The Clash CD catalogue has been impressively upgraded. Restored to the Clash’s specifications, the remastering of each disc was directed by their longtime studio associate Bill Price and the artwork was carefully recreated by Julian Balme, involving the addition of inlay designs and picture labels and meticulous recreation of the original graphic aspects of each LP. The five original Clash LPs remain true to their original form.
American record companies have an exceptionally shameful history of disrespecting the wishes of its international (usually British) recording artists. In the most famous example (but by no means the only one), Capitol Records habitually amputated songs off LPs by the Beatles and mixed the excised tracks with previous singles, contriving “extra” releases without consideration for anything but avarice. This practice was commonplace up until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, after which it became less overt without entirely disappearing.
By the late 1970s, CBS/Columbia had become the most notorious label for such meddling (i.e. its drastical alterations on Elvis Costello’s first three LPs and its retitling of Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool). Columbia had passed on The Clash (which had originally been released by CBS UK in April 1977), but changed their mind when the followup (Give ’Em Enough Rope) became available, releasing it in 1978 on its Epic label. The first album became available as an import, and when it began selling in sufficient numbers, an American release was set.
With the usual presumption that they were qualified to override proven artistic decisions, Epic released an eviscerated version of The Clash in July 1979 in which four tracks were taken out (“Deny,” “Cheat,” “Protex Blue,” and “48 Hours”) and five recent UK singles were spliced in (the A-sides “Complete Control,” “Clash City Rockers,” “I Fought the Law,” and “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” and the B-side “Jail Guitar Doors”). The remaining tracks were subjected to such an extreme resequencing that this new version of The Clash no longer resembled the original. Excising “Cheat” and “Protex Blue” was especially short-sighted but including tracks that weren’t released until after the second album on what was passed off as being their first made for a confusing mix.
So the Clash began to consider the US version as a completely different entity, which led to the somewhat controversial decision to retain it in addition to the restored UK version, which has finally made its North American premiere after 22 years. This has caused a certain amount of alarm among those resenting the idea of being compelled to purchase of two long-playing CDs with substantial repetition, but there’s no dilemma, since the 1991 compilation The Singles (also making its US debut with the remasters) contains the 4 A-sides (and numerous other non-LP tracks); “Jail Guitar Doors” appears on the remastered Super Black Market Clash. So the US version is superfluous at best, while the UK original remains utterly crucial.
Recorded over three weekend sessions, The Clash is simple, powerful and direct. “Remote Control,” “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” “Hate & War,” “White Riot,” and “London’s Burning” are incisive and incendiary; the sardonic humour in “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” (“Yankee detectives are always on the TV/’cause killers in America work seven days a week”) and in the crucial couplet “they’re gonna have to introduce conscription/they’re gonna have to take away my prescription” (in the antiwork classic “Career Opportunities”) establishes an unyielding position independent of group thinking (echoed in their timeless cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves”).
Give ’Em Enough Rope has also been restored to its original UK sequence and sleeve, correcting “revisions” Epic made in 1978 when they timidly retitled its excellent closing track “All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)” to “That’s No Way To Spend Your Youth” and truncated “Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad” to “Julie’s In The Drug Squad.”
To some extent producer Sandy Pearlman succeeded in blunting their edge even if he failed to obscure Joe Strummer’s voice in the mix. Given the depressing atmosphere of the time there could have been more inappropriate matchups, but there’s no small degree of come-uppance in that he’s infamously remembered for this more than anything else.
“Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad” and “Cheapskates” each lose their momentum and the saxophone part in “Drug-Stabbing Time” seems forced. Maybe something is lacking in “Last Gang In Town” and “Guns On the Roof,” but “Safe European Home” is a killer opening, one of Strummer’s best vocal deliveries and one of the Clash’s best recordings. “English Civil War” and “Tommy Gun” are just as spirited. “Stay Free” and “All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)” are notable, just unexceptional. The best was yet to come.