Thursday, September 23, 2021

Cops: The Clash Covered

The Clash
: Police & Thieves

The Clash
: I Fought The Law

The Clash: Police On My Back 

[purchase The Clash]
[purchase Sandinista!

When I thought about responding to this theme, I realized that the Clash covered three songs (that I could think of) about police, and was going to write about them. But then I saw that Seuras was working on a post about their cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves,” so I won’t say anything more about that one, and direct you to Seuras’ piece, when it is posted. Although I will engage in some self-promotion by referring to my earlier article about the punk/reggae connection that the Clash was very much involved in, and which mentioned how “Police & Thieves” in part inspired Bob Marley’s “Punky Reggae Party.” 

Although the Clash’s self-titled first album was released in the UK (and elsewhere) in 1977, it didn’t get released in the USA until 1979. In 1978, while working on their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones went to San Francisco to do some overdubs at the Automatt studio, where they heard, for the first time, the Bobby Fuller Four song, “I Fought The Law.” Originally written by Sonny Curtis, the song was recorded in 1959 by Curtis and the Crickets, after Buddy Holly died, to little notice. The song was recorded by other musicians, including Bobby Fuller, with minimal success. But when Fuller re-recorded the song in 1965 with the Bobby Fuller Four, the song became a top-10 hit, and since then has been often covered. Only a few months after the song charted, Fuller was found dead from asphyxiation in his mother's car in a parking lot near his Los Angeles apartment. 

The Clash’s cover was added to the US release of The Clash and was instrumental in getting the band airplay in the US. It’s a great version of the song, to the point that I think that many people (not anyone reading this, of course) think it is an original. And that’s not to take anything away from the Bobby Fuller Four version, which is also great. Although it is interesting to think about the fact that the Clash’s version was released less than 15 years after the Bobby Fuller version, when I think about them as being from such completely different eras. If you'd like to read more about the song, from the Financial Times, of all places, go here.

London Calling is my favorite Clash album, and is actually one of my all-time favorites, and while it has a few cover songs on it, none are explicitly police related (I don’t think). Their next album, Sandinista! was a sprawling three-disc release, and some critics thought it was better than London Calling, while others, including me, thought that it had a little too much filler, and might have made a killer double album. But they do get points for ambition. There was a strong reggae and dub influence all over Sandinista!, and one of the covers on that album was “Police On My Back,” written by Eddy Grant (probably best known for his early-1980s hit, “Electric Avenue”) for his group the Equals in 1967. The Equals may well have been the first popular racially mixed band in the UK, and their version of the song, while sounding very consistent with British pop of the era, had a definite ska undertone. Interestingly, the Clash’s version is a straightforward rocker, with, to my ears, no real reggae or ska influences. And if you want to read a 29 page analysis, “Police On My Back and the Postcolonial Experience,” go here.