The Clash – Sound System

The Clash have released Sound System this month, so Russell Iliffe looks back on The Clash's rich, eventful discography

Kyle Fisher
  • By Kyle Fisher
  • 16 Sep 2013
  • min read
Formed in 1976 and fronted by the hugely charismatic Joe Strummer, The Clash were signed to CBS Records the following year amid the punk frenzy which was now in full media throttle.

Their debut single White Riot reached number 38 while their self-titled first album, also released in ’77, peaked at number 12 in the UK. Angry, thought-provoking and socio-politically aware, it set the agenda for the band that would make them both celebrated and controversial. That year also saw the line up of Strummer, guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon being joined permanently by drummer Topper Headon.

The Clash released their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, in 1978 to rave reviews. Reaching number two in the UK, it also delivered their first top 20 hit with Tommy Gun. By the very late seventies, the four-piece were now cementing their status as a musically experimental band that could function outside the punk bubble which had by now burst.

After successfully re-working sixties song I Fought the Law for their 1979 EP titled The Cost of Living, the band released their third album, the musically diverse London Calling in December that year. Arguably their most critically acclaimed set, the double LP’s title track reached number 11 and to this day is one of their most played and iconic songs. The album was also a game changer in the States where it went platinum and gave them their first hit single with Train in Vain reaching number 23.

As the 1980s dawned, The Clash hit the UK singles chart with the reggae rhythm of Bankrobber peaking at number 12 before releasing their fourth album Sandinista! A three disc 36-track collection, it received mixed reviews but was credited with mixing more styles including funk and gospel into the band’s increasingly eclectic fusion of sounds.

The group’s biggest commercial success in America though came with fifth studio set Combat Rock. Shifting over two million copies in the US alone, the 1982 album was buoyed by the huge success of indie-dance classic Rock the Casbah. The track gave them their only stateside top ten single reaching number eight on the Billboard Hot 100.

A sixth and final studio album, Cut the Crap, was released in 1985 although the line-up now no longer included Jones or Headon after much turbulence. Performing disappointingly, it failed to make the UK top ten and peaked at number 88 in the USA while the band split the following year.

Post break-up, The Clash enjoyed their first UK number one hit with a re-release of Should I Stay or Should I Go in 1991, astonishingly their first and only UK top 10 single. Meanwhile their influence can be heard in many alternative, indie and rock outfits today while their music continues to be as thrilling and relevant as ever.