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‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ Turns 35 (Part Two)

The band's sophomore effort was deeply, depressingly flawed. Yet just one year later, The Clash would redeem themselves, and make musical history.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

November 22, 2013 - 11:00 am
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The_Clash_-_English_Civil_War

Returning to our look back at The Clash’s second, and “half great,” album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)…

One of the album’s biggest flaws is that too many of the songs touch on similar themes, to the point where they begin to run together in your memory.

For instance, both the powerful “English Civil War” and the less successful “Last Gang In Town” tackle violence in the public square:

The former warned that the neo-Nazi National Front was on the rise; the latter concerns the often violent British teen subculture rivalries between mods and rockers, punks and teddy boys, and skinheads vs. everyone else.

In retrospect, it’s hard to calculate whether or not the National Front was ever a serious threat to the social order, or just a jack-booted boogeyman whose influence was exaggerated by far left “anti-racists.”

Regardless, “English Civil War” was one of numerous anti-Nazi songs of the era that collectively reduced the NF’s “cool” factor and helped hasten its decline.

As for the latter song: For the average North American listener, “teds” and mods were even less familiar creatures than Nazi street thugs, and their battles a baffling phenomenon — one familiar, if at all, from listening to The Who’s Quadrophenia.

However, in the England of The Clash, subculture rivalries were very real and often bloody, as Joe Strummer learned when he attended one rockabilly concert too many in working class “teddy boy” territory. He was sniffed out as “a public schoolboy playing at being working class, so [they] gave him quite a pasting.”

Strummer shrugged off the incident, telling chief roadie “The Baker” that it was all part of suffering for his art.

(The Clash front man’s bone-dry sense of humor, as well as his compulsive self-invention, can make it annoyingly hard to tell when he’s kidding around. He probably wasn’t sure himself sometimes.)

(Alas, too many earnest fans continue to take his off-hand remarks as holy writ, even though they surely know by now that “Joe Strummer” — down to his name, age and accent — was as much a creation as any of his songs.)

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