Combat Rock

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For the Doctor Who novel, see Combat Rock (novel). For the song by Sleater-Kinney, see One Beat.
Combat Rock
The Clash - Combat Rock.jpg
Studio album by The Clash
Released 14 May 1982 (1982-05-14)
Recorded 1980; September 1981 at Ear Studios in London; November 1981–January 1982 at Electric Lady Studios in New York City; April 1982 in Warnford, Hampshire
Genre Post-punk[1]
Length 46:21
Label CBS, Epic
Producer The Clash, Glyn Johns
The Clash chronology
Sandinista!
(1980)
Combat Rock
(1982)
Cut the Crap
(1985)
Singles from Combat Rock
  1. "Know Your Rights"
    Released: 23 April 1982
  2. "Should I Stay or Should I Go"
    Released: 10 June 1982
  3. "Rock the Casbah"
    Released: 11 June 1982
  4. "Straight to Hell"
    Released: 17 September 1982

Combat Rock is the fifth studio album by the English rock band The Clash.[2] It was released on 14 May 1982 through CBS Records. In the United Kingdom, the album charted at number 2, spending 23 weeks in the UK charts and peaked at number 7 in the United States, spending 61 weeks on the chart.

Combat Rock is the group's best-selling album, being certified double platinum in the United States. It contained two of The Clash's most popular songs, the singles "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go". Combat Rock was the last Clash album featuring the classic lineup; Topper Headon left the band after completing the album and Mick Jones left in 1983.[3][4]

Background[edit]

Following the triple-album Sandinista! (1980), singer/guitarist Joe Strummer felt the group was "drifting" creatively.[5] Bassist Paul Simonon agreed with Strummer's dissatisfaction towards the "boring" professionalism of The Clash's then-managers Blackhill Enterprises.[5][6] Strummer and Simonon convinced their bandmates to reinstate the band's original manager Bernie Rhodes in February 1981, in an attempt to restore the "chaos" and "anarchic energy" of The Clash's early days.[6] This decision was not welcomed by guitarist Mick Jones, who was becoming progressively estranged from his bandmates.[7]

During this period, drummer Topper Headon escalated his intake of heroin and cocaine. His occasional drug usage had now become a habit that was costing him £100 per day and undermining his health.[8] This drug addiction would be the factor that would later inspire his bandmates to fire him from The Clash, following the release of Combat Rock.

Recording[edit]

The album had the working title Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg during the recording and mixing stages.[9] After early recording sessions in London, the group relocated to New York for recording sessions at Electric Lady Studios in November and December 1981.[10] Electric Lady Studio was where the band had recorded its previous album Sandinista! in 1980.[11]

While recording the album in New York, Mick Jones lived with his then-girlfriend Ellen Foley.[11] Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon stayed at the Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street, a building famed for being the home of actor James Dean for two years during the early 1950s.[11][12]

After finishing the New York recording sessions in December 1981, the band returned to London for most of January 1982. Between January and March, The Clash embarked on a six-week tour of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand.[9] During this tour, the album's cover photograph was shot by Pennie Smith in Thailand in March 1982.[5]

Mixing and editing[edit]

Following the Far East tour, The Clash returned to London in March 1982 to listen to the music that they had recorded in New York three months earlier.[13] They had recorded 18 songs, enough material to possibly release as double-album.[13] Having previously released the double-LP London Calling (1979) and the triple-LP Sandinista! (1980), the group considered whether it should again release a multi-LP collection.

The band debated how many songs their new album should contain, and how long the songs' mixes should be. Mick Jones argued in favour of a double-album with lengthier, dancier mixes.[13] The other band members argued in favour of a single album with shorter song mixes.[13] This internal wrangling created tension within the band, particularly with guitarist Mick Jones, who had mixed the first version.[13][14][15]

Manager Bernie Rhodes suggested that producer Glyn Johns be hired to remix the album. This editing took place in Johns' garden studio in Warnford, Hampshire (not at Wessex Studios, as is incorrectly stated by some sources).[13]

Johns, accompanied by Strummer and Jones edited Combat Rock down from a 77-minute double album down to a 46-minute single LP.[13] This was achieved by trimming the length of individual songs, such as by removing instrumental intros and codas from songs like "Rock the Casbah" and "Overpowered by Funk". Additionally, the trio decided to omit several songs entirely, dropping the final track count to 12.[16][17][18][19]

During these remixing sessions, Strummer and Jones also re-recorded their vocals for the songs "Should I Stay or Should I Go" and "Know Your Rights" and remixed the songs with the intent of maximising their impact as singles.[13]

Music and lyrics[edit]

A recurring motif of Combat Rock is the impact and aftermath of the Vietnam War.[20] "Straight to Hell" describes the children fathered by American soldiers to Vietnamese mothers and then abandoned,[21] "Sean Flynn" describes the photojournalist son of actor Errol Flynn who disappeared in 1970 while covering the war.[20]

Biographer Pat Gilbert describes many songs from Combat Rock as having a "trippy, foreboding feel", saturated in a "colonial melancholia and sadness" reflecting the Vietnam War.[22] The band was hugely inspired by Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now, and had previously released the song "Charlie Don't Surf" on Sandinista!, which referenced the film.[20]

Other Combat Rock songs, if not directly about the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy, depict American society in moral decline.[20] "Red Angel Dragnet" was inspired by the January 1982 shooting death of Frank Melvin, a New York member of the Guardian Angels.[22][23][24] The song quotes Martin Scorsese's 1976 movie Taxi Driver, with Clash associate Kosmo Vinyl recording several lines of dialogue imitating the voice of main character Travis Bickle. Bickle sports a mohawk in the later part Taxi Driver, this was a hairstyle adopted by Joe Strummer during the Combat Rock concert tour.[25]

The song, "Ghetto Defendant", features beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who performed the song on stage with the band during the New York shows on their tour in support of the album. Ginsberg had researched the punk music, and included phrases like "do the worm" and "slam dance" in his lyrics.[20] At the end of the song he can be heard reciting the Heart Sutra, a popular Buddhist mantra.[26]

Music for "Rock the Casbah" was written by the band's drummer Topper Headon, based on a piano part that he had been toying with.[27][28] Finding himself the studio without his three bandmates, Headon progressively taped the drum, piano and bass parts; recording the bulk of the song's musical instrumentation himself.[27][29]

The other Clash members were impressed with Headon's recording, stating that they felt the musical track was essentially complete.[29] However, Strummer was not impressed by the page of suggested lyrics that Headon gave him.[27] Before hearing Headon's music, Strummer had already come up with the phrases "rock the casbah" and "you'll have to let that raga drop" as lyrical ideas that he was considering for future songs.[11][30] After hearing Headon's music, Strummer went into the studio's toilets and wrote lyrics to match the song's melody.[28][29]

Release[edit]

Following along the same note as Sandinista!, Combat Rock's catalogue number "FMLN2" is the abbreviation for the El Salvador political party Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional or FMLN.[26][31][32]

Lead single "Know Your Rights" was released on 23 April 1982,[13] and reached number 43 on the U.K. singles chart.[33] Combat Rock was released on 14 May 1982 and reached number 2 on the U.K. album charts, kept off the top spot by Paul McCartney's Tug of War.[13] In the United States, Combat Rock reached number 7 on the album charts, selling in excess of one million copies.[34]

"Rock the Casbah", which had been musically composed by drummer Topper Headon, reached number 8 on the U.S. singles chart.[34] The single was accompanied by a distinctive video directed by Don Letts that aired frequently on the then-fledgling television channel MTV.

In January 2000, the album, along with the rest of The Clash's catalogue, was remastered and re-released.[35]

Reception and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars[36]
Alternative Press 3/5 stars[37]
Blender 4/5 stars[38]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 3/5 stars[39]
MusicHound 3.5/5[39]
Q 3/5 stars[40]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[41]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3.5/5 stars[39]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 8/10[39]
The Village Voice B+[42]

Combat Rock peaked at number 2 on the UK Albums Chart, number 7 on the Billboard Pop albums, and the top ten on many charts in other countries.[43][44][45][46][47] It was ranked at #4 among the top "Albums of the Year" for 1982 by NME, with both "Straight to Hell" and "Know Your Rights" ranked among the year's top 50 tracks.[48]

The United States Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified Combat Rock as a Gold album on November 1982, Platinum in January 1983, and Multi-Platinum in June 1995.[49]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau lamented the same attempts at funk and dub The Clash had tried on Sandinista! (1980). Nonetheless, he dismissed the notion the band were selling out and believed they were "evolving" on Combat Rock, writing songs at a "higher level of verbal, musical, and political density", albeit in less "terse and clear" fashion than on their early work.[42] Douglas Wolk said in a retrospective review for Blender that while the record was originally seen as The Clash's "sellout move" because of its danceable sound and two hit singles, the other songs featured "audaciously bizarre arrangements and some of Strummer's smartest lyrics."[38] Q magazine was less enthusiastic, deeming it "their biggest seller, but the beginning of the end."[40] In 2000, Alternative Press called it "the penultimate Clash album...employing lessons learned in the previous three years...their most commercially rewarded release...containing [their] most poignant song 'Straight to Hell'."[37] CMJ New Music Report ranked Combat Rock at number five on its 2004 list of the Top 20 Most-Played Albums of 1982.[50] Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 80 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[51] Kurt Cobain listed it in his top fifty albums of all time.[52][53]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by The Clash, except where noted. 

Side one[54]
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Know Your Rights" (Strummer/Jones) Joe Strummer 3:39
2. "Car Jamming"   Joe Strummer 3:58
3. "Should I Stay or Should I Go"   Mick Jones 3:06
4. "Rock the Casbah"   Joe Strummer 3:44
5. "Red Angel Dragnet"   Paul Simonon/Kosmo Vinyl 3:48
6. "Straight to Hell"   Joe Strummer 5:30
Side two[55]
No. Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Overpowered by Funk"   Joe Strummer/Futura 2000 4:55
2. "Atom Tan"   Mick Jones/Joe Strummer 2:32
3. "Sean Flynn"   Joe Strummer 4:30
4. "Ghetto Defendant"   Joe Strummer/Allen Ginsberg 4:45
5. "Inoculated City" (some copies of the album have an edited version lasting 2:11) Mick Jones/Joe Strummer 2:43
6. "Death is a Star"   Joe Strummer/Mick Jones 3:13

Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg track list[edit]

  1. "The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too" – 3:45
  2. "Kill Time" – 4:58
  3. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" – 3:05
  4. "Rock the Casbah" – 3:47
  5. "Know Your Rights" (extended version) – 5:04
  6. "Red Angel Dragnet" – 5:12
  7. "Ghetto Defendant" – 6:17
  8. "Sean Flynn" – 7:30
  9. "Car Jamming" – 3:53
  10. "Inoculated City" – 4:32
  11. "Death Is a Star" – 2:39
  12. "Walk Evil Talk" – 7:37
  13. "Atom Tan" – 2:45
  14. "Overpowered by Funk" (demo) – 1:59
  15. "Inoculated City" (unedited version) – 2:30
  16. "First Night Back in London" – 2:56
  17. "Cool Confusion" – 3:10
  18. "Straight to Hell" (extended version) – 6:56

As of 2016, the full, unedited version of Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg has not been officially released, though bootleg versions have circulated through unofficial channels. The songs "First Night Back in London" and "Cool Confusion" that were discarded from the album appeared in 1982 as B-sides to the album's singles. Some of the original-mix songs appeared on the Clash on Broadway and Sound System box sets. In 2012, violinist and friend of Joe Strummer Tymon Dogg released the song "Once You Know" that he recorded during the Combat Rock sessions with all four Clash members as the backing band.[56]

Personnel[edit]

Additional musicians
Production

Chart positions[edit]

Year Chart Position
1982 Canadian RPM Albums Chart[57] 12
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[58] 29
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[59] 5
Norwegian Albums Chart.[46] 7
Swedish Albums Chart[47] 9
UK Albums Chart[44] 2
1983 US Billboard Pop albums[45] 7

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[60] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[61] Gold 500,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[62] Gold 50,000^
United States (RIAA)[61] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone

Sources[edit]

  • Gray, Marcus (2005) [1995]. The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town (5th revised ed.). London: Helter Skelter. ISBN 1-905139-10-1. OCLC 60668626. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cateforis, Theo (2013). "SoYouWanna.com". The Rock History Reader. Routledge. p. 314. ISBN 0415892120. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  2. ^ Colin Larkin (27 May 2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Omnibus Press. pp. 2006–. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8. 
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  9. ^ a b Gilbert, Pat (2004). Passion Is A Fashion: The Real Story Of The Clash. Aurum Press Ltd. p. 309. ISBN 1845130170. 
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  52. ^ "Top 50 by Nirvana [MIXTAPE]". Retrieved 8 May 2013. 
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  55. ^ Chris Knowles (1 December 2003). Clash City Showdown. PageFree Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-58961-138-2. 
  56. ^ Dogg, Tymon (22 December 2012). "The Clash with Tymon Dogg: Once You Know". Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
  57. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 36, No. 23, July 17, 1982". RPM. Retrieved 2012-02-17. 
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  60. ^ "British album certifications – The Clash – Combat Rock". British Phonographic Industry. 1982-07-27.  Enter Combat Rock in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  61. ^ a b "American album certifications – The Clash – Combat Rock". Recording Industry Association of America. 1982-11-08.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "United_StatesThe_ClashCombat_RockalbumCertRef" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  62. ^ "Canadian album certifications – The Clash – Combat Rock". Music Canada. 1982-12-01. 

Further reading[edit]