Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455
(Nicky) Topper Headon 1956?–
Mick Jones 1956?–
Paul Simonon (also Simenon) 1956?–
Joe Strummer (born John Mellor) 1953?–
The Clash are one of the most important rock groups to have emerged from the English New Wave and Punk movements of the late 1970s. Their songs, which one reviewer has described as "raw and angry," reflect the disillusionment of British urban youth in what they believe to be a repressive, ineffectually governed society. The Clash's musical style mixes funk, reggae, rhythm and blues, rockabilly, and traditional rock with lyrics that stress the importance of social awareness and activism.
The Clash's debut album, The Clash, was released in England in 1977. Two of the album's most popular songs, "White Riot" and "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," are overtly political statements against authoritarianism. Although the album generated much critical attention as a significant New Wave album, it was considered "too crude" for release in the United States. Upon its release in an altered form in America, The Clash became a best-selling album. On their second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope (1979), the Clash continued to express their political ideals in such songs as "English Civil War," a commentary on the erosion of the English social structure. In the lyrics on the album, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, the primary writers, "capture the moods of the urban England of the 1970s better than just about anybody else," according to Richard Riegel. London Calling (1980) is considered by most critics to be the Clash's best recording. In its experimentation with blues, urban soul, gospel, and rockabilly, the album exhibits the influence of American music on the overall sound of the group. Many reviewers praised its diversity and compared London Calling to the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street and the Beatles' White Album.
The Clash's next full-length recording, Sandinista! (1980), was not as well received. While the songs on the album are similar to the Clash's earlier material in their emphasis on the power of political action among the working class, some critics suggested that the group had lost their originality, while others contended that the album was too long and covered too many topics. Combat Rock (1982), the Clash's most commercially successful recording, furthered their reputation as an issue-oriented group with such songs as "Rock the Casbah," a critique of the censure of Western pop music in Iran.
In 1983, Mick Jones and Topper Headon left the group and were replaced by Nick Sheppard and Vince White. Despite the departures of Jones and Headon, who were very popular with their fans, the Clash remain among the most influential major New Wave bands. Their popularity among both critics and listeners derives from a sincere commitment to social change, their energetic music, and their charismatic live performances.