They were the self-proclaimed "only band that matters" - The Clash were the voice of a generation, whose music was timely and relevant to its audience in a way that the posturing of pampered pop megastars never could be. Using a word employed by the government to describe its stranglehold on striking workers and political agitators, Clampdown tells you to think for yourself and not be turned into one of the establishment's "young believers".
"We just want people to wake up a bit," bassist Paul Simonon told Iman Lababedi of Creem magazine in 1981. "We want kids to think about their actions and what they have to say about things. The problem is a lot of people don’t think. The general bloke just goes through life, gets a job, gets married and all that, and that’s it, that’s the end innit?"
And The Clash never did what was expected. Fronted by two of the best songwriters of the punk rock era, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, they achieved worldwide stardom entirely on their own terms, epitomising the DIY ethos - from their music, combining reggae, rockabilly and folk influences with punk rock, to their paint-spattered and stencilled clothes, designed by bassist Paul Simenon, to their philosophy of self-education. And while the fashion and the cut-and-paste fanzines, posters and record sleeves were the most overt expression of punk rock, the latter was the most important. The Clash told us not to believe what we're told but to ask difficult questions, challenge the wisdom of our elders and learn for ourselves.
"You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin' / It's the best years of your life they want to steal".
In their heyday between 1976 and 1982, the music of the Clash expressed the social isolation of ordinary young people, denouncing the cold-hearted ruling class, American imperialism, casual and institutionalised racism and, in the title of track of their most critically acclaimed album, London Calling, expressing a very real fear of the apocalyptic consequences of failing to change the status quo.
Even at the height of their fame, The Clash ploughed their own furrow at every turn. They fought with their record company CBS to keep the price of double album London Calling no more than the price of a single disc, ultimately at their own expense. As a follow-up, they bucked every punk rock trend by releasing a triple album and provocatively named it after the Sandinista communist regime in Nicaragua. When there was a disastrous foul-up involving over-booking for eight shows at Bond's International Casino in New York in 1981, the band added another nine so that fans would not miss out, again at their own expense, and publicly condemned the greed of promoters who were willing to risk the audience's lives by illegally over-filling the venue.
Power corrupts. That's the theme of Clampdown. It is not merely a warning about losing the best years of your life to the treadmill of capitalism; it's an alert to a sinister system that not only breaks you, but brainwashes you, turning you into a fascist bully.
"So you got someone to boss around / It makes you feel big now / You drift until you brutalize / Make your first kill now".
"I'd like to say that people can change anything they want to and that means everything in the world," Strummer said in 2007, in Julien Temple's documentary, The Future Is Unwritten. "Show me any country and there'll be people in it. And it's the people that make the country. People have got to stop pretending they're not on the world. People are running about following their little tracks. I am one of them. But we've all gotta stop just stop following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything; this is something that I'm beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other; it's because they've been dehumanized. It's time to take that humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed... it ain'tgoing anywhere! They should have that on a big billboard across Times Square. Think on that. Without people you're nothing."
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About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.