Straight to Hell (song)
|"Straight to Hell"|
|Single by The Clash|
|from the album Combat Rock|
|B-side||"Should I Stay or Should I Go"|
|Released||17 September 1982|
|Format||7-inch and 12-inch single, cassette tape|
6:56 (Unedited version)
3:57 (Edited version)
|Label||CBS CBS A 13-2646|
|Writer(s)||Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon|
|The Clash singles chronology|
"Straight to Hell" is a song by The Clash, from their album Combat Rock. It was released as a double A-side single with "Should I Stay or Should I Go" on 17 September 1982 in 12" and 7" vinyl format (the 7" vinyl is also available in picture disc) format.
Writing and recording
"Straight to Hell" was written and recorded towards the very end of The Clash's New York recording sessions for the Combat Rock album. Mick Jones' guitar technician Digby Cleaver describes the sessions as "a mad, creative rush" that occurred on 30 December 1981, the day before The Clash was due to fly out of New York on New Year's Eve 1981.
Joe Strummer reflected on this creative process in a 1991 piece about "Straight to Hell":
I'd written the lyric staying up all night at the Iroquois [Hotel]. I went down to Electric Lady and I just put the vocal down on tape, we finished about twenty to midnight. We took the E train from the Village up to Times Square. I'll never forget coming out of the subway exit, just before midnight, into a hundred billion people, and I knew we had just done something really great.— Joe Strummer, Clash on Broadway box set booklet
"Straight to Hell" has been described by writer Pat Gilbert as being saturated by a "colonial melancholia and sadness".
Like many songs by the Clash, the lyrics of "Straight to Hell" decry injustice. The first verse refers to the shutting down of steel mills in Northern England and unemployment spanning generations, it also considers the alienation of non English speaking immigrants in British society. The second verse concerns the abandonment of children in Vietnam who were fathered by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The third verse contrasts the American Dream as seen through the eyes of an Amerasian child with a dystopian vision of American reality. The final verse broadly considers the life of immigrants throughout the world.
The reference to "Amerasian Blues" describes the abandonment of children fathered by American soldiers stationed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War: an Amerasian child is portrayed as presenting an absent American father, "papa-san," with a photograph of his parents, pleading with his father to take him home to America. The child's plea is rejected. "-San" is a Japanese rather than Vietnamese honorific, but it was used by US troops in Vietnam who referred to Vietnamese men and women, especially older men and women, as "mama-san" or "papa-san".
When Strummer sings of a "Volatile Molotov" thrown at Puerto Rican immigrants in Alphabet City as a message to encourage them to leave, he is referring to the arson that claimed buildings occupied by immigrant communities – notably Puerto Rican – before the area was subject to gentrification.
The song has a distinctive drum beat. "You couldn't play rock 'n' roll to it. Basically it's a Bossa Nova." said Topper Headon. Joe Strummer has said "Just before the take, Topper said to me "I want you to play this" and he handed me an R Whites lemonade bottle in a towel. He said "I want you to beat the bass drum with it." 
The Combat Rock version of the song had a duration of 5:30 minutes. This version was edited down from the original track, which lasted almost 7 minutes. The original track featured extra lyrics and a more prominent violin part.
The decision to edit the song down from 7:00 down to 5:30 was part of the early 1982 mixing sessions whereby The Clash and Glyn Johns edited Combat Rock down from a 77-minute double album down to a 46-minute single album.
- Joe Strummer - vocal
- Mick Jones - guitars, keyboards, sound effects
- Paul Simonon - bass guitar
- Topper Headon - drums
Uses in media
Covers and samples
"Straight to Hell" has been covered or sampled by many artists. Heather Nova and Moby covered the song in 1999 for the Clash tribute album Burning London. In 2007, British singer M.I.A. sampled "Straight to Hell" in her song "Paper Planes" (which like "Straight to Hell" deals with the topic of immigration)--and as a result the songwriters of "Straight To Hell" were credited with writing T.I.'s 2008 song "Swagga Like Us". Philadelphia punk rock band The Menzingers later covered the song on their album A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology. Several folk artists have covered the song, including Josh Rouse, Emm Gryner, and Will Kimbrough. French DJ Martin Solveig also used samples from Straight to Hell to create his 2011 mega-hit "Hello" ft. Dragonette.
The song has been refashioned by Mick Jones, featuring Lily Allen, for the War Child: Heroes album, released in the UK on 16 February 2009, and in the U.S. on 24 February 2009 by Astralwerks. Jakob Dylan and Elvis Costello performed a cover of the song on season 1, episode 12 of Costello's show Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..., entitled "She & Him, Jenny Lewis and Jakob Dylan" and aired on Channel 4 in the UK, CTV in Canada and the Sundance Channel in the United States in 2008–2009.
- Gilbert, Pat (2004). Passion Is A Fashion: The Real Story Of The Clash. Aurum Press Ltd. p. 308. ISBN 1845130170.
- Gilbert, Pat (2004). Passion Is A Fashion: The Real Story Of The Clash. Aurum Press Ltd. p. 320. ISBN 1845130170.
- Songfacts - Straight To Hell by The Clash
- Gilbert, Pat (2004). Passion Is A Fashion: The Real Story Of The Clash. Aurum Press Ltd. pp. 312–14. ISBN 1845130170.
- Cover Lay Down - Covers of The Clash classic "Straight to Hell"
- Spectacle: Elvis Costello with... - Series 1 - Episode 12 - She & Him, Jenny Lewis and Jakob Dylan. Channel 4.
- SPECTACLE - She & Him, Jenny Lewis, Jakob Dylan (Episode 11, Season 1). Film. Sundance Channel.
- Spectacle: Elvis Costello with She & Him, Jenny Lewis, and Jakob Dylan (Episode 11). PopMatters.