Clash at their height were Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky “Topper” Headon. They formed in London in the early 70s, as punk rock took a hold on the nation’s angry youth. The band famously fused several genres of music into their own unique brand of punk, notably reggae, funk and dub.
Along their path to fame and fortune the band made a number of mistakes, including signing the sort of record deal with CBS that later became the benchmark for bad record deals the world over. Signing on the dotted line meant they had to cough up for their own tours, recordings and other expenses; though they picked up £100,000 for having played nothing but a few gigs.
Their initial self-titled album initially reached number 12 in the UK, though CBS initially denied it a US release citing the album’s raw sound and lack of production as justification. The company later asked for the band’s second album to adopt a cleaner sound in pursuit of North American success. It didn’t happen, with the album (Give ‘Em Enough Rope) only reaching 128 in the Billboard chart.
In December 1979 the band released the game-changing album London Calling, famed for its quality sound and iconic cover of Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar. The album represented a change in direction for the band, though they still stayed true to their punk rock roots, taking part in the iconic first ever Rock Against Racism concert in 1978 alongside the likes of Buzzcocks and the Tom Robinson Band.
It was during this era that The Clash picked up the tagline “the only band that matters” and they soon followed up with the release of their fourth album Sandinista! in 1980. The 36-track long LP was known as their most controversial for its varying style, political content and “cluttered” presentation.
The Clash enjoyed yet more success with the release of their fifth studio album Combat Rock, which featured the likes of Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah, both of which enjoyed massive mainstream success. The Clash experienced their best US reception when Rock The Casbah charted at number 8, and MTV played the video (which made heavy use of satire) endlessly.
Unfortunately, The Clash began to disintegrate after Combat Rock. In-fighting and personal disagreements, differences with artistic direction and Headon’s heroin addiction which prompted his exit from the band all played their part. The fifth and final album called Cut The Crap was released in 1985 to a lukewarm reception. Much of the work was done by studio musicians and drum machines, as Strummer and Rhodes (the band’s manager) struggled for control.
Speaking about the decline of his band, Strummer said: “When the Clash collapsed, we were tired. There had been a lot of intense activity in five years. Secondly, I felt we’d run out of idea gasoline. And thirdly, I wanted to shut up and let someone else have a go at it.”
And now, to hear a far more personal side to The Clash that could only be told by remaining and deceased band members alike, we’ll turn to Google’s five part documentary. Each part focuses on a specific album, and trials and tribulations involved while making reference to the political and social climates of the time (after all, this is punk).
Thanks to YouTube’s nifty playlist embedding you can click Play All above to enjoy all five parts of the documentary back-to-back, starting with the discovery of the band’s drummer, “Topper” Headon. The band then go on to describe the processes that went into the difficult second album, and how their love of football helped shape London Calling. The documentary stops short of their sixth album (Cut the Crap), partly due to the fact that two of the four members had left and because Strummer himself disowned the album aside from a few favourite tracks.
Are you a fan of The Clash? Did you enjoy Google’s documentary? Let us know in the comments, below!