The Essential: The Clash
The Clash’s brief and unlikely trajectory from the crucible of punk to mainstream burnout spawned a range of curious collectibles. Sean Egan digs out the rarities…
The Clash were never supposed to be about anything as precious or retrograde as collectability.
Punk being a musical movement that toppled idols and railed against rock-aristocracy materialism and avarice, it initially seemed unthinkable that anyone might one day covet the genre’s releases for rarity value. Punk’s primitivism and its affected disposability also helped to bolster that presumption.
Excellence, however, creates an impetus to cherish. The Clash might have declared on the flipside of their debut single: “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones in 1977,” but the quality of the output of the London four-piece soon catapulted them into the very musical pantheon they sought to question. As their success mushroomed and their fans multiplied, the more obscure items from their back catalogue inevitably assumed the status of buried treasure.
In truth, the process started early. In early ’77, The Clash authorised the giveaway of an EP of original material in a promotional deal with the NME. Their motivation was almost certainly to bolster their men-of-the-people image, but the move instantly backfired. With the ‘Capital Radio’ EP limited to 10,000 copies, it soon meant that a chunk of the band’s growing army of fans were prepared to pay large sums of money for it.
The Clash had a relatively short life. Their recording career from their March 1977 debut record lasted around five years; eight if one includes the much-ridiculed post-Mick Jones line-up. They were, though, famously productive, releasing six albums (one of which was a double, another a triple), plus many standalone singles and exclusive B-sides. Within that catalogue were numerous covetable rarities, alternates and variations, as well as – in their latter, money-oriented days – gimmicky giveaways. So, in no particular order, we present something the band of 40 years ago would have considered a contradiction in terms: a list of Clash collector’s items.
THE CLASH – 5 STUDIO ALBUM LP SET
Since Sound System, the massive, 12-disc Clash release of 2013, was offered only via CD and download, this eight-disc release is the closest vinyl fans can get to such a comprehensive Clash overview. All pre-Cut The Crap albums are presented as replicas of the vinyl originals, but the sound is different – Sandinista! in particular is improved by the Jones-supervised remastering.
Rarest 2013 Columbia £120
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: LIVE
The Clash were great live: from 1980 to 1982, their burnished, elegant concert music was superior to their records. Their first live album, though, was posthumous and underwhelming, ignoring live recordings from 1976, 1977 and 1979 in favour of merely adequate performances. For those interested in such things, an exclusive Blitzkrieg Bop/Police & Thieves live medley formed a hidden track on Rockers Galore, a 1999 promo CD.
Rarest 1999 Columbia £60
RETURN TO BRIXTON/GUNS OF BRIXTON
The finale of Side Two of London Calling was Paul Simonon’s first composition and vocal performance. A menacing reggae track, it’s like a scenario from The Harder They Come transplanted to SW2. In 1990, Beats International made the top spot in the UK with Dub Be Good To Me, which blatantly lifted Guns Of Brixton’s compelling bassline. The Clash responded with a new mix.
Rarest 1990 CBS £18
FINGERPOPPIN’ (AOR RE-MIX)
One of the most curious of all Clash discs. With no band to promote Cut The Crap, Epic commissioned Jason Corsaro to extend and dancify one of its tracks for this 12″ 33rpm promo single with identical sides. As the song epitomised Cut The Crap’s faults – incongruous Americanisms and a 33-year-old jive talkin’ like an adolescent – it was always unlikely to recreate the success of its predecessor.
Rarest 1985 Epic (US) £8
CUT THE CRAP
For this sixth and final album, Bernard Rhodes acted as producer and co-writer on a bizarre record dominated by drum machines, synthesisers and unsubtle mass chanting. A disgusted Strummer refused to promote an album which, when Jones turned down his entreaties to get the old gang back together, ended up being a sad finale for a once-great band. So ill-thought-of is the LP that it has never been reissued on vinyl.
Rarest 1985 CBS (Portugal) £17.50
THIS IS ENGLAND/DO IT NOW/SEX MAD ROAR
The long wait for the first product of the new five-man Clash (Strummer and Simonon the only familiar members) sounded alarm bells, but This Is England did much to quell them. A stately paced, heart-wrenching examination of the casualties of Thatcherism, it was the final Clash classic. This 12″ single tends to fetch higher prices than the 7″, although both B-sides are mediocre.
Rarest 1985 CBS (Spain) £15
HOUSE OF THE JU-JU QUEEN/SEX MACHINE
(Big Beat Records 1983)
The Clash repaid the favour of taking Janie Jones’ name for one of their best songs with this single credited to her and ‘The Lash’. It features the playing of Strummer, Jones and Simonon, with Joe producing and writing the A-side. Janie Jones was actually a minor pop star before branching out into the sex trade, so doesn’t acquit herself too badly on a number that alleges hypocrisy on the part of the legal establishment that prosecuted her.
Rarest 1983 Big Beat £11
The ESCAPADES OF FUTURA 2000
The Clash had a soft spot for anyone with a streetwise aura, an example being Futura 2000, one of the urban graffiti artists then just becoming media stars. He designed the This Is Radio Clash cover, handwrote the lyrics on Combat Rock’s inner sleeve and rapped on Overpowered By Funk. Both sides of this single were co-written by him and Mick Jones, with The Clash adding backing and production.
Rarest 1994 360° Records green-vinyl reissue (Germany) £40
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO/STRAIGHT TO HELL
This original double-A-sided UK release downplayed Should I Stay… in favour of a strangely butchered version of Combat Rock’s harrowing highlight (Straight To Hell was even edited on the 12″). A rather jerky anthem of hesitation about walking out of a love affair, Should I Stay… seems to owe something to both Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels’ Little Latin Lupe Lu and Sophistication by Sharks.
Rarest 1982 CBS (Spain) £55
ROCK THE CASBAH/LONG TIME JERK
Heroin-addicted drummer Topper Headon was increasingly incapacitated during the Combat Rock sessions, but Rock The Casbah was the glorious exception. The piano, bass and drums are all Headon’s work. The song’s catchiness, and Strummer’s droll lyric about the plight of rock lovers in fundamentalist Iran, propelled it into the US Top 10. The cut was given a Mick Jones remix with a far more prominent rhythm track.
Rarest 1982 Epic (Japan) £16
Sick of the penury inflicted by underpriced double and triple sets, The Clash went back to a single disc for their fifth album. Although they didn’t return to the excellence of their first three records, diligent marketing secured this bitty, peculiar LP over two million sales in the USA. First vinyl pressings are valued because they feature, as well as a later-altered poster, a cheery ad for a toilet cleaner overdubbed onto Inoculated City, later removed for legal reasons.
Rarest 1982 CBS £21
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS/FIRST NIGHT BACK IN LONDON
The sonic punch of this stripped-back, vice-tight track is not diluted too much by a lyric that comes over like a teenager’s idea of social commentary. The exclusive B-side – a brooding story of maltreatment upon return from foreign travels – is also fine stuff. However, this first taste of Combat Rock marked the beginning of what some diehards felt was a true sellout…this release came with a free sticker.
Rarest 1982 CBS (Japan) £21
CONCERTS FOR THE PEOPLE OF KAMPUCHEA
In December 1979, The Clash were part of a star-studded bill for a series of concerts at London’s Hammersmith Odeon intended to raise money for the afflicted state of Kampuchea. A multi-artist double album featuring highlights was belatedly released in 1981. The Clash’s contribution was a powerful performance of the Willie Williams/Jackie Mittoo reggae tune, Armagideon Time.
Rarest 1981 Atlantic (Spain) £10.50
SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS
This Ellen Foley album, recorded directly after the Sandinista! sessions, was an interesting digression in The Clash’s career. Produced by Jones and featuring the playing of all four Clash members, it saw Strummer and Jones – who wrote six of the songs – taking the opportunity to experiment with their songwriting. The overwhelming tone is that of European theatrical pop merchants such as Jacques Brel, with tracks such as The Death Of The Psychoanalyst Of Salvador Dalí.
Rarest 1981 Epic (Canada) £9
THIS IS RADIO CLASH/RADIO CLASH
The final standalone Clash single, This Is Radio Clash features a half-decent stuttering funk groove and an occasionally witty lyric. Yet the band’s self-absorption and the production are wearying. The B-side is the second half of an already over-long song. The 12″ featured further versions of said song in the form of Outside Broadcast and Radio 5. It was all the type of hubris that was giving The Clash an air of the ridiculous.
Rarest 1981 CBS (Greece) £20
THE MAGNIFICENT DANCE/THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN/THE CALL UP/THE COOL OUT
This US 12″ single actually appeared a month before The Magnificent Seven UK 7″. Meanwhile, The Cool Out – a remix of The Call Up – didn’t even appear in the UK. Also, they were treating the 12″ remix as seriously as they did its dub cousin: The Magnificent Dance took precedence over the track it was remixed from.
Rarest 1981 Epic £18
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN/THE MAGNIFICENT DANCE
The Clash’s story might have been very different had this superb record been the lead-off Sandinista! 45. A nimble, infectious exploration of the tedium of nine-to-five life, it was the first white rap single (Blondie’s Rapture was a close second). It may have had a major influence on the genre: it was a pioneering instance of rap social commentary, preceding records such as Grandmaster Flash’s The Message.
Rarest 1980 CBS £7
HITSVILLE U.K./RADIO ONE
Considering The Clash agreed to forfeit royalties on the first 200,000 UK sales of Sandinista! to subsidise the low retail price they insisted on, they pushed the LP very clumsily. The second single – a tribute to UK indie labels that had successfully taken on the conglomerates – is a limpid piece of cod Motown with Ellen Foley’s vocal given Ono-esque prominence. Plus, it’s coupled with an artistically negligible Mikey Dread toast.
Rarest 1980 Epic (New Zealand) £11.50
At the time, it was beyond parody: punk figureheads releasing a triple LP. Were The Clash streetwise punks or self-indulgent prog-rockers? Worse, when the album did materialise, its UK poverty vistas seemed laughably presumptuous for what had now become a troupe of globetrotters. Musically, fully a third of it was worthless. Another third lacked bite. With hindsight, it’s clear that within Sandinista! is a good double album and a great single LP.
Rarest 1980 CBS (Mexico) £300
THE CALL UP/STOP THE WORLD
Although a first-rate record, The Call Up marked the point where British fans felt The Clash started to lose touch. The possibility of the return of the draft was not a UK concern, but relevant in America, where the band now spent much of their time (Jones was in a relationship with Missouri chanteuse Ellen Foley). The single marked the end (on Clash fare) of the ‘Strummer/Jones’ songwriting credit, with both tracks ascribed to ‘Clash’.
Rarest 1980 Epic (New Zealand) £30
BLACK MARKET CLASH
This 10″ album for the North American market grouped tracks from the debut album left off the US version. However, that it boasted previously unavailable material and rounded up recordings otherwise scattered across singles and EPs created a demand for import copies in the UK. Bankrobber and Pressure Drop were featured in new mixes and it included the unheard Time Is Tight and Bankrobber ‘version’ Robber Dub.
Rarest 1981 CBS (Spain) £23
BANKROBBER/ROCKERS GALORE… UK TOUR
CBS initially refused to release this on the grounds that a standalone single wasn’t appropriate when The Clash’s latest LP hadn’t yet been fully promoted. However, after a Dutch 33rpm release of Train In Vain with Bankrobber on the B-side started selling well on import, CBS backed down and it became a UK No. 12. The UK B-side has a Mikey Dread toast over the A-side backing track.
Rarest 1980 Epic (New Zealand) £50
TRAIN IN VAIN (STAND BY ME)/LONDON CALLING
The temporary absence of sacked politically hard-line manager Bernard Rhodes freed The Clash to include love songs on London Calling. Strummer wrote Spanish Bombs, while Jones contributed Train In Vain. The latter’s conventionality made Epic see it as the perfect follow-up to I Fought The Law, but it was also revolutionary, proving a love song in Estuary English didn’t have to sound ridiculous.
Rarest 1979 Epic (Costa Rica) £150
ROCK AGAINST RACISM – RAR’S GREATEST HITS
The Clash contributed a version of (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais to this Various Artists collection designed to raise money for the titular pressure group. This studio outtake has a different lyric, with lines about US dollars replacing the reference to Burton suits (a clear Jam putdown). In territories outside the UK and Sweden, it was replaced by The Winter Of ‘79 by the Tom Robinson Band.
Rarest 1980 Virgin £7
PEARL HARBOUR ’79
A broadside against the then-bland Americana swamping British culture, I’m So Bored With The U.S.A. became a millstone, raised whenever The Clash spent long periods there. They tried undermining such criticisms by opening American sets with it and titling their first US outing the ‘Pearl Harbour Tour’. This Japanese release is named after the latter, but undermines its point by replicating the traduced American version of the first LP, down to the same free single.
Rarest 1979 Epic (Japan) £34
The plush production on this, The Clash’s LP masterpiece, was mirrored by the splendid packaging: two discs housed in a single jacket with card inner sleeves adorned with lyrics and photos (copied by Bruce Springsteen pretty much wholesale for The River). The first pressing is the most collectible of the domestic versions, because Mick Jones’ cockney soul-chug Train In Vain, added too late to feature in the tracklisting, was annotated only in the run-out groove.
Rarest 1979 CBS (Japan, gatefold) £43
LONDON CALLING/ARMAGIDEON TIME
The Clash never had a UK Top 10 single in their lifetime. This atmospheric tale of apocalypse made No. 11, but could have been a chart-topper if they’d allowed their wares on Top Of The Pops. Unlikely? The year’s Christmas No. 1 was Another Brick In The Wall (Part II). London Calling was the subject of the first Clash 12″ single, with two dub versions of the smouldering reggae B-side.
Rarest 1979 CBS yellow vinyl 12″ 45rpm (Colombia) £175
I FOUGHT THE LAW/(WHITE MAN) IN HAMMERSMITH PALAIS
The Clash’s I Fought The Law was galvanising stuff, but some British fans were disgusted: it was a cover, was steeped in Americana and was generalised rebellion rather than relevant social commentary. All these reasons are exactly why Epic put it on the A-side of the first American Clash single. It failed to crack the Top 40.
Rarest 1979 Epic (USA) £10
THE CLASH (US VERSION)
The Clash’s stateside label agreed to release the band’s debut album only after import copies of that supposedly unacceptably lo-fi product sold like hot cakes. For the US version, Epic jettisoned four tracks to make room for UK singles and B-sides, inserted I Fought The Law, shuffled the running order and threw in a free promo single containing two tracks from the new UK EP. Copies still containing the free single fetch the highest prices.
Rarest US Epic (blue cover, single) £17
THE COST OF LIVING EP
The NME giveaway barely qualified as an EP, but this release can have left few feeling disappointed, with four high-quality songs and witty, deluxe packaging. The EP – which opened with a cover of I Fought The Law – included Capital Radio, re-recorded because of fans complaining that they couldn’t obtain the original. Silly-money prices continue to be fetched by the NME EP: an alternate version is just another object of desire.
Rarest 1979 CBS (UK promo) £35
ENGLISH CIVIL WAR (JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME)/PRESSURE DROP
The Clash released two singles from their second album without causing any of the fuss they had over Remote Control. In the strife-torn late 70s, there was much talk of civil war in Britain. This atmosphere clearly fed into English Civil War, an Anglicisation and hard-rock updating of American Civil War folk song When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
Rarest CBS (Germany) £105
TOMMY GUN/1- 2 CRUSH ON YOU
Its Sturm und Drang caused many to assume it to be irresponsible glorification of violence, but in fact, Tommy Gun is a repudiation of the terrorists’ methods. An original B-side was an enticement to people who had bought the parent LP a fortnight before, but the Jones-sung 1-2, Crush On You is a risible pre-punk throwback with dated American accents and banal romantic sentiments.
Rarest 1978 CBS (Ireland) £17.50
GIVE ’EM ENOUGH ROPE
Some were disappointed by the overbearing thunder and glossy sheen of The Clash’s second album. Others cite the powerhouse exploration of geopolitics, Safe European Home, and the friendship anthem Stay Free as proof that the band were worthy of the punk throne vacated by the fragmenting Sex Pistols. Original pressings came with a double-sided poster, The Clash Atlas.
Rarest 1978 CBS UK (first pressing with Clash Atlas insert) £300+
(WHITE MAN) IN HAMMERSMITH PALAIS/THE PRISONER
The menacing atmosphere encountered by Clash frontman Joe Strummer at the titular London music venue serves as a framing device for a gloomy rumination on the state of punk, with The Jam in particular getting it in the neck. Ironically, some will have seen the gimmickry surrounding this release (four sleeve colours) as another sign punk was being cheapened.
Rarest 1978 CBS £12-15
CLASH CITY ROCKERS/JAILGUITAR DOORS
On a poor record, The Clash mock uninspired older artists while ripping off the riff of I Can’t Explain, and are unsympathetic to people stuck in dead-end jobs. The single was varispeeded without the band’s knowledge. Subsequent appearances have been at the correct, lower speed except – some ears insist – the one on a 2000 reissue of the American version of the first album.
Rarest 1978 CBS £6-8
COMPLETE CONTROL/THE CITY OF THE DEAD
That the title of the next Clash single echoed the previous one was a coincidence, but appropriate. Complete Control was written in fury at what the band felt to be CBS’ high-handedness over Remote Control (“We didn’t want it on the label!”), although The Clash’s grievances also included matters such as punks being harassed by the media and the police. It was hailed as an instant classic.
Rarest CBS 1983 (Ireland) £57
REMOTE CONTROL/LONDON’S BURNING (LIVE )
Remote Control was one of the first album’s weaker tracks. CBS released it as The Clash’s second 45 without the band’s consent. As an enticement, the label threw on the B-side a live version of the same album’s London’s Burning, with a note on the rear of the sleeve fatuously making a virtue of the fact of it being monaural (the front was just a variation of the LP sleeve). The band refused to promote it; it failed to chart.
Rarest CBS (Netherlands) £100
CAPITAL RADIO EP
The 7″ EP yielded by the combination of the first album’s red sticker and a coupon printed in the NME was untitled. Although the bellicose broadside against the conservatism of London’s independent station (misspelled on the label) was the final track, it’s become known as the ‘Capital Radio’ EP. Though hardly substantial – its other tracks are a conversation with NME scribe Tony Parsons and a 27-second instrumental – its scarcity has made it precious.
Rarest 1977 CBS £100
The first album’s murky production was technically poor, but it provided an appropriate patina of menace to streetwise vignettes that summed up the decay and chaos of 70s Britain. The most collectible copies are ones with a circular red sticker on the inner sleeve. As production of this sticker procured the ‘Capital Radio EP’, very few such copies are ever sighted and nobody should seek one out unless they’re willing to part with over £100.
Rarest 1977 CBS (UK first pressing with red sticker) £100+
The Clash’s urgent entrée saw them denouncing disenfranchised white youth for being “too chicken” to riot like their black brethren recently had at the Notting Hill Carnival. Despite the scant airplay received by this uncompromising single, it climbed to No. 38 in the UK chart. The Clash’s value-for-money credo dictated that their records came housed in picture sleeves, making for the type of image – a rear-view frisk proposition – never before seen in rock line-up poses.
Rarest CBS 1977 (Australia) £100