|Single by The Clash|
|from the album The Clash|
|Released||18 March 1977|
|Label||CBS CBS 5058|
|Writer(s)||Joe Strummer/Mick Jones|
|The Clash singles chronology|
"White Riot" is a song by English punk rock band The Clash, released as the band's first single in 1977 and also featured on their debut album. There are two versions: the single version (also appearing on the US version of the album released in 1979), and a different version on the UK album. According to their respective label copy the single version is 1:58 in running time while the UK album version is 1:55.
Inspiration and composition
The song is short and intense, drawing influence from the Ramones' style of three chords played very fast. Mick Jones counts off "1-2-3-4" at the start of the album version (in the single version, it instead begins with the sound of a police siren).
Lyrically, the song is about class economics and race and thus proved controversial: some people thought it was advocating a kind of race war. Rather, lyricist Joe Strummer was trying to appeal to white youths to find a worthy cause to riot, as he felt blacks in the UK already had. It contains a positive message in the lines "Are you taking over / Or are you taking orders? / Are you going backwards / Or are you going forwards?"
"White Riot" is considered a classic in The Clash canon, although as the band matured, Mick Jones would at times refuse to play it, considering it crude and musically inept. Over two decades later, Joe Strummer would perform it with his band the Mescaleros. The B-side of the single was "1977", a non-album track. This song was along similar lines to "White Riot", suggesting that the music of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones was no longer relevant.
In March 2005, Q magazine placed "White Riot" at number 34 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.
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The song was quickly covered by Clash contemporaries Sham 69. The punk rock/Oi! band Cock Sparrer also did a live cover version of the song, which even appeared on their "The Best of Cock Sparrer" and "England Belongs to Me" albums. The Mekons' first single, "Never Been in a Riot" was a response to "White Riot."
The song has been covered by, among others, hip-hop/punk rock band The Transplants, rock/folk/carnival band Camper Van Beethoven, punk rock band Anti-Flag, Cracker, alternative rock band Audioslave, and the Angelic Upstarts. The American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys have covered the song live, one recording of which is on their The Singles Collection: Volume One album. It was also performed by Rage Against The Machine at their free concert in Finsbury Park and Download Festival in June, 2010.
The song has also been covered in a folk-rock style by The Bad Shepherds on their album "By Hook or by Crook".
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- Gilbert, Pat (2005) . Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash (4th edition ed.). London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-84513-113-4. OCLC 61177239.
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- Letts Don; Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon, Terry Chimes, Rick Elgood, The Clash (2001). The Clash: Westway to the World (Documentary). New York, NY: Sony Music Entertainment; Dorismo; Uptown Films. Event occurs at 25:45–27:40. ISBN 0-7389-0082-6. OCLC 49798077.
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