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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

40 Years of Punk & New Wave: 1977 - The Clash Sign To CBS and the World Didn't End!

With Major Labels knocking on the doors to sign a Punk band of their own The Clash were in the fortunate position of actually having two interested in them - Polydor and CBS.

The old tale that The Clash were on their way to sign to Polydor for a £40,000 advance only to take a different turn and end up with CBS for a £100,000 has been debunked down through the years with Mick Jones saying that the band and not Bernie Rhodes made the decision.

There had been an assumption on the part of some people (not The Clash themselves) that the band would, or should sign with an indie label or even create their own like the Buzzcocks had done for their up and coming release (Spiral Scratch EP would be released on 29th January 1977). 

Mark Perry of Sniffin' Glue seemed so irritated by their signing to the label that he had uttered those immortal words:

 "Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS".

A more established journalist, Jon Savage, working for Sounds, sounded a more realistic point of view when he said, "They were a rock and roll band and they wanted to get on the majors. So big The Sex Pistols had already shown what you could do when you got on a major by all that fuss with EMI".

Whilst I like old Mark Perry I think I would lean more to Savage's viewpoint. Where some saw it as some kind of betrayal (I notice that they didn't spout the same kind of logic when the Pistols signed for EMI and then A&M) it seemed like a good decision for the band themselves. Okay, for The Clash maybe it was not such a great deal when they read the small print but they made the best of it that they could despite the numerous hassles they endured from the label execs.

There seemed to be a feeling of unease among some at CBS that they were throwing a lot of money at a band who had barely done 30 live shows (few of them as headliner) and that they were quite unskilled musically and surely they couldn't be expected to churn out an album!

Within a month of signing the deal the band had already recorded the debut album and were soon to release their Debut Single White Riot in March.

White Riot

London's Burning


I have sometimes wondered if The Clash would have made the same impact if they had actually signed to an Indie label or created one of their own. I think whilst they might have been well known in the UK I am not so sure their sphere of influence would have spread much further because some of the indie labels at the time would not have had the money or the distribution outlets to make it possible for the band to go to places as far flung as America and even Tokyo (Stiff Records sensing this, had already signed a distribution deal with Island Records).

It is worth pointing out as well that after the rumble of discontent from some quarters in the world of Punk that many bands would go and sign on the dotted line for Major labels:

The Stranglers had already signed to United Artists and were a few days away from releasing their Debut single. UA would also become home for Buzzcocks and 999. Slaughter and the Dogs and Cock Sparrer would sign deals with Decca Records. The Vibrators were added to the Epic roster. The Rezillos to Sire. Generation X to Chrysalis. The Jam and Sham 69 to Polydor. Penetration and XTC (along with the Pistols) signed to Virgin and on and on we could go.

At the same time as those bands were signing with majors there were still labels being created for one off singles and ones that had more of a life like Small Wonder, Beggars Banquet, Step Forward, Deptford Fun City, Zoom and Raw

So Punk didn't really die because The Clash signed with CBS and neither did the world end!

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