Clash lyrics appreciation thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by BroJB, Sep 11, 2019.

  1. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Because their music was so viscerally exciting, it's easy to overlook how strong the Clash's lyrics typically were.

    So let's talk about our favorite lyrics from the band.

    I'll begin things with my take on Gates of the West, Mick Jones's spectacular bit of wordsmithing.

    First, here's the tune:

    Because the song never appeared on an Clash LP and was never performed live, it gets little recognition. So let's change that.


    Mick has never broken down exactly what was on his mind, so I'll offer my conclusion (which jibes with others who have given this some thought) - it's about the trepidation, excitement and anticipation of a band about to leave their home (i.e. London - "the gates of the east") to conquer America ("the gates of the west). It's all leavened by a heavy sense of fatalism that adds real poignancy.

    I would love to be the lucky one on chill Avenue
    Who could keep your heart warm when ice has turned it blue
    But with the beggin' sleeping losers as they turn in for the night
    I'm looking back for home and I can see the lights

    We begin with our narrator expressing his regrets that he can't stay, but he has to leave. And it's not a heroic exit. The last line is heartbreaking, as it recalls the feeling of leaving your home and taking one last wistful look over your shoulder at everything you're leaving behind.

    I should be jumpin' shoutin' that I made it all this way
    From Camden Town station to Fortieth and Eighth

    A cheeky homage to Mick's favorite band - Mott the Hoople - and the line "From the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl" from All the Way to Memphis. The first line plants the seed of doubt about how this will really all turn out for our narrator. He senses something might be wrong.

    Not many make it this far and many say we're great
    But just like them we walk on an' we can't escape our fate

    Oh man, this line. The band is surrounded by supporters with high hopes, but Mick is fully aware that sooner or later everything blows apart. That's the inescapable fate of the Clash, which he's contemplating even on the verge of their greatest triumph, because....

    Can't you hear the sighing
    Eastside Jimmy and Southside Sue
    Both say they needed something new

    America chews up artists and spits them out. He knows they may be the toast of the town one day and has-beens the next. I view the Eastside Jimmy and Southside Sue characters as a nod in the direction of Bruce Springsteen.

    So I'm standing at the gates of the west
    I burn money at the lights of the sign
    The city casts a shadow of the perfect crime

    The gates of the west is America or, more likely New York. While a bit obscure, I take the burning money and perfect crime references to be reflective of his feelings about the giant American record label he's committed his fate to.

    I'm standing at the gates of the east
    I take my pulse and the pulse of my friend
    The city casts a shadow, will I see you again?

    What an evocative line! Here's Mick and his bandmates standing in the shadow of London, looking to one another for courage as they step toward America. And he wonders if he'll ever see London in the same way again once he leaves.

    The immigrants an' remnants of all the glory years
    Are clustered around the bar again for another round of beers
    Little Richard's in the kitchen playing spoons and plates
    He's telling the waitress he's great

    The narrator imagines a roomful of has-beens and never-weres now ruefully reliving their glory years. While Little Richard, a symbol of greatness turned irrelevant has only an audience of a waitress to proclaim himself to.

    Left unsaid is the narrator's assumption that, someday, he'll end up there too.

    Ah say I know somewhere back'n'forth in time
    Out on the dustbowls, deep in the roulette mine
    Or in a ghetto cellar only yesterday
    There's a move into the future for the USA.

    An almost mystical line ricocheting across American history to once again come to the conclusion that, in America, things only move forward. There's today's news and yesterday's news. Because....

    I hear them crying
    Eastside Jimmy and Southside Sue
    Both said they needed something new

    Standing at the gates of the west
    In the shadow again
    I'm standing at the gates of the west
    In the shadow again

    And here's where we leave him. caught between the shadows of his past and his future, wondering what will become of him.

    I hope this prompts some of you to discover (or rediscover) this wonderful song. And I'd love to hear your favorite Clash lyrics - and why you chose them.
  2. bloodisthin

    bloodisthin And after all, we're only ordinary men

    "And every gimmick-hungry yob digging gold from rock 'n' roll
    Grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold
    But I believe in this - and it's been tested by research -
    He who f**ks nuns will later join the church
    Death or glory becomes just another story..."
  3. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Great choice. They were all over this kind of sentiment from the start. Witness this from White Man in Hammersmith Palais:

    Punk rockers in the UK
    They won't notice anyway
    They're all too busy fighting
    For a good place under the lighting

    The new groups are not concerned
    With what there is to be learned
    They got Burton suits, ha, you think it's funny
    Turning rebellion into money
    Dave Decadent likes this.
  4. A great Clash lyric from ' Straight To Hell '

    " Let me tell ya ' bout your blood , bamboo kid. It ain' t Coca Cola , it' s rice."
    Murman likes this.
  5. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Another brilliant one is Know Your Rights. It's a wonderfully concise microcosm of their politics:

    This is a public service announcement
    With guitar

    Know your rights
    All three of them

    Number one
    You have the right not to be killed
    Murder is a crime
    Unless it was done
    By a policeman
    Or an aristocrat
    Oh, know your rights

    I'm always impressed by the consistency of their message. Totally humanistic, sly but angry and eternally on the side of the little guy.
  6. Lemon Curry

    Lemon Curry (A) Face In The Crowd

    Mahwah, NJ
    He's in love with rock'n'roll, woah
    He's in love with gettin' stoned, woah
    He's in love with Janie Jones, woah
    He don't like his boring job, no...

    Lemon Curry at 18 :)
  7. Thunderman

    Thunderman Forum Resident

    New York
    The greatest Clash lyric comes from (of all places) that horror of an album called "Cut The Crap." It is this line from the song "This Is England" that is The Clash's greatest lyric:

    Black shadow of the Vincent
    Falls on the Triumph line

    It is beyond brilliant. To take a common metaphor - a black shadow - but use it in the terms of bankrupt and defunct British motorcycle manufacturers in order to speak of the decline of Empire is stunning. Not just the greatest Clash lyric, but undeniably the greatest line in music history.

    And then Joe followed it up with a rather simple lyric, but one that is also very apt for the decline of the English:
    I got my motorcycle jacket
    But I'm walking all the time
  8. Fastnbulbous

    Fastnbulbous Doubleplus Ungood

    Washington DC USA
    He said go out and get me my old movie stills
    Go out and get me another roll of pills
    There I go again shaking, but I ain't got the chills


    The whole song is hysterical, devoted to an actor the average 20 y.o. in 1979 never heard of.
  9. Lemon Curry

    Lemon Curry (A) Face In The Crowd

    Mahwah, NJ
    My all-time fav Clash lyric, no doubt fresh from the spliff tent when recorded...

    As the floods of God
    Wash away thin air
    They say it was written
    In the page of the Lord

    But I was looking
    For that great jazz note
    That destroyed
    The walls of Jericho

    The winds of fear
    Whip away the sickness
    The messages on the tablet
    Was Valium

    As the planets form
    That golden cross Lord
    I'll see you on
    The Holy Cross Roads

    After all this time
    To believe in Jesus
    After all those drugs
    I thought I was Him

    After all my lying
    And a-crying
    And my suffering
    I ain't good enough
    I ain't clean enough
    To be Him
    danielbravo, bloodisthin and Fullbug like this.
  10. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    When the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred killing 72 residents of a council estate, I immediately thought of these Mick Jones lyrics (Up in Heaven):

    You can't live in a home which should not have been built
    By the bourgeoisie clerks who bear no guilt
    When the wind hits this building this building it tilts
    One day it will surely fall to the ground

    Fear is just another commodity here
    They sell us peeping holes to peek when we hear
    A bang on the door resoundingly clear
    Who would really want to move in here?
    The children play faraway, the corridors are bare
    This room is a cage it's like captivity
    How can anyone exist in such misery?
    It has been said not only here

    He was so, so right about all of it.
  11. The Elephant Man

    The Elephant Man Forum Resident

    The first song I thought of when I read the thread title.
    Also, 'The Cost of Living' EP is one of my favorite records EVER!
    zither and BroJB like this.
  12. johnnyb1964

    johnnyb1964 Treats please!

    Eugene, Oregon
    “Vacuum cleaner sucks up budgie! Oh oh. Bye bye!”

    The Magnificent Seven

  13. Fullbug

    Fullbug Forum Resident

    They were given the grapes that go ripe in the sun
    That loosen the screws at the back of the tongue

    Four Horseman
    That's a couplet worthy of the Bard himself.
  14. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    At the end of that song, Joe drops one of the funniest lines in music history as he makes a casual aside to someone in the studio "f**kin' long, innit?".

    The fact that it was left in is a perfect example of why I love the Clash so much.
  15. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Man, they really stepped their lyric game on London Calling. The line about the ragged army full of poets fixing bayonets in "Spanish Bombs" is practically Dylanesque. (in all the good ways )
  16. Brian Lux

    Brian Lux One in the Crowd

    Placerville, CA
    I always thought the end of "Car Jamming" was cool:

    Hey fellas, hey fellas
    Lauren Bacall (in a car jam!)
    In a car jam
    Yeah, I don't believe it
    In a car jam
    Ah, yeah, positively-absolutely

    Great group. There was nothing like have Joe Strummer, on the night of June 23, 1982, in a particular nasty mood, give the finger (and the words to go with it) to all of us in attendance at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium and then charge into one of the most massively aggressive numbers of the night (which I don't specifically remember, just that it was very aggressive!)
  17. Maltman

    Maltman Somewhat grumpy, but harmless old man.

    Vancouver Canada
    From Guns of Brixton:

    When they knock on your front door
    How ya gonna come
    With your hands on your head
    Or on the trigger of your gun.
    Dave Decadent and Brian Lux like this.
  18. Murman

    Murman Forum Resident

    Love these two verses:

    To the opium den and the barroom gin
    In the Belmont chair playing violins
    The gambler's face cracks into a grin
    As he lays down the king of spades

    From the Hundred Year War to the Crimea
    With a lance and a musket and a Roman spear
    To all of the men who have stood with no fear
    In the service of the King
  19. Murman

    Murman Forum Resident

    I was gonna quote this song too, as an underrated gem.
  20. One of my faves as well. I quote it ( and sing it ) often although that last line gets many different interpretations from me..
  21. zither

    zither Forum Lodger

    So many great lines in The Magnificent Seven...

    Karlo Marx and Fredrich Engels
    Came to the checkout at the 7-11
    Marx was skint but he had sense
    Engels lent him the necessary pence
  22. Dougthesnail

    Dougthesnail The Big Gabagool

    New York, New York, 42nd Street
    Hustlers rustle and pimps pimp the beat
    Monty Clift is recognized at dawn
    He ain't got no shoes and his clothes are torn
    And everybody say, "Is he all right?"
    And everybody say, "What's he like?"
    And everybody say, "He sure look funny"
    That's that Montgomery Clift, honey
    I see a car smashed at night
    Cut the applause and dim the light
    Monty's face is broken on a wheel
    Is he alive? Can he still feel?
    Fullbug and Bill Diercks like this.

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