The Clash reunites (virtually) with EW's homemade Clash 'Black Album'
Big Audio Dynamite
In one of the best and most talked-about sequences in Richard Linklater’s instant classic film Boyhood, Ethan Hawke gives Ellar Coltrane a homemade compilation he calls The Black Album. It consists of solo tracks from each of the four Beatles, sequenced in a way that captures the magic the band were able to make when they were still a cohesive unit. “Basically, I’ve put the band back together for you,” Hawke wrote in the liner notes.
It’s such a good idea that EW decided to steal it. There are countless bands who have broken up and never circled back around to a cash-grab reunion, and we’ve begun with one of my absolute favorites: The Clash. The group didn’t officially stick a fork in it until 1986, but the bloom was well off the rose by the time drummer Topper Headon left the group just prior to the release of 1982’s Combat Rock. The relationship between co-leads Mick Jones and Joe Strummer were hopelessly strained by the end, and by the time the group released the disastrous Cut the Crap in 1985, Jones was already deep into his second life as the frontman for Big Audio Dynamite.
Like the Beatles before them, the members of the Clash did make up and collaborate on an individual basis after they broke up, but they never got the band back together (and once Strummer suddenly passed away in 2002, that door was officially closed for good). Still, here are 19 tracks (the same number that appeared on the watershed London Calling) from the post-Clash lives of the core four that re-capture the spirit of what made them sonically and philosophically revolutionary.
The Clash: The Black Album
1. Big Audio Dynamite, “I Turned Out a Punk”
Immediately after leaving the Clash, Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite, which took the patchwork punk of Sandinista! and blows it out in several directions. The best BAD songs incorporate the shape-shifting spirit of dub, the sample-friendly beats of early hip-hop, and Jones’ signature chants and snarls. However, “I Turned Out a Punk,” a latter-day entry from 1995’s F-Punk, is as much a tribute to Jones’ old band as it is a new song: Beginning with a “1,2,3,4” count-off, the low-fi garage hum of “I Turned Out a Punk” could act as a biography for any of the four members of the Clash.
2. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Tony Adams”
Strummer’s post-Clash career included some film work (including the score for the super-batty Alex Cox Western Walker), a brief run with a band called the Latino Rockabilly War, and a stint as the frontman for the Pogues, and like everybody who lived in the U.K. in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he developed an obsession with dance music. All that came to a head in 1999 when Strummer released his first album with a new group called the Mescaleros. Rock, Art, and the X-Ray Style combined all of Strummer’s passions—punk, ska, rockabilly, American blues, Jamaican reggae, British rave—into a spry blast of spirited fist-pumping grooves. “Tony Adams,” the first track from X-Ray, captures all that magic at once and sets the template for both the end and the entirety of Strummer’s career.
3. Havana 3 A.M., “Reach the Rock”
Bassist Paul Simonon has had as eclectic a career as Strummer, and his resume includes this Latin rockabilly outfit formed shortly after the release of Cut the Crap. “Reach the Rock” rides a nice little surf lick and feels like the sort of breezy anthem the Clash used to churn out in their sleep.
4. Carbon/Silicon, “The Magic Suitcase”
After Big Audio Dynamite disbanded, Jones teamed up with former Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik rabble rouser Tony James. What began as a sample-swapping lark ended up in the duo’s full-length debut The Last Post, perhaps the most consistently excellent post-Clash album from any member of the band. The rhythmic juggling and stylistic hopscotch is pure Clash, and “The Magic Suitcase” is exactly the kind of microcosmic storytelling the Strummer and Jones used to tell larger stories about political corruption and fear.
5. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Gamma Ray”
A slinky, low-fi dip into dub waters and Middle Eastern harmonics that feels like it could have been left off Sandinista!.
6. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Get Down Moses”
Strummer left behind some unfinished tracks, which were fleshed out and released as the posthumous Streetcore a year after his death. This groovy spiritual is pretty much the platonic ideal for Brit-kissed ska.
7. Bush Tetras, “Rituals”
Between a debilitating heroin addiction and torturous back problems, drummer Topper Headon has had the quietest post-Clash career. (Ironically, his ability to play with different types of rhythms was something each Clash member looked for in subsequent projects, making him deeply influential despite being mostly absent.) His long out of print solo album Waking Up is no great shakes and doesn’t contain much trace of the Clash (it’s more of a straight funk record; the best case scenario is “Hope For Donna”). But Headon did do some production for New York no-wavers the Bush Tetras, and “Rituals” captures the sort of anarchic dance-punk spirit Headon’s old band always brushed up against.
8. Big Audio Dynamite, “Rush”
In 1991, Jones replaced everybody else in his band and re-christened them Big Audio Dynamite II. That band’s first album, The Globe, yielded Jones’ biggest post-Clash hit—a catchy-like-the-measles sampledelic anthem.
9. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Techno D-Day”
Strummer struggled to reconcile his punk roots with his interest in dance music, and “Techno D-Day” does the best job of merging those two universes.
10. Gorillaz, “Plastic Beach”
Blur founder Damon Albarn has played an oddly vital role in the post-Clash lives of some of the band members. He was briefly in a band called the Good, the Bad & the Queen with Simonon, and he invited both Simonon and Jones onto the title track from the third Gorillaz album. It doesn’t have a particularly strong Clash influence, but the magic of Simonon and Jones’ chemistry is there.
11. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Diggin’ the New”
Each of the members of the Clash were adventurous, and the evidence was in the rapid evolution between their debut and their subsequent releases. “Diggin’ the New” is as apt a declaration of lifestyle as there is for this band.
12. Big Audio Dynamite, “Medicine Show”
Notable not only for being a killer song, but also because both Simonon and Strummer appear in the official music video.
13. Carbon/Silicon, “Why Do Men Fight”
Another great piece of Jones-bred agit-pop that sounds like a Combat Rock outtake.
14. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Bummed Out City”
While Strummer was known as the political firebrand of the Clash, he also captured the melancholy of everyday life remarkably well, and “Bummed Out City” nails that attitude perfectly.
15. Big Audio Dynamite II, “Innocent Child”
A surprisingly quiet entry from near the end of BAD II’s run.
16. The Good, The Bad & The Queen, “Three Changes”
The melody and arrangement are pure Albarn, but of all the songs on the Good, the Bad & the Queen’s only album, this is the bass line that lets Simonon tap into his old life the best.
17. Havana 3 A.M., “The Hardest Game”
If the previous track is Simonon showing off as a fount of patience and skill, this Havana 3 A.M. track is the sound of him losing his mind.
18. Big Audio Dynamite, “V.Thirteen”
Not long after the Clash broke up, Strummer and Jones buried the hatchet, and this collaboration is almost certainly the best thing the pair did following the end of their old band. “V.Thirteen,” from BAD’s second album No. 10, Upping St., is a delightfully twisted pop song about dancing at the end of the world.
19. Joe Strummer, “Coma Girl”
Because it had to end somewhere.