Combat Rock is where the story of the Clash comes to an unfortunate, prolonged ending. It is their most fragmented LP, a disappointment apart from its four best-known tracks.
Nicky “Topper” Headon’s wickedly inspired “Rock the Casbah” is pretty irresistible, as is “Straight to Hell,” Joe Strummer’s haunting, bitter narrative of Amerasian children abandoned in Vietnam by soldier fathers who repudiated their responsibility. Strummer’s “Know Your Rights” is a grown-up version of the songs on the first Clash LP and this would not be an inaccurate description of the prescient Mick Jones composition “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”
These four songs would have made a solid EP, and would have kept the Clash Value for Money policy intact (“Know Your Rights,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah” were all released as A-sides). The remaining tracks make Combat Rock seem like a cash-in on their reputation. “Car Jamming” and “Overpowered by Funk” are disturbingly stiff and it would be charitable to call the rest underwhelming. The sparse design reflects a feeling of resignation which even the restored version cannot brighten.
There was no closure until the group’s formal dissolution but healing came in bursts of renewed collaboration, notably Big Audio Dynamite’s 1986 LP No. 10 Upping Street (which featured new Strummer/Jones collaborations; Paul Simonon later painted the cover to BAD’s Tighten Up Volume ’88) and in commemoration, which commenced with the excellent 1988 double CD The Story of the Clash Volume One, sequenced by Mick and annotated by Joe in the guise of “Albert Transom,” the band’s fictional valet. (Along with the 5 canon releases, The Story of the Clash Volume One, the 1991 set The Clash on Broadway, the 1991 collection The Singles and Super Black Market Clash have been remastered with restored artwork.)
It is fortunate that a live album wasn’t attempted immediately after Combat Rock, given that the 1982 Shea Stadium performance had been recorded by Glyn Johns (who had mixed Combat Rock). At least one associate upon hearing the tape in 1998 believed the complete show deserved to be released as the live LP, a proposal the members of the Clash rejected (in the end, only “Career Opportunities” was retained). Instead, tape searches were commissioned, eventually retrieving 1978 and 1980 performances from UK venues (Victoria Park, Music Machine, the Lewisham Odeon, the Lyceum), a 1981 Bonds International Casino show in 1981 (where fans rioted in Times Square when the show was oversold) and 7 tracks from two September 1982 concerts in Boston. Strummer, Jones, and Simonon spent two years carefully sifting through these tapes, seamlessly sequencing 17 of the best performances into From Here to Eternity, which includes a design by Paul Simonon and numerous rare Pennie Smith photos. For every Live at Leeds there are hundreds of subpar live albums, which tend to be the worst kind of vanity projects, contractual fill-ins and exploitations. From Here to Eternity is none of these.
“Complete Control” (from the Bonds show) immediately demonstrates the Clash’s rare ability to redefine themselves onstage, completely supplanting the 1977 single version. Incendiary performances of “Capitol Radio” and “City of the Dead” circumvent the “greatest hits live” problem (although “Train in Vain” and “London Calling” are rendered with their usual aplomb). The Lewisham Odeon performance of “Armagideon Time” (with Micky Gallagher and Mikey Dread) is a particular highlight.
The later shows show no sign of discord or diminished enthusiasm. “Clash City Rockers” and “Career Opportunities” both come from late 1982 shows but are almost as animated as the earlier tracks. The closing three songs, all from Combat Rock, include a smoking “Know Your Rights,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and a memorable rendition of “Straight to Hell.”
©2001 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.