White Riot

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"White Riot"
Single by The Clash
from the album The Clash
Released18 March 1977[1]
Format7" vinyl
RecordedFebruary 1977
GenrePunk rock
LabelCBS CBS 5058
Songwriter(s)Joe Strummer/Mick Jones
Producer(s)Micky Foote
The Clash singles chronology
"White Riot"
"Remote Control"

"White Riot" is a song by English punk rock band The Clash, released as the band's first single in March 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.


The song is short and intense, in the typical punk style of three chords played very fast. Mick Jones counts off "1-2-3-4" at the start of the album version while the single version begins with the sound of a police siren instead.

Lyrically, the song is about class economics and race and thus proved controversial: some people thought it was advocating a kind of race war.[2]

The song was written after Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon were involved in the riots at the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976.[2]


The single's cover photograph was taken by Caroline Coon on 5 November 1976 at the band's rehearsal studio in Camden Town. The photo was inspired by real-life events where youths were randomly stopped and searched by police in the street. The original shot featured the phrase "Hate and War" on the back of Strummer's boiler suit, which was airbrushed for the released version and replaced with "1977".[1]


The only person who played ‘White Riot’ on the radio was John Peel — and he's gone on holiday. You play our record against any of the other stuff and it just knocks spots off them left, right and centre. They must be cunts for not playing it.

Joe Strummer[3]

"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.

In popular culture[edit]

The song is featured in the soundtrack for the game Tony Hawk's Underground.


"White Riot"[edit]


Cover versions[edit]

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".

Punk Rock band Rise Against covered the song during their shows at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in 2011 after vocalist Tim McIlrath made a speech about the London Riots of 2011.


Chart Peak
UK Singles Chart 38


  1. ^ a b Coon, Caroline (18 March 2007). "18 March 1977 : Music Flashback". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Letts Don. (2001). The Clash: Westway to the World. Event occurs at 25:45–27:40.
  3. ^ Coon 1977.


External links[edit]