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. OVERALL MEANING: 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.