THE CLASH ON SUNDAYS (7)

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Disc 7 is Tommy Gun.

Most bands put out singles as tasters for upcoming albums but then again The Clash have always been a bit different.

Give Em Enough Rope had been released on 10 November 1978 to a fair amount of critical acclaim even if there were some who remain bemused by the choice of producer in Sandy Pearlman whose main work had been over seven albums by American rockers Blue Oyster Cult.  There was certainly a sharper sound to the band, but many at the time felt this was more likely to each member becoming more proficient the more they played in the live setting and got used to the studio environment.  It would emerge later on that Pearlman had played a significant part in the record trying to raise the instrumentation within the final mix, particularly the drums, as he felt Joe Strummer‘s voice lacked quality and took away something from the songs.

Two weeks after the LP hit the shops, a single was lifted from it:-

mp3 : The Clash – Tommy Gun

It was a song driven along by the ferocious playing of Topper Headon, the rat-a-tat-tat of his drum breaks akin to the sound of machine gun firing.  It was a million miles away from the softer paced approach of previous single (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais and certainly grabbed the attention of those who loved their punk rock raw, hard, explosive and loud as it gave the band their biggest hit to date, taking them into the UK Top 20.

It also contains a fabulous b-side albeit it was one that the punk purists balked it, being a straight-forward love song, albeit played at a high tempo:-

mp3 : The Clash – 1-2 Crush On You

Listening back, it’s clear that this was a band approaching the very top of their game, capable of turning their attention to all sorts of songs and styles.  That’s a b-side which would have sounded great on radio, but its release as a 45 or indeed as an album track would have led to cries of sell-out as the band still needed to maintain punk/new wave credibility at this stage in their career.  Wouldn’t be long though before they could throw off those shackles and become a good old fashioned rock’n’roll band to whom no label could be accurately applied.

Here’s the essay from the box set.

TOMMY GUN : Released 24 November 1978 : #19 in the UK singles chart

I was aware of The Clash as a kid. They were part of the nameless soundtrack to my early life. My mum and dad had these punk compilation tapes they used to play at home and Should I Stay Or Should I Go and London Calling were on there. I didn’t know who the other groups were but I knew The Clash.

As I got more into music I read about them being punk icons, bit they were always appealed more than the Sex Pistols. They wer more intelligent, they had more to say. Tommy Gun evokes that age. It’s a product of the volatile climate of the late 70s – all those references to Baader Meinhoff and The Red Brigade. It’s like a punk adaptation of The Beatles’ Revolution: “Tommy Gun, you ain’t happy less you got on!” Fucking great.

It seems to me they were doing the same thing Rage Against The Machine did later – letting the audience know what’s going on politically, with the band in the position of outlaws spreading the news. The snare drum at the start is fucking great too.

A mate told me a funny story about the ad lib near the end where Strummer sings “OK, so let’s agree about the price, and make it one jet airliner for ten prisoners.” apparently he texted it to a mate who couldn’t figure out what the lyrics were, and the next morning some heavies from M15 turned up on his doorstep demanding yo know what he was up to! That alone proves Tommy Gun is as relevant now as it was back then.

Carl Barat, Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things

 

3 thoughts on “THE CLASH ON SUNDAYS (7)

  1. For me and my pals, this live TV appearance was a post-pub, betamax essential back then. We’d watch it over and over, trying to coordinate our drunken ‘sniffs’ with Joe’s perfectly timed one at around 1.25.

  2. Excellent. Never saw that footage! I don’t remember seeing Joe playing that Telecaster — maple neck job with a tiger where the ‘Ignore Alien Orders’ sticker would go? The Tommy Gun 7″ was the first vinyl I ever bought of the Clash, so I have a soft spot for this particular song and the b-side. In fact, the band would soon have enough quality b-sides for an ICA (1977, City of the Dead, Prisoner, 1-2 Crush, Pressure Drop, Gates of the West…).

    Thanks JC and Swede — this site is a treasure.

  3. Tommy Gun wiped the floor of all the pretend Punks and growing boredom that was beginning to set into Punk. Maybe Pearlman molded The Clash’s sound or maybe The Clash took stock of what they could get out of Pearlman and took it as far as they could.
    Then there’s 1, 2 Crush On You and with one cheeky opening, The Clash tore into the heart of The Beatles and the British Invasion sound. I always get some satisfaction from that song.

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