The Clash lasted only ten years on the scene but left a long-lasting mark for generations to come. Their short-lived career was full of misadventures and calamity that even the biggest fans might not be aware of. Colorful characters and plot twists are embedded into their image and everything that they did not only for punk but for the music world.
The first live recording
On July 4th, 1976, The Clash got their second gig, and first live recording ever as an opening act for Sex Pistols in London. The band played eleven songs and got a great response from the crowds. The recording was published two months later, by David Goodman by the name “Midnight Special At Screen On The Green”. The irony is – The Clash guys formed the band with the idea of being “rivals to the Pistols”.
In the early days, Mick Jones’ grandma, Stella, would let the boys write songs and practice in her apartment. She was also a regular in all of their first concerts. The Clash members never forgot this fact and were always mentioning it with great respect.
“Train in Vain”
Train in Vain, or Stand by me, is a song with a history. First, this is probably the happiest break-up song ever written. Mick Jones wrote the song after he ended the relationship with Viv Albertine, Slits guitarist, in one night, and recorded it the next day. There is no lyrics “train in vain”. The title was picked cause the rhythm of the song sounds like a train, and to avoid confusion with the other “Stand by me” song by Ben E. King.
The song is not on the sleeve of the “London Calling”, because it was too late to add it, so it ended up being a hidden track. It was supposed to be the bands promoting track with the New Musical Express, the British magazine. It turned out that that was too expensive for the up-and-coming group and the deal fell through.
The band members have had their share of strange statements and acts for sure. One of those moments happened in 1977 when Joe Strummer and Nicky Headon were arrested for stealing pillowcases from the hotel in Newcastle. It happened right after the amazing concert, and to this day none of the guys commented on it.
The Blockheads wanted to play a joke on the Clash during their studio recording by dressing up as the policemen. Everyone fled the studio in a split second, while Mick Jones was left flushing his “chemicals” down the toilet. Needless to say, not everyone was laughing.
Gobbing used to be popular at punk concerts and involved spitting on the stage at each other, or the audience was spitting on the band on stage. Even though The Clash were not fond of this at all, and didn’t practice it at their concerts, one guy from the crowd aimed straight for the Strummer’s mouth. Joe contracted hepatitis after the incident.
Band members got together through some friends and acquaintances to form a group. Except for Nick Headon who had to go through the audition and was one of the two hundred other drummers that applied. In the end, he was the lucky number 204.
The Clash made very little money
Actually, they did make a lot, just not for them but for their US publisher, CBS. Punk rock musicians are not so good at managing the business. “London Calling” was a huge success followed by “Sandinista” that had 36 songs, but still the band couldn’t even break even after paying CBS. The reason is that they sold their albums for a regular price of $6, which put them in an enormous debt with the publisher. It took them five years to start seeing some income from the royalties.
One of the most recognizable tunes was about a girl, again
“Should I Stay Or Should I Go” was written by Mick Jones about his girlfriend, American singer Ellen Foley, who sang the backing vocals on Meatloaf. This song became hugely popular, so The Clash kept playing it at their live shows even after its author and singer was no longer in the band.
The Clash is, to this day, the only white band ever to be painted on the famous building wall of the Black Ark Studios in Jamaica. Not only that, but when Lee “Scratch” Perry heard them play in London, he played it to Bob Marley who then wrote “Punky Reggae Party”.