Tim on Tim…

…and The Replacements.

I love politics.  I love music.  This is not a secret.

Imagine my splodey-hearted-and-headed joy when I read that Tim Kaine loves The Replacements.  Imagine my bliss when he quotes “Bastards of The Young.”  Imagine my being unable to function for the rest of the day as I sit at my laptop and draw hearts in the air with one of my eight legs while dreaming of the potential Vice President and Paul Westerberg.  Together.  With Tim playing in the background.  All of the Tims.  All of the time.

There has been nothing redeemable about this shitshow of an election cycle.  My child cannot watch the debates, let alone the news, with me.  I have been called a Skype and an Oven Dodger.  We have heard “Grab ’em by the pussy” for the first time and it’s not Mrs. Slocombe doing the talking.  For someone who finds political theatrics intoxicating, this election has been the equivalent of drinking too much grain punch from a frat house garbage can and puking down the front of your shirt in front of the really adorable guy you had been trying to get with the entire time you were in school; a messy, public humiliation that everyone is talking about.

Until now.  Until Tim Kaine saved the day and restored hope to this bleak hellscape by speaking of the underrated brilliance of The ‘Mats.

Once I’m done coloring in my hearts, I’ll cross my eight legs and hope for a Hillary/Tim victory.  Not just to restore sanity to this frothy cauldron of doom, stupidity and hatred this country has become.  No.  But for an inaugural ball befitting a modern era and featuring The Replacements as they should be – loud and drunk.

Deciphering Taylor Swift’s Lyrics…

…everyone’s favorite parlor game.

No one is immune to the grandeur that is Taylor Swift.  NO ONE.  I tried avoiding her for years because:

  1. I’m a grown-up
  2. I’m a grown-up
  3. I’m a grown-up
  4. I don’t particularly care for that sort of watered down country pop (if I must listen to country music, it had better be OG country music)
  5. The last time I had a crush on a boy was, like (twirls hair and snaps bubble gum), 198x, k.?.

Now, I find myself all giggly and screamy whenever I see Taylor for she is positively fabbo.  I mean, the woman carries around her fucking Scottish Folds (note:  I’m hipster crazy cat lady and knew the breed before any of you!) and those cats actually don’t freak out in public.  She’s either the cat whisperer, a witch or heavily sedates them with kitty ludes.  Oh, and her wardrobe:  uh…ah-may-zing.  I would sacrifice all my future trips to Starbucks for one just one of her purses or a day shopping with her.  And don’t even get me started on her fan-lovin’:  total heart of gold.  Clearly the woman has descended from the heavens above.  She must be the Messiah or Second Coming of Christ (or Christina, if you prefer).

How did I get into the bliss that is Tay-Tay?  Easy.  I have a kid and when you have kids of a certain age, you need to be exceptionally cautious about song lyrics (teachers of your kids, otoh…).  With my lexicon, it should be pretty apparent that I give zero fucks if/when Milky starts rifling off profanities.  I’d much rather him not do it at school or in front of other kids because other parents can be less than appreciative of playmates who use the word “cunt” as often as the word “please.”  Wait.  My kid has to be reminded to say “please.”  Let’s use “now” instead.

Back to the topic at hand – deciphering her song lyrics.  It’s my understanding that many a fangurl will sit down with their secret decoder rings and ponder for days over which ex-suitor Ms. Swift is singing about.  I’m considerably out of touch but the shit the kids read these days have these articles which take a deeper dive (oh fuck you, corporate speak!  Get the fuck out of my private time!) explore this in great detail.  Well, I wanna play that game now, too!  It’s a little known secret that adults like to have fun now and then, just like teachers have sex and drink booze (source:  every teacher everywhere).

Shake it Off was released right around the time The Sprog started kindergarten.  He changed schools and it was a bumpy road in the beginning so I started playing this song for him each day, encouraging him to physically (totes adorable, double-oh-em-geeeeeee) and emotionally shake off the troubles of the day.  I’m not going to say that I don’t understand the lyrics because my IQ is considerably high (for realsies, stepfather was working on one of his eighty billion continuing ed degrees and I took like a trillion IQ tests and I’m supposed to be like this super genius or something) but the whole “And to the fella over there with the hella good hair…” did pique my curiosity.  Isn’t “hella good hair” subjective?  Great googly moogly, Chris Rock did a whole documentary on good hair (Good Hair and I totes recommend).  This shit is deep, yo.

Then, this morning, as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed (before the two cups of coffee it takes for my brain to begin functioning), I spy, with a blurry eye, a video featuring The Try Guys which was posted by the lovely Kitten.  Oh?  The Try Guys are going to get nice and naked and I get to see this before 08.00?  Okidokiloki!  Then, I saw it.  Like the proverbial beacon in the night, I saw it:  the fella over there with the hella good (hipster) hair.  Eugene.  The mind boggled.  If I had any artistic abilities what-so-ever, I would doodle a picture of my head with springs flying out of it, eyeballs dangling and tongue hanging from the corner of my mouth.  Alas, I don’t so you’ll just have to imagine that bit yourself.

I’m on coffee number two so I’m still a bit drowsy but not so drowsy that Eugene did not pop my cork, pet my monkey, float my boat or trip my trigger.  Ha!  I’m awake NOW.  I’m awake and thinking of Eugene, pizza and inappropriate things to do with Eugene and pizza.  If all y’all thought the teacher was shaking in his normcore sneakers, adorable Eugene should be in full panic mode for I am wildly inappropriate when good hair and pizza are in the mix.

Monday is starting off as a quadruple win:

  1. I finally get to play “What’s Taylor Really Saying?”
  2. I played “What’s Taylor Really Saying” and won!  ZOMGWTFBBQROFLCOPTERZ!!!111!
  3. Kitten introduced me to the glory of Eugene, whom I shall cover in glorious pizza whenever he asks provided I get to muss his hair with my tentacles of doom.
  4. Partial nudity.

This only means one thing:  it can only go downhill from here.

Mother Nature is a cruel bitch, baby!

The title of this post is a recurring line from the song, “Mother Nature” by Swedish artist, Andi Almqvist. I usually don’t do music reviews or recommendations but, seriously folks, you gotta listen to this guy. His hauntingly beautiful lyrics are the result of a personal tragedy of the worst kind, the death of his son.

Here are a couple of selections, “Mother Nature”

And “Low Dive Jenny.” This one gives me the shivers.

The Byrds

These days, The Byrds are primarily known as staples of oldies radio with their mid-‘60s hits “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn!” As great as those songs are, it’s a little sad that their other accomplishments are largely forgotten. Few bands have such wide-ranging influence as the Byrds, and even fewer are responsible for essentially creating two distinct genres of rock music.

In 1964, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby were all veterans of the US folk music circuit. Unlike folk purists who considered electric instruments the tool of the devil, the future Byrds were enamored of the Beatles, and wanted to start an electric rock band. They eventually convinced bluegrass musician Chris Hillman to serve as their bass player, and enlisted Michael Clarke as drummer (Clarke’s drumming experience was limited to playing congas in coffeehouses- he was hired primarily for having a Beatle haircut, a rarity in 1964 America).

After the group released a failed single as the Beefeaters (a name chosen as a blatant attempt to cash in on the British Invasion), they renamed themselves the Byrds and hit paydirt with a cover of Bob Dylan’s then-unreleased “Mr Tambourine Man” in 1965. The song represented a unique melding of their folk background (Dylan was still king of the folkies and had yet to “go electric”) and Beatlesque rock, giving birth to what would soon be known as “folk rock”. McGuinn’s iconic 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar exemplified the blending of genres- the 12 string was a staple of folk music, but amplifying it put it firmly in the rock camp. It would be the anchor of the Byrds’ sound for the remainder of their career. Dylan himself paid the song an unironic compliment when he remarked, “hey, you can dance to that!” Within months of the Byrds’ release, Dylan would put together his own electric band.

The Byrds further cemented folk rock with “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a Pete Seeger song with lyrics quoted almost entirely from the book of Ecclesiastes. The song’s message of peace and tolerance resonated in a country increasingly at odds with itself in the shadow of social turmoil, racial inequality and a rapidly escalating war in southeast Asia. The band released two albums in 1965, each titled after one of the hit singles and containing a mix of group compositions and covers.

The beginning of 1966 saw things starting to change for the Byrds. “Eight Miles High” was a dark, ominous song written by Clark, Crosby and McGuinn (the first group composition released as a single) containing off-kilter guitar work influenced by the ragas of Ravi Shankar and the sax playing of John Coltrane. Although it didn’t chart as highly as its predecessors, “Eight Miles High” is now recognized as one of the earliest examples of psychedelic rock. Authorities at the time were convinced that the song was about drug use, but McGuinn maintains the lyrics are about the band’s disasterous tour of the UK the previous year (a position upheld by a reading of the lyrics).

There were other changes at hand as well. Singer Gene Clark quit the band just before the release of “Eight Miles High,” which left them without a principal songwriter and vocalist (Clark had written a large chunk of the group’s original material and had sung lead vocals on all their singles). McGuinn and Crosby filled the gap, and  the resulting album Fifth Dimension showcased the band’s evolution into psychedelic rock. Although critics have panned it for containing an overabundance of covers (nearly half the album), the quality of the band’s original material had taken a quantum leap forward. Clark had been a gifted songwriter, but McGuinn and Crosby were staking out new territory.

By 1968 though, the wheels had fallen off the cart. Drummer Michael Clarke had quit and singer/guitarist David Crosby had been fired, leaving McGuinn and Hillman as the only remaining members of the group. Also, the band’s popularity had been steadily declining since their 1965 heyday (they hadn’t had a top 10 hit since Turn, Turn, Turn! three years before) . Rather than pack it in, they hired drummer Kevin Kelley and singer/guitarist Gram Parsons to take the Byrds in a new direction. The previous two albums Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers showed elements of country music entering the band’s sound, but 1968’s Sweetheart Of The Rodeo dove in head first.

Very few albums can be said to have singlehandedly created entire genres of music, but Sweetheart Of The Rodeo is one. With its pioneering blend of  rock and country, Sweetheart not only set the template for the country rock movement of the ’70s (and its ’90s revival), but for country music as well. Sadly, 1968 was a horrible year to mix country and rock- the country and rock audiences were on opposite sides of the ’60s cultural divide which was nearly at its peak, and in one fell swoop the Byrds managed to alienate most of their remaining fans without attracting any new ones. The band attempted to reach out to the country audience by appearing on the venerable country radio program Grand Ole Opry, but they were met with heckling and general derision. The album sold dismally at the time, but is now widely regarded as a masterpiece.

It was also the only record that lineup would make. By the time Sweetheart was released, Gram Parsons had already quit the band. He went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers and have his own solo career, both of which were hugely influential in the fledgling country rock scene. Within a few months of Parsons’ departure, Hillman left the Byrds to join him in the Burritos. Parsons’ replacement Clarence White convinced McGuinn to fire drummer Kevin Kelley in favor of White’s old bandmate Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram), and with a new a new bassist in tow the band recorded Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde. For the second time in a row, a Byrds record featured an entirely different lineup (excepting McGuinn) from the one before. Hyde was an attempt to reconcile the old folk rock Byrds with their new country rock sound, but from here to the end of the band they leaned further into the realm of country rock.

After the release of Hyde in 1969, bassist Skip Batten joined the Byrds. He proved to be the final piece in the band’s lineup puzzle that had started with Gene Clark’s departure three years earlier. McGuinn had finally assembled a Byrds lineup that would stay together longer than any other, until the final months of the band three years later.

The Byrds had by now become a live band par excellence- Clarence White was a supremely talented guitarist who specialized in playing blazing bluegrass licks in a rock context. A former studio musician who had contributed to every Byrds album since 1967, White brought the band’s playing to a new level. McGuinn once said playing with White was “like having Jimi Hendrix in your band,” and he wasn’t exaggerating.  Clarence White set the standard for mixing country and rock guitar styles, and his legacy from this period continues to be the gold standard over 40 years later.

Earlier incarnations of the Byrds had a deservedly poor reputation for ragged live shows, leading detractors to label them a “studio band.” The final Byrds lineup was a completely different animal- Parsons and Batten were a solid, yet flexible rhythm section that held the songs together while allowing plenty of room for improvisation. In its live form, the three minute single “Eight Miles High” became a 20+ minute free-for all jam session, with all four Byrds playing off each other and tossing ideas back and forth. While bands like the Grateful Dead were content to noodle off into space with aimless, free-form jams, the Byrds were like an amplified bluegrass picking session, with each member propelling the song and challenging the others to keep up. Audiences soon took note, and the Byrds became a top concert draw in the early ’70s.

To capitalize on this, one half of 1970’s double album Untitled was a live recording showing the band in full flight (including one whole side of “Eight Miles High”). The highlight of the studio recordings was “Chestnut Mare,” a song which epitomized the best elements of the country rock Byrds. White’s efforless switching between subtle beauty and fast-fingered virtuosity weaves a tapestry with McGuinn’s ringing 12-string, while Parsons’ drumming alternates from foundational timekeeping on the verses to driving the song on the choruses. To Batten’s credit, although he had shown himself to be a nimble, melodic bassist in the band’s live setting, he had the sense to keep the bassline simple and supportive on “Chestnut Mare,” which is precisely what the song required. Such restraint was a rarity in the rock world of 1970.

Unfortunately, just as their ability as a live band had finally come together, the quality of the Byrds’ studio albums began to suffer. Due to increasing demand on the touring circuit, the Byrds found themselves with inadequate time to prepare and record their next album Byrdmaniax. After hurried recording sessions, they left the mixing of the album to record producer Terry Melcher. Melcher felt the material recorded by the band was weak, so in attempt to fix things he added strings, horns, and a gospel choir without consulting them. The band was horrified at the result and demanded a remix, but their record label wouldn’t pay for it. The record came out to scathing reviews and poor sales, and mortally wounded the Byrds’ popularity just as it was beginning to rise again.

Immediately following the release of Byrdmaniax, the band began work on their next record without help from an outside producer, hoping to release it quickly in order to repair the damage to their reputation. The plan backfired, as Farther Along  proved to be another weak album that suffered from the same problems that caused Melcher to tamper with Byrdmaniax in the first place.

The Byrds remained a strong live band that drew large audiences, but their morale was sagging. By 1972 they’d been touring and recording relentlessly for three years and had little to show for it. Tensions between McGuinn and Parsons finally boiled over and the latter was fired. The band hired a session drummer to fulfill outstanding concert dates through the end of the year, and no permanent replacement was made. By February 1973, McGuinn was forced to ask former Byrd Chris Hillman for help in fulfilling the band’s remaining concert dates after firing bassist Skip Battin. After one shambolic performance from the ad-hoc band (Hillman and White hadn’t played together since 1968 and didn’t know the same songs, the drummer had never played with the Byrds before, and the first time they rehearsed was at soundcheck on the day of the show), McGuinn cancelled the remaining dates of the tour, effectively pulling the plug on the Byrds.

Or, not. The previous year, aspiring record mogul David Geffen offered the original 1965  lineup of the Byrds a sizable amount of money to reunite and record an album for him, and the group had accepted. While McGuinn’s version of the band was in its death throes, he had simultaneously been recording a reunion album with the original band. The reunion album was released to negative reviews just after McGuinn disbanded the final version of the band. A tour to support it had been planned, but the poor reviews and lackluster sales caused it to be abandoned.

Tragically, a few months after the end of the Byrds, Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver as he loaded equipment into his car after a nightclub show with his two brothers. He was 29.

Various incarnations of the band would briefly reunite in the ’80s, generally in regard to legal wranglings over the name and other financial squabbles. Even after the significant tarnishing of their legacy though, their many accomplishments still stand.

Public School Music

I know this area is usually used to write about the history of a particular act, but I’d like to take a slightly different turn. There is often a lot of talk in education funding circles everywhere, be it Canada, the U.S., or even here in Sweden, about arts funding and specifically funding for music in schools. Everytime I hear that kind of mindless chatter it sets my blood to boiling. Why on earth anyone could consider music as some kind of extra program baffles me to no end.
I was blessed with the good fortune to attend an inner city public school in downtown Toronto early in the 1970’s. Now I don’t know if people were smarter and more broad thinking then, or if there was more money around, or if it was just the result of a driven few, but my public school consisted of a wonderful music education, from many different angles, and is what I remember more from my school experience than any other aspect.

Firstly there was some sort of visiting artists program. I graduated from grade 8, which is the upper end of public school in Toronto, in spring of 1976. So these happenings took place before then. When I was in either grade 5 or 6 I remember we had a group come in and play just for 2 classes together. The only song I can remember they played for sure was The Band’s The Weight. The next week however they appeared live on Rollin’ On the River, which was the variety show hosted by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, which was recorded in Canada. Now that performance was very intimate, and took place down in the playroom which was in the basement of the school. Slightly smaller than a regular classroom. A bigger event was a concert that took place the same year, which was held up in the large auditorium, and the whole school attended. I remember that vividly. The whole school sitting on the floor, and one man with a guitar, who chose not to sit up on the stage, but rather on a chair, on the floor with us. Unfortunately I don’t recall the whole setlist (always admired people who could do that, but hey, I was probably about 10). The one song I do recall absolutely is Jim Croce’s Rapid Roy. Looking back on some notes about the Kenny Roger’s and The First Edition show I see that Jim Croce actually appeared on it, and I now realise I may actually have seen Jim Croce. I don’t know what that means to you, but I find it surprisingly moving.

One performance I know for sure moves me was a very special one. They took two of the classrooms to The Imperial Room, at The Royal York Hotel, which is across from Union Station down on Front Street. There may be bigger and grander places now, but there sure weren’t then. We were wide eyed as they marched us through the plush lobby and into the theatre. We crowded around the foot of the stage, just standing in a large group, and then as natural and friendly as could be out came Ella Fitzgerald. I recall that it was about an hour long performance, and she sang A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Absolutely magical.
Just a couple blocks away from The Royal York Hotel stands the Royal Alexandra Theatre, known by everyone in Toronto as the Royal Alex. As well as having the opportunity to see musical acts as I’ve described, we also got to see a lot of theatre. The obvious one that jumps to mind was the musical production Grease, which would have been around 1975. I’m forgetting tons of others, but I know we often saw The Nutcracker by The National Ballet at The O’Keefe Centre, as well as The Famous People Players. We also had theatre troupes come to the school, and in the same auditorium where I may have seen Jim Croce, I saw my first production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, when I was 13 in grade 8.

In addition to these presentations and outings was an arts program brought into the schools by the Inner City Angels. A group of artists that focused on inner city schools and provided mini-courses for selected students in film, music, painting, etc. Music was also provided for directly in the curriculum, with music class holding its own along side all of the other subjects. We had a huge choir, conducted by one of my favourite teachers over all of the years, Mr.Paul Brisley. Once a week we had Music Appreciation class. For that class we could bring in whatever music we wanted, our own records, and we would play them in class and discuss them. I think he had a soft spot for me because I used to get my music largely from my godmother’s daughters, Theresa and Mary-Louise, who were 4 and 6 years older than me respectively, so it was usually something a little different than what all the other students were bringing in. What really sticks with me from music class though, is not the chance to play our own records, or to perform in the choir, but the simple way in which Mr.Brisley absolutely burned with a passion for music. He would get equally excited talking about the complexities of American Pie, (which I remember we studied in detail) as he would be with getting us to pick out instruments by ear that we heard in classical pieces, or getting us to write parodies of popular songs. He would also bring in stuff for us that he found fun and interesting, like Allan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah, or Eight Foot Two, Solid Blue (has anybody seen my Martian gal). It was truly a diverse class in terms of teaching.

Now that I’m all growed up and play myself, I make it a point to play for and around children as often as I can. I have no desire to be a children’s performer, but they don’t need that as much as they need to see and feel and experience live music as much as possible. They need to get infected with a love for it. I did, and it may not only have been from my public education, but that played a large role, and I am eternally grateful for anyone who played a part in bringing it to my life.

New Kids On The Block

New Year’s Day – wee hours of 01 January 1989 – Philadelphia, PA

Having been relieved of our babysitting duties unusually early for the night and knowing that our parents were not expecting us until the follow morning, my galpal *Brie and I decided to go into town to see what sort of hell we could raise.  Aside from sucking face in the back seat of the car with two very drunken, hot male students from Penn (drenched in the aroma of Drakkar) who were waiting for the Mummers Parade, my best memory would be the soundtrack.  The soundtrack of a perfect night.  Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen. Houndog by Elvis. Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi.

Also included in the mix was one of the best R & B bands of our generation.  That’s right. New Kids On The Block.

The first time I heard “Right Stuff” my world was rocked.  And it wasn’t rocked by the tongue of a stranger stuffed down my throat.  It was rocked by the BEAT.

Oft overshadowed by the contributions from Seattle in the 1990s, Boston was cranking out some serious shit in the 1980s.  Some of the unsung heroes of the time are Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr and The Pixies.  For the R & B inclined, New Edition was the gold standard.  Alas, what Beach Music did to Motown, New Kids On The Block did to New Edition.  Those white boys showed Bobby Brown and company what true R & B was all about.

For those of you unaware, New Kids On The Block was formed by Maurice Starr who took George Martin’s stewardship of The Beatles to its logical conclusion.  Starr had a vision of taking five talentless hoodlums destined for a life of petty crime and/or musical theater and turning them into the Greatest R & B Act of All Time.

Although their early releases were unappreciated by the connoisseurs of Top 40 radio, they served as the building blocks for a career that would make The Jackson 5 sound almost as solid as The Osmonds.  Starr and company struggled with finding the perfect hit to unleash their greatness on the world but once “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” debuted on the airwaves, the world was transformed.

In early 1989, the magnum opus that is “Hangin’ Tough” became an anthem for young America.  Gone were the days of listening to hip-hop and old skool rap.  New Kids On The Block captivated mall and arena audiences throughout America, dethroning the Queen of the Malls, Tiffany, and raking in trillions of dollars in revenue from poster sales to the tweenage girl demographic.

The NKOTB catalogue is as solid as it is stellar.  Throughout their career, NKOTB released an astonishing 19 singles from eight compact discs.  Of the 19 singles, three of the songs took their rightful place at the pinnacle of the pop charts.

Musical greatness aside, NKOTB busted down doors for scores of oppressed white boys throughout America.  Had it not been for the brilliance of Starr and the temerity of these rapscallions, the music industry would have ultimately been denied extraordinary acts such as Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and 98 Degrees.  A world without Justin Timberlake is a world not worth living in.

I could wax philosophic about the contributions of NKOTB, the boy band era and Starr for ages.  Rather than sully their collective magic with my simple prose, I shall let the music speak for itself.

Enjoy the YouTube clips and bask in the glory.

*names changed to protect the naughty

The Clash

Those of us who were around in the early ‘80s undoubtedly remember The Clash’s monster hits “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” To many people, the fact that the band imploded a year after these songs’ release marks The Clash as another one-hit wonder in an era rife with disposable pop acts. However, the fact is that The Clash had already created a pioneering musical legacy long before ascending the pop charts, one that continues to resonate today.

In 1976, Joe Strummer (born John Mellor) was the frontman of London pub rock band the 101ers. Pub rock was a form of rootsy, boogie type music that was popular as a soundtrack to drinking in pubs. One night, Strummer saw an early performance of a bunch of scruffy juvenile delinquents calling themselves the Sex Pistols.  This was before “punk rock” even had a name- at this point the Pistols were just a bunch of disaffected kids playing stripped down, adrenaline charged rock & roll.  Their music recalled the early days of bands like the Who and Rolling Stones, back when rock music was seen as a dangerous threat to morality and social order instead of as a business.

Instantly, Strummer knew he was seeing the future of rock & roll. By the mid ‘70s, rock had become mired in bland mediocrity as the trailblazing stars of the previous decade settled into mansions and sank under the weight of their own malaise and self-indulgence. Economic times were tough, and escapism was the overall theme in the entertainment world. Where rock music had once challenged social norms, it was now content to pacify, as evidenced by pub rock’s “let’s just get wasted and have a good time” philosophy.  Raw, edgy bands like the Pistols were needed to make rock compelling again.

Strummer soon met up with a group of likeminded musicians and formed The Clash, whose lineup had solidified by the end of the year to include guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Terry Chimes.  Their self-titled 1977 debut is a rough-hewn document of a band finding its legs, but it stands head and shoulders above the morass of “punk” records issued that year. Prodded by manager Bernie Rhodes to move beyond simple boy/girl lyrical topics, Strummer wrote about the world facing Britian’s young people in the late ‘70s- unemployment, police harassment, race, class, encroachment of American culture and an uncertain future.  Although they could play fast and loud with the best of them, The Clash also showed a willingness to slow things down (relatively speaking) and stretch out with a cover of Junior Murvin’s reggae hit “Police And Thieves.”

After the album came out, fate handed The Clash a blessing in disguise. Drummer Terry Chimes resigned, resulting in a mad scramble for a replacement.  The eventual candidate was Nicky “Topper” Headon, whose jazz and r&b skills made him ridiculously overqualified for playing in a punk band. Headon’s initial plan was to build his resume with The Clash in order to move on to “real” drumming work, but the group soon realized they had an incredible musical chemistry. Chimes had been a good drummer, but Headon’s extensive musical palate enabled the band to broaden their horizons in ways they’d never imagined possible.

1978’s Give ‘em Enough Rope showed a band much more musically savvy than the year before, but their willingness to move beyond the strict template of punk left many fans crying sell-out. The safe move would have been a return to form, blasting out loud fast songs with tunefulness kept to a minimum. Instead, in 1979 The Clash released London Calling, a double album that shattered all notions of what punk, or even rock music itself, was all about. The genre-hopping record included a dizzying array of styles and sounds that were all flawlessly executed- this wasn’t the work of dilettantes, The Clash had done their homework and were able to fully integrate their diverse influences and create a unique musical style. Ironically, by discarding punk’s stifling aesthetics they managed to stay truer to the movements’ original intent of creative expression than any other band. London Calling proved to be one of the most influential records in rock history (my vinyl copy hangs in a frame in my son’s room).

By 1980 The Clash began writing and recording in New York City as they became interested in the fledgling rap and club music scene there. Lengthy, spliff-inspired studio jams were edited together to become the basis for 1981’s sprawling Sandinista!, a three-record set that contained a single albums’ worth of brilliant tracks scattered among experiments, jokes and boring noodling. True to their principles, Sandinista! (like its predecessor) was sold at single album price, which severely impacted The Clash’s earnings.

Although they were internationally famous and critically acclaimed, by 1981 The Clash were in debt to their record company. In light of this, the preparation for their next album was a source of contention in the band. Guitarist Mick Jones had begun assuming production duties for their recordings, and was insistent on producing their next record himself. His version of the album, provisionally titled Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg, was rejected not only by their record label, but by the rest the band as being too experimental. The master tapes were handed over to veteran producer Glynn Johns, who trimmed and tweaked the recordings into what became 1982’s Combat Rock. Bootleg copies of Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg reveal an album not quite finished, and illustrate Johns’ excellent sense of what needed to be improved versus what shouldn’t be fiddled with. Jones’ version is moodier, longer, and more verbose, but Johns was able to tighten things up without losing the band’s identity or original intent.

“Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “Rock The Casbah” from that album propelled The Clash into the stratosphere.  Constant touring and massive record sales quickly erased the band’s debt, and they began earning large sums of money. However, things were falling apart. Just before Combat Rock was released, Topper Headon had been fired from the band due to his debilitating heroin addiction.  Ironically, he’d been the one to write the music for “Rock The Casbah”, which would soon become the band’s biggest hit. The Clash drafted Terry Chimes back into the fold but he resigned again at the end of the Combat Rock tour, citing the toxic atmosphere in the band. Jones and Strummer had begun feuding over artistic direction and control, and in late 1983 Jones was fired.

Most fans consider this the end of The Clash, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Strummer hired a new drummer and a pair of guitarists (bassist Simonon had stayed on) and began to tour and write new material. The resulting Cut The Crap (generally referred to by fans simply as Crap) is an unmitigated disaster. While recording the album, Strummer and band manager Bernie Rhodes had fallen out, resulting in Strummer abandoning the sessions. Rhodes decided to finish the album on his own and subsequently submitted it to the record label, which was evidently too hungry for a follow up to the multiplatinum Combat Rock to realize they’d been handed a load of garbage. After Crap’s 1985 release, the band inexplicably went on a busking tour of England- hitchhiking from town to town and playing acoustic guitars in public places for change. By 1986, The Clash had finally ceased to exist.

Over the years, Strummer and Jones reconciled their differences while recognizing that they had drifted too far apart creatively to work together. In 2002, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame announced that The Clash would be inducted the following March. Strummer, Jones and Headon began discussing a possible reunion to coincide with the induction, which was sadly mooted when Strummer died of a heart attack on December 22, 2002. While Jones, Simonon and Headon have all worked together in various permutations since then, they have stated that The Clash cannot exist without Strummer.

Ignominious end aside, The Clash’s body of work sets a standard for creativity and fearlessness that will continue to challenge and inspire musicians for as long as there is rock music.