Brargwahhh! That's my written primal scream. (I'm not sure one can legitimately write a primal scream, but that is not really germane to our conversation.) It's the primal scream I often want to make when I am listening to The Clash, one of my all time favorite bands.
Sometime around 1981, JBC-15 and I were hitting the downtrodden record stores of Sacramento, California (some of the same ones he mentions in his must-read tribute to Sacramento-ish band, The Cramps) when I picked up the UK pressing of the first Clash album, The Clash. I didn't know anything about them other than some word of mouth banter and the occasional Rolling Stone article about their exploits. It was love at first listen. So the next time we hit the dust bins in Sacramento which masqueraded as used record stores, I very logically pulled the next Clash album, Give 'Em Enough Rope. Man, oh man, was I ever disappointed. The album had a much more rigid, even, dare I say?, heavy metal feel to it. It sounded little like the first brilliant album. The songs were weak and Sandy Pearlman's production was awful, slick and totally wrong for the garage band. I filed it away and quickly moved on to their flawless magnum opus, London Calling and never went back to Rope.
Fast forward to about 18 months ago when a friend of mine named his third child Rudy. I of course immediately emailed back to him with some probably-not-so-clever quip about the wonderful London Calling song, Rudie Can't Fail. (he had no idea what I was talking about). As I listened to that song 834 times in a row something kept nagging at me in the back of my head...didn't The Clash have an earlier song that incorporated a line about how some rudie couldn't fail? The search was on. Nothing on the first UK pressing of The Clash. Nothing on the much different and equally good US pressing. A handful of singles? Black Market Clash 10" ep? (I know, technically it was released after London Calling, but the songs pre-dated Calling.) Nope. That left Give 'Em Enough Rope. I dreaded putting it on as the sting of disappointment was still throbbing in my psyche. Vwalah! Rudie was right at the end of the first song on the album. And dang, that first song is a stunner (sadly, I continue to think the album as a whole is still lacking).
That opening number of their 1978 album is our Song of the Week. Safe European Home is a bullet train ride about an eye opening trip to Jamaica that the band undertook earlier that year. The idealistic young Londoners went to Jamaica to record and pay tribute to their dub-Reggae idols. But instead they were met with antipathy, racial prejudice and were subjected to a robbery at gunpoint inside the studio at which they were preparing to record. Feeling like carrion on a desert road, the lads quickly retreated back to their safe European homes, took stock of their ambitions, licked their wounds, picked up some new equipment and went to writing.
The song features the Pictures of Lily power chord attack, a nice little upbeat ska-riff at the end of the song (under the "Rudie, Can't Fail" refrain) and some wonderful call and response between Joe and Mick: "Whoa, the harder they come in the home of the old bluebeat (mick: where'd you go?) Yeah, I'd stay and be a tourist but I can't take that gun play (where'd you go?)." Each an elemental component of what would become the standard in modern punk as practiced by bands like Rancid, Green Day, and Offspring.
If nothing else, this is a tantalizing hint at what the trailblazing band would do musically and lyrically with the Rudie, Can't Fail refrain and back and forth vocals on London Calling. The two songs are wonderful to play next to each other to chart the growth of the band. Enjoy and have a wonderful week.