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Sunday, 20 March 2016

White Riot - The Clash (1977)

I had been thinking of posting something about the release of the first single by The Clash on Friday (to celebrate in some way) but I ended up forgetting about it. So I feel I should rectify that a couple of days late to the party...

The first communiqué from The Clash was unleashed om 18th March 1977. The Damned were already onto their 2nd single, the Pistols had released their debut in 1976 and nothing else yet, Buzzcocks had shot out the gates with Spiral Scratch EP and The Stranglers had released their debut single Grip/London Lady.

All the hype about The Clash was now to be determined by a 7" piece of plastic containing two songs, both under two minutes and totalling 3mins and 38 seconds. If they couldn't say all they wanted to say within that time frame they might as well have packed up and gone home! 

Mark Perry had famously announced that Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS, he must have forgotten that the Sex Pistols signed to EMI first and surely they were more part of the British Establishment than CBS!

I was a couple of months away from being 14 years old when it was released and I can still remember the sense of shock on hearing those opening words, "White Riot/I Wanna Riot/White Riot/A Riot of My Own". You see, with the Pistols' Anarchy in the UK and the opening "I am an Anti-Christ/I am an anarchist", you had intellectuals sitting around discussing what Anarchy meant and how in history it's been viewed and most of us reading just found it flying over our heads! But when Joe Strummer opens up with "White Riot/I Wanna Riot" you knew exactly what he was talking about! You could feel the intent from the get go!

I want to leave you with some words I read in the 19th March 1977 edition of the NME (see Page 5 on this PDF from Tom Robinson) on the way to school when it was my custom to read the Melody Maker, Sounds and the NME whilst walking down Sydenham Park before crossing the railway bridge into Dacres Rd. It was only a 15 minute walk from my house to school but on Music Paper day that was stretched to at least 30mins!

Tom Robinson's review of White Riot
19th March 1977 NME

"Last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words wait for another voice. Look out, listen, can you hear it?

It's pointless to categorise this with other records: 'White Riot' isn't a Poxy Single Of The Week, it's the first meaningful event all year. Try and discount it. Go on, say they sold out to the enemy at CBS, say it's another idle London fad irrelevant to the lives of working people, say it's all clever hype that's conned everyone, say it's just the '60s rehashed an' you can't make out the words.

Say what you like, you still can't discount it cos The Clash aren't just a band, and this is more than just a single. There's a book written by a trad fan in 1963 saying how shoddy The Beatles were, how ripped off from R&B, how they could never last in the world of Tin Pan Alley. They didn't last in it, they took it to pieces.

Whatever your standpoint, everyone basically agrees there are two sides. You know it's coming, we know it's coming and they know it's coming. The Clash are the writing on their wall. The recorded version of 'White Riot' is one minute and 58 seconds of buzzsaw guitars, Simonon's pumping, offbeat bass, an insolent, slurred vocal and sheer musical aggro. It won't pick up much airplay cos you can't make out the words - it'd pick up much less if you could: "Black man gotta lotta problems but they don't mind throwin' a brick/White people go to school where they teach you how to be thick..."

Flip is '1977', already well known to those in the know:..."No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977".

Hmm, so how come the riff is pure Kinks? No matter - forget the medium, cos this one has the message. Blag it, steal it, borrow it, tape it off the radio if they'll play it.  Buy it an' you're a wimp, miss it an' you're a real turkey."

White Riot / 1977
Produced by Micky Foote
Released 18th March 1977
UK Chart #38

"White Riot"

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Black people gotta lot a problems
But they don't mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick

An' everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
An' nobody wants
To go to jail!

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it

Everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!

White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own
White riot - I wanna riot
White riot - a riot of my own

Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?
 B-Side: 1977

in 1977 i hope i go to heaven
cos i been too long on the dole
and i can't work at all

danger stranger
you better paint your face
no elvis, beatles, or the rolling stones
in 1977

in 1977
knives in west 11
lent so lucky to be rich
sten guns in knightsbridge

danger stranger
you better paint your face
no elvis, beatles or the rolling stones
in 1977

in 1977
you're on the never never
you think it can't go on forever
but the papers say it's better
i don't care 'cos i'm not all there
no elvis, beatles or the rolling stones

in 1977
sod the jubilee
in 1978
in 1979
stayed in bed
in 1980
in 1981
the toilet don't work
in 1982
in 1983
here come the police
in 1984

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