Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Friday Clash Song: What Do We Have For Entertainment?

With a special hat-tip to Al D’Amario (@aldamario on Twitter) who recommended this last week, a live version of “The Magnificent Seven,” originally from Sandinista! (1980). There’s a very similar version on Live: From Here to Eternity (1999), which has been the go-to playlist on my iPod lately. Live Clash might be the best music ever to run to. But I say that about a lot of music.

Anyway, I’ve often pointed out how versatile the Clash were for a punk band, and this song really showcases that versatility: It’s hip hop, fer Chrissakes, recorded before most white folks even knew what hip hop was. According to Antonio D’Ambrosio:

[Joe] Strummer’s unique partnership with Mick Jones, his main collaborator and lead guitarist in the Clash, brought a revolutionary sense of excitement to modern music. Strummer and Jones quickly recognized the power of rap music that was just emerging from New York City’s underground in the late seventies. “When we came to the U.S., Mick stumbled upon a music shop in Brooklyn that carried the music of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, the Sugar Hill Gang…these groups were radically changing music and they changed everything for us.”

With typical Clash inventiveness, they became one of the first white groups to incorporate rap into their music. As a tribute to the path-breaking Sugar Hill Gang, the Clash recorded The Magnificent Seven, one of their best-known and most important singles. In another example that marked the Clash’s commitment to challenging social conventions, they enlisted several New York City rap groups to join their huge Clash on Broadway tour. At the time, this was extremely controversial since it was widely believed that combining the two disparate audiences and musical genres would result in racial mayhem.

Reflecting on the group’s influence, I suggested to Strummer that hip-hop has replaced punk rock as the dominant political pop cultural force in spirit, vitality, and creativity. He responded, “No doubt about it, particularly in respect to addressing the ills of capitalism and providing a smart class analysis, underground hip-hop, not the pop-culture stuff, picked up where punk left off and ran full steam ahead.”

In retrospect, the evolution of political music from punk (and reggae) to hip hop seems perfectly logical, as logical as the evolution from blues to rock ’n roll was; but at the time pop music was (and this is a complete understatement) pretty well segregated along racial lines. I suppose it still is, which is sad, but the Clash certainly did their part to bridge that gap.

And even though Joe Strummer wrote the lyrics to “The Magnificent Seven” off the cuff in the studio, the song’s dystopian feeling seems to fit the current political mood:

Ring! Ring! It’s 7:00 a.m.

Move y’self to go again

Cold water in the face

Brings you back to this awful place

Knuckle merchants and you bankers too

Must get up an’ learn those rules …

Yeah, well, maybe on Friday it’s best not to think about the alarm clock going off again …

So, anyway, here’s another version, recorded live on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder when Snyder was desperately trying to remain relevant (he also had U2 and Elvis Costello on around that same time):

And the original studio version:

You lot! What?

Don’t stop! Huh?

So there you go. Your Friday Clash song: “The Magnificent Seven.”

Turn. It. Up.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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