Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Clash, This is Radio Clash, (1981)

The Clash, This is Radio Clash (1984)

The Clash, This is Radio Clash, 1981

"This is Radio Clash" is a Single released by The Clash in 1981. I think it is a great single, mixing ska/dance hall, disco, proto-rap, while maintaining a punk attitude. It was never released on any Clash LP, but I expect most Clash collections contain the song. I first remember enjoying the song freshman year in college. My friend Dave had purchased “Story of the Clash, Vol. 1” (on 2 discs), and we listened to those discs a lot that year in college. I suppose there never was a volume 2, as the band had already broken up by the time this compilation came out. I was always struck by how un-“punk” the song was, belying their reputation as a punk rock band.

The intro is very 80s British ska. A minor horn motif opens the song, doubled by the bass. It sounds like a classic vaudeville “bad guy” melody. The drums accentuate the rhythm with the bass drum and choked crash cymbals. Wild-eyed maniacal laughter and a sharp snare drum fill conclude the intro, while the melody descends quietly. This is altogether an excellent intro to the song. Sinister, edgy, and yet somehow fun.

The bass line continues with the basics of the intro melody, and the drums settle into a relatively straight up stomp. The snare sound is accentuated by a very artificial sounding clap on the 2 and 4 beats. The hand claps are numbingly consistent through the entire song, reinforcing their robotic quality. Dance hall-styled percussive sound effects come and go through the song. The bass starts the melody and quiet horn fills finish it out. The overall effect is that of space, sort of calm after the relatively wild intro.

At the beginning of the first verse, the bass switches to a fairly straight-ahead 1-2-3-4 rhythm, with the horns mostly following suit. It is a very good dance club beat. The song continues to maintain a ska feel, even though there is no emphasis on the off beat, which is typical or ska songs. The basic melody is actually similar to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, which was released a year earlier and was a huge hit in the USA.

Joe Strummer handles lead vocal on this track. Mick Jones and Joe Strummer had completely distinct vocal styles. This variety of vocal delivery styles is one of the many things that elevated the Clash a cut above most bands. Mick typically handled the more “pop” vocals, while Joe was more of the punk rock screamer. Although on this song I think Joe goes more for the drunken lout effect. Joe delivers nearly every lyric in the song with the same melody. In retrospect it has an almost rap feel to it, although at the time it would probably be considered a dance hall or ska delivery. The song does not really have choruses, just verses and instrumental breaks.

The guitar (this is the Clash, right?) does not make an appearance until the break between the first and second verses, and when it comes in it is with a very funky disco break. Somehow the Clash are so punk that everything they do is punk, but there is very little that is punk about this song, other than perhaps the lyric content.

During the second break there is some great interplay between the disco guitar, which has returned, and a little funk slap bass playing.
The song never really “goes anywhere” in the view of a traditional song. There’s no chorus, no solo, and very few song changes. In that regard it reminds me of “Chocolate City” by Parliament. Just lay down a killer groove, and let the man speak.


I don’t want to interpret too much, but I assume at the time they could be interpreted as a denouncement of Thatcher’s England. It sort of details an English urban ghetto and new Vietnam, right at home. It outlines a criticism of conducting war abroad while allowing the economy at home to suffer. They’re all sang from the standpoint of a radio broadcaster of sorts. At the time England was going through a terrible recession, and unemployment was quite high. The general feel of the lyrics is an apocalyptic view of society in the 80s, and a warning that the troubles, and quite possibly the radical politics, of the third world (Cuba, Vietnam) could be coming soon to countries like England. You can also listen to the lyrics on another level, as a bit of boasting about the band itself. “The Clash is coming into your home, listen to what we have to say, we can’t be controlled by the man, we have our own pirate radio station.” The attitude projected on that level is very closely aligned with a lot of rap/hip-hop sentiments, I’m thinking about Public Enemy in particular.

The lyrics are by no means a well thought out polemic, but the style of the song doesn’t call for that. The lyrics are more like “sound bytes”, and given the title of the song, you can picture a sort of revolutionary campaigner with a bullhorn and a microphone, shouting out fiery slogans to the unwashed masses.

Interrupting all programmes

This is radio clash from pirate satellite

Orbiting your living room,
Cashing in the bill of rights
Cuban army surplus or refusing all third lights
This is radio clash on pirate satellite

This sound does not subscribe
To the international plan
In the psycho shadow of the white right hand
Then that see ghettology as an urban viet nam
Giving deadly exhibitions of murder by napalm

This is radio clash tearing up the seven veils
This is radio clash please save us, not the whales
This is radio clash underneath a mushroom cloud
This is radio clash
You dont need that funeral shroud

Forces have been looting
My humanity
Curfews have been curbing
The end of liberty

Hands of law have sorted through
My identity
But now this sound is brave
And wants to be free - anyway to be free

This is radio clash on pirate satellite
This is not free europe
Noh an armed force network
This is radio clash using audio ammunition
This is radio clash can we get that world to listen?
This is radio clash using aural ammunition
This is radio clash can we get that world to listen?
This is radio clash on pirate satellite
Orbiting your living room,
Cashing in the bill of rights
This is radio clash on pirate satellite
This is radio clash everybody hold on tight

A-riggy diggy dig dang dang

Go back to urban nam

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