Rock the Casbah

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"Rock the Casbah"
Single by The Clash
from the album Combat Rock
B-side "Long Time Jerk"
Released 11 June 1982
Recorded 1981
Length 3:43
6:35 (extended version)
Writer(s) The Clash[4]
Producer(s) The Clash
The Clash singles chronology
"Should I Stay or Should I Go"
"Rock the Casbah"
"Straight to Hell"
The Clash reissued singles chronology
"Should I Stay or Should I Go" (rerelease)
"Rock the Casbah" (rerelease)
"London Calling" (2nd rerelease)
Music sample

"Rock the Casbah" is a song by the English punk rock band The Clash, released in 1982. The song was released as the third single from their fifth album, Combat Rock. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US (their second and last top 40 and only top 10 single in the United States) and, along with the track "Mustapha Dance", it also reached number eight on the dance chart.[5] It is the band's highest charting single worldwide.


"Rock the Casbah" was musically written by the band's drummer Topper Headon, based on a piano part that he had been toying with.[6][7] Finding himself in 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.[6][8]

This origin makes "Rock the Casbah" different from the majority of Clash songs, which tended to originate with music written by the Strummer-Jones songwriting partnership.[8]

Upon entering the studio to hear Headon's recording, the other Clash members were impressed with his creation, stating that they felt the musical track was essentially complete.[8] From this point, relatively minor overdubs were added, such as guitars and percussion.

However, Joe Strummer was not impressed by the page of suggested lyrics that Headon gave him.[6] According to Clash guitar technician Digby Cleaver, they were "a soppy set of lyrics about how much he missed his girlfriend".[6] "Strummer just took one look at these words and said, 'How incredibly interesting!', screwed the piece of paper into a ball and chucked it backwards over his head."[6]

Strummer had been developing a set of lyrical ideas that he was looking to match with an appropriate tune. 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.[9][10] After hearing Headon's music, Strummer went into the studio's toilets and wrote lyrics to match the song's melody.[7][8]

The version of the song on Combat Rock, as well as many other Clash compilations, features an electronic sound effect beginning at the 1:52 minute point of the song. This noise is a monophonic version of the song "Dixie". The sound effect source was generated by the alarm from a digital wristwatch that Mick Jones owned, and was intentionally added to the recording by Jones.[8]


Joe Strummer had been toying with the phrase "rock the casbah" prior to hearing Topper Headon's musical track that would form the basis of the song. This phrase had originated during a jam session with Strummer's violinist friend Tymon Dogg. Dogg began playing Eastern scales with his violin and Joe started shouting "rock the casbah!" Not hearing Strummer properly, Dogg thought that Strummer had been shouting at him to "stop, you cadger!"[9]

Further inspiration for "Rock the Casbah"'s lyrics originated from Joe Strummer observing the band's manager Bernie Rhodes moaning about The Clash's increasing tendency to perform lengthy songs. Rhodes asked the band facetiously "does everything have to be as long as this rāga?" (referring to the Indian musical style known for its length and complexity). Strummer later returned to his room at the Iroquois Hotel and wrote the opening lines to the song: "The King told the boogie-men 'you have to let that rāga drop.'"[11][10][9]

The song gives a fabulist account of a ban on Western rock music by an Arab king.[6] The lyrics describe the King's efforts to stop his population from listening to this music, such as ordering his military's jet fighters to bomb any people in violation of the ban. The pilots ignore the orders, and instead play rock music on their cockpit radios. The population then proceed to "rock the casbah" by dancing to the music. This scenario was inspired by the ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The song's lyrics feature various Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Sanskrit loan-words, such as sharif, bedouin, sheikh, kosher, rāga, muezzin, minaret, and casbah.[12]

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Rock the Casbah" was filmed in Austin, Texas by director Don Letts on 8 and 9 June 1982.[13]

The music video intermixes footage of The Clash miming a performance of the song, with a storyline depicting two characters travelling together throughout Texas. The video depicts an Arab hitchhiker and a Hasidic Jewish limo driver befriending each other on the road and skanking together through the streets to a Clash concert at Austin's City Coliseum. At one point they are seen eating hamburgers in front of a Burger King restaurant. Throughout the video, an armadillo is repeatedly shown walking near the band members, walking along the road, and following the two characters into the city.[14]

The Clash is shown miming a performance of the song in front of a pumpjack in a Texas oil field. During the vast majority of the video clip, guitarist Mick Jones's face is obscured by a veiled camouflage hat. The reason for this is that Jones was in a bad mood during the film shoot.[13] Jones' face remains hidden until the final 30 seconds of the clip, when his bandmate Joe Strummer pulls the hat off.


The single version has more pronounced bass. Also when Joe Strummer screams "The crowd caught a whiff / Of that crazy casbah jive" at the end of the third verse the word "jive" is sustained for several seconds with digital delay. Additionally, the sound effects of the jet fighters in the last verse are lower in the mix, particularly just after "drop your bombs between the minarets." The single version of the song is what is played in the music video.

"Mustapha Dance", which features in many releases of the single, is an instrumental remix of the song.

Single issues[edit]

The single has several issues, all with different cover, format and B-side (see the table below).[15]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
1982 "Rock the Casbah" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 34-03245 CAN/USA Promo
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 12" vinyl CBS/Sony Records Inc. 07.5P-191 JP
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 49-03144 USA
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 12" vinyl Epic 49-03144 CAN
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS A112479 UK Picture disc
1982 "Red Angel Dragnet" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 34-03245 CAN
1982 "Long Time Jerk" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 34-03245 USA In blue Epic generic die cut sleeve
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 12" vinyl CBS A 13-2479 UK
1982 "Long Time Jerk" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 15-05540 USA
1991 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Columbia 656814-7 UK Reissue
  1. "Mustapha Dance"
  2. "The Magnificent Dance"
45 rpm 12" vinyl Columbia 656814-6 UK
  1. "Mustapha Dance"
  2. "The Magnificent Dance"
CD Columbia 656814-2 UK


The song was chosen by Armed Forces Radio to be the first song broadcast on the service covering the area during Operation Desert Storm. In one of the campfire scenes late in the 2007 documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, a Granada friend states that Strummer wept when he heard that the phrase "Rock the Casbah" was written on an American bomb that was to be detonated on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.[16]

Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the song was placed on the list of post-9/11 inappropriate titles distributed by Clear Channel.[17] In 2006, the conservative National Review released their list of the top 50 "Conservative Rock Songs", with "Rock the Casbah" at No. 20, noting the Clear Channel list as well as frequent requests to the British Forces Broadcasting Service during the Iraq War.[18] Cultural reviewer and political analyst Charlie Pierce commented that "the notion of the Clash as spokesfolk for adventurism in the Middle East might have been enough to bring Joe Strummer back from the dead."[19]

Cover versions[edit]

Other versions of "Rock the Casbah" have been recorded by the Austin, Texas, band One Bad Pig, on the 1992 album Blow the House Down; the Australian band Something for Kate; Solar Twins on the movie soundtrack for the 1999 film Brokedown Palace; the American band Trust Company; the Japanese duo Tica recording a version in 2000 sampled by the English drum and bass/trip hop group from Bristol, Smith & Mighty;[20] and the Asturian studio project Soncai System, who did an Asturian language version of the song on the album Clashturies (2007).

The Algerian rock singer Rachid Taha covered the song (in Arabic) on his 2004 album Tékitoi. On 27 November 2005 at the Astoria, London, during the Stop the War Coalition Benefit Concert, "...for the night's grandstanding conclusion, the Clash legend Mick Jones strides on in a skinny black suit and plays probably the most exciting guitar he has delivered in years. He and the band are brilliant on Taha's definitive take on "Rock the Casbah", for which the audience goes berserk."[21] They played again the Taha's version of the song, "Rock el Casbah", on February 2006, at the France 4 TV show Taratatà.[22][23] In 2007 at the Barbican, ".... The band were later joined by special guest Mick Jones from The Clash who performed on "Rock El Casbah" and then stayed on stage for the remainder of the show."[24][25]

Will Smith's song "Will 2K" of the Willennium album samples "Rock the Casbah" both instrumentally and in some of the lyrics.[26] "It's Gonna Be Alright" by house act Pussy 2000 also samples the song.[27] Richard Cheese recorded a lounge cover of the song on his 2004 album I'd Like a Virgin. U2 have also played a snippet of the song on their 2005–2006 Vertigo Tour. After hearing the crowd singing the song as it was played over the loudspeaker before the start of the concert, Bono, the lead singer of U2, started singing "Rock the Casbah" in the middle of one of their songs during a concert in Melbourne. It has also made appearances on their 360° Tour. It has been played in "Sunday Bloody Sunday", which shows clips from Iranian protests. Green Day covered the song near the end of their AOL Sessions, and also performed it during a 2004 concert at The Warfield San Francisco.

Howlin' Pelle Almqvist of The Hives covered the song with some members of another Swedish band, Randy for a Joe Strummer Tribute concert at The Debaser in Stockholm.

A cover version was also recorded by Ranking Roger and Pato Banton in 1999 for the Clash tribute album Burning London: The Clash Tribute.

Chart performance[edit]



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