It’s been 13 years since the passing of Joe Strummer in 2002, and to say he still remains influential to this day would be a massive understatement.
Whilst many of the early punk loyalists called The Clash ‘sell-outs’ after the release of London Calling in 1979, Stummer and the rest of the band proved that punk was more than just three power chords and some safety pins. Suddenly, it was an ‘ethic’ which easily outlasted the ‘scene’.
The Clash proved that it was fine to be musically ambitious, to sing, to find influence outside of the norm and still be ‘punk’ – and anyone who has taken up that philosophy ever since has Joe to thank.
To mark the passing of Britain’s often-imitated-never-betted frontman, we’ve put together a five-track Strummer playlist to get stuck in to.
The Clash – ‘Police & Thieves’ (1977)
Straight out the blocks on their debut record, The Clash were playing with what it meant to be a punk outfit. ‘Police & Thieves’ was originally a hit in ’76 for Jamaican artist Junior Murvin, recorded with dub-reggae Godfather Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
The Clash took Murvin’s story of gang violence and police brutality across the Caribbean island and translated it seamlessly to the climate in the UK at the time – and also introduced a new generation of British teens to a genre outside of what they were hearing at home.
Perry was apparently so moved by The Clash’s take on the track that their photo was on the wall of his Black Ark studios in Kingston.
The Clash – ‘Train in Vain’ (1979)
Whilst this track may have in fact been written by band-mate Mick Jones, ‘Train in Vain’ illustrates how far The Clash had moved in the space of two years and three records. Although ’78’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope had been strongly received, London Calling saw the group taken seriously as an ambitious band.
The album’s title track went on to become the well-known anthem, but the record was littered with great tracks drawing from many musical styles including ‘Jimmy Jazz’, ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ and ‘Wrong ‘Em Boyo’.
The Clash – ‘Bankrobber’ (1980)
Whilst The Clash’s original line-up endured a fraught relationship during the 1980s, ‘Bankrobber’ was perhaps the final single from a group truly at their peak. The song may not have been as lyrically challenging as previous work, but there was something in the line “but I don’t believe in lying back, and saying how bad your luck is” which succinctly nailed the whole Clash message.
Looking for first-hand experience of The Clash influencing other groups? A young Ian Brown, later of the Stone Roses, was present at the studio recording.
The Pogues (and Joe Strummer) – Straight to Hell (1991)
After all the pomposity and grandeur which had at first made The Clash so appealing began to wear a little thin, Strummer found kindred musical spirits in the shape of The Pogues. Strummer initially toured as a replacement guitarist, before producing the group’s album Hell’s Ditch and even stepping in for Shane MacGowan after his brief departure in the early 1990s.
‘Straight to Hell’ was initially a Clash song (a double A-side with ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go) but seemed a more natural fit for The Pogues, who could get behind that distinctive drum beat with accordion flushes and fiddles.
Joe Strummer & The Messcaleros – ‘Coma Girl’ (2003)
After a number of years in the wilderness, Joe Strummer’s final record with The Messcaleros felt like a performer rediscovering something of the old magic. It wasn’t the ‘angry young man’ of three decades ago, but instead an artist comfortable with who he was, his influences and the music he wanted to make.
Although Strummer died before Streetcore was released in 2003 – many critics commented that it was nice to see the punk icon go out on a high point.
Main image: Getty