Disc 18 is Straight To Hell/Should I Stay Or Should I Go.

Released just three months after Rock The Casbah, a lot had changed for The Clash in the summer of 1982, not least the fact that they had ‘cracked’ America.  Combat Rock was proving to be an enduring album, going on to spend almost six months successively in the UK charts which was well beyond the time expected of any album by the band. They were now determined to get their music across to as wide an audience as possible, hence the decision to accept the task of opening for The Who at a series of outdoor stadium gigs in October 1982, although it is worth recalling that the band continued to headline at much smaller venues in the States at the same time.

The days of standing up to record company wishes to milk albums dry were also over as seen by the fact that the release of a double A single meant that exactly one-third of  Combat Rock had been put out on the 45rpm format.  But in saying this, there’s no argument that it is one of the band’s finest 45s.

My own preference is for Straight To Hell.  As I wrote when I included it in the ICA this time last year, my view is that it an extraordinary piece of music. The very idea that one of the world’s foremost punk bands would, within just five years of their explosive and noisy debut, end up recording and releasing a song that leaned heavily on a bossa nova drumbeat devised by Topper Headon and a haunting violin sound would have been laughable.

It has a stunning and thought-provoking lyric delivered by a resigned-sounding Joe Strummer who seems devastated by the fact that musicians cannot make the world’s problems disappear.

Radio stations and the general public however, preferred the charms of Should I Stay Or Should I Go. It has a great riff, a sing-a-long and infectiously catchy chorus and the most ridiculously yet charming backing vocals in some strange version of Spanish.  What’s not to like???

It famously became a huge hit all over again some nine years later after it was used in an advert to promote Levi Jeans.  It went to #1 in the UK as well as Top 5 in just about every singles chart in Europe.


mp3 : The Clash – Straight To Hell (edited version)
mp3 : The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO  : Released 17 September 1982 : #17 in the UK singles chart; #1 on its re-release in 1991

My favourite Clash song is ‘Train In Vain’. My favourite of their singles is in that vein – ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’.  I thought I’d heard it somewhere before (I’m not trying to be ironic). I had to buy all my Clash records until ‘Combat Rock’ which was produced by longtime Who producer Glyn Johns.  I got a free one of those . It makes me feel like I’m 34 again and Spring is in the cocaine.

We had a junior manager called Chris Chappel who was a huge Clash fan.  I invited them onto the US tour after Chris convinced our senior manager they would be good.  By the end of the tour, they had broken the USA.  We were playing huge stadiums on that tour and they really handled the shows well, and convinced the crowd they were real.

I adore The Clash, as I adored the Sex Pistols.  Different, incompatible, not really comparable, they both felt to me like bands who (like The Jam a little later) had travelled a route laid by The Who more than any other band.  The New York Dolls and the Ramones influenced British punk rock, of course, but it was our simultaneous exaltation of rock, and indifference to it, that both bands emulated, though they each had different reasons for using that particularly tortured formula.  So, I have a personal pride in The Clash as I do in the Sex Pistols and The Jam.

I feel bad that I have outlived Joe Strummer, but delighted that Topper is alive, against the odds: he is an absolute sweetheart. I really admire Mick Jones and Paul Simonon too, for remaining true to their individual artistic theses. These guys made a troubled and druggy period of my life in the late 1970s and early 1980s so much happier.  The Who just played at the Brighton Centre and all I could think of while we played was that I had once played with The Clash on the same stage in 1981.

Pete Townsend, The Who

10 thoughts on “THE CLASH ON SUNDAYS (18)

  1. My 7″ copy still has the stickers in it. What a great single it is, both sides. A lot of Clash fans slag SISOSIG but its a belting song. Straight to Hell is a lifetime highpoint though.

  2. Townshend’s words got me wondering: Any other TnVV Yanks see The Clash open for The Who during that ’83 stadium tour? Very curious to know your thoughts. I was a massive Who fan since my sister bought me Who’s Next when I was a little kid. By the time I saw the Clash open for them at Shea Stadium I’d been a dedicated fan since London Calling, which was only 3 years earlier. I had seen them once at the Bonds shows all the New Yorkers have written about these past several Sundays, but the group were still not in the mainstream at that time. I just did not know what to make of the idea of The Clash, who’d been practically underground until a couple of years before, playing for rock giants who’d been at Woodstock and were pretty much on their last legs as a band. It sort of felt, to me, that this massive crowd (Shea was a baseball stadium that held over 55,000 — I’d been watching the Mets play there since 1968) didn’t DESERVE to be in on the act. The vast majority were there to see The ‘Oo, of course, who went through the motions satisfactorily, and I wanted to make a “punk meets the godfathers” mental connection, but just couldn’t. If I remember correctly, Echorich not only saw many of the Bonds shows but also saw the Clash at the legendary Palladium gig from a couple of years prior, when NO ONE knew the band and they got zero radio play. I wonder what the slightly older than me crowd thought of the only band that mattered opening for the only band that used to matter.

  3. Bought this for 10p from a lad at school who’d played both sides once and said it was rubbish! I think Duran Duran were more his sort of thing.

  4. Buy this. Skip the album! Not since the US release of “Love Is The Drug” b/w “Both Ends Burning” has there ever been as compelling a way to skip a normally strong band’s worst album by getting the two strong tracks as a single together!

  5. For me, Straight To Hell blows the rest of Combat Rock out of the water. But as much as I am a huge Mick Jones fan, Should I Stay Or Should I Go is probably my least favorite of ALL their singles.
    Where Know Your Rights was a call to self empowerment, Straight To Hell turns all that promise on it’s head and was a window into the hardships suffered around the world in the 1980s. It has so much power in its devastation.
    –Jony TFL…yes I was at Shea Stadium – I was living walking distance from Shea at the time and one of the photographers I rep’ed at my agency, Bob Gruen – who drove the band to the show in his 50’s Cadillac, got us tix. Honestly, I would have been happy to sit outside the stadium in the parking lot listening to them tear down the house if I had to. But it was a weird feeling seeing a band I loved play in such an impersonal setting. The Clash rose to the challenge, but their show a month earlier, in the pouring rain at Pier 84, courting electrocution and drowning a few thousand in sound as much as rain was one of the most electric shows I’ve ever seen.

  6. Straight to Hell is excellent, as is the entire record–very interesting songs, and you’re right–who would have thought they’d have such breadth. Great stuff.

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