If we’re going to talk about the roots of today’s hard rock/punk rock/metal music, it’s imperative to go back and look at three bands specifically; the forefathers of punk and alternative rock The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash. These three bands were all prevalent from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s and what was most groundbreaking about them was not just their music, but their attitude and their message. The Sex Pistols were a no holds barred, down and dirty group of hard drinking, hard living Englishmen that really encompassed the “just don’t give a fuck” attitude that has become so famous in punk rock music.
On the other hand, The Ramones from New York were far less extreme and much more good natured, although they too were known for their hard partying. And while The Sex Pistols and The Ramones have gone down in history as two very important and influential punk bands, perhaps the most influential band of this era was The Clash. This four piece band not only produced some timeless music, but also an enduring social and political message that dozens of rock bands have drawn inspiration from to this day. Since the death of The Clash’s singer and leader Joe Strummer at the end of 2002, much has been made of the band’s history and eventual demise so rather than go through a long drawn out biography of the band, let’s look at what really made this band significant and so influential to generations of young people that would follow them.
In total, The Clash was together as a band for about ten years, from 1976 to 1986 and in this time the group released six proper studio records highlighted by the their third double LP, the brilliant London Calling. These six albums ended up being a blueprint of sorts for punk rock bands and political bands to follow. As important as the Clash’s music was, one could argue that their politics and social message was even more important. While artists such as Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Bob Marley all had political themes to their music, no one embraced politics and social activism like The Clash did, they lived and breathed their message.
The Clash’s politics were distinctively left wing at a time when most other punk rock bands were advocating anarchy and nihilism. They vehemently opposed monarchy and aristocracy and their songs explored a wide variety of political ideas and movements. From protesting the estrangement of low-paid, factory type employment to encouraging young white people to get involved politically like young African Americans, The Clash covered all the political bases. In their time, the band supported a wide variety of large and extremely small scale political issues and causes, doing whatever they could do to help bring attention to an instance of injustice or oppression.
Although they weren’t the first punk rock band to embrace a political stance, no band then or now has had as much of an influence on politics and rock like The Clash has. The Clash’s politics were well reasoned and intelligent rather than loud, uneducated and obnoxious like other punk rock groups. They were radical at a time when Britain and The United States were in periods of great conservatism when things were boring and predictable. The Clash made it cool to follow politics and make a stand for what you believed in. The band has had an immense influence on today’s punk rock and alternative music as well as politically motivated bands to follow them. Green Day, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, U2 and so many others have all named The Clash as one of their most influential bands of all time.
Perhaps the most popular politically motivated band of the late twentieth century, Rage Against The Machine might have never existed if it wasn’t for The Clash. In reference to The Clash, Rage guitarist Tom Morello said, “The Clash was my Paul Revere band. I couldn't believe there was a band who said stuff so righteous, unapologetic, and fearless. But it wasn't like a college lecture - it was the most exciting band of all time.” * Now almost five years after Joe Strummer’s death, the name and the message of The Clash continues to live on as one of the most important rock and roll bands of all time. This wasn’t just a band, it was a revolution, and something we always have and always will need in the world of music!