Certain Songs #218: The Clash – “Rudie Can’t Fail”

The-Clash-London-Calling-30th-Anniversary-Edition Album: London Calling.
Year: 1979.

The first reggae song on London Calling isn’t just the most joyous-sounding song in the whole Clash canon, it also showed just how far their reggae chops had progressed. Whereas both “Police and Thieves” and (to a lesser extent) “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” were formal in the way that most Clash songs weren’t — every note and beat was exactly where it should have been — “Rudie Can’t Fail” is the exact opposite.

Like the rest of London Calling, “Rudie Can’t Fail” is loose and free, always a couple of beats away from completely falling apart, but holding together even as all the seams are showing.

Also: “Rudie Can’t Fail”, as well as “Guns of Brixton” and “Revolution Rock” (not to mention “Bankrobber” & “Armagideon Time”) showed The Clash to be as good of a reggae band as existed on the planet. They weren’t as storied as The Wailers or The Maytals, and only a fool would consider Headon & Simonon as good of a riddim section as, say, Sly & Robbie. (Or even Copeland & Sumner for that matter.) But London Calling is where The Clash stopped doing reggae songs and started playing reggae music.

And it all starts with St. Joe Strummer exhorting his mate to “Sing, Michael sing!” Which is exactly what Mr. Jones does:

How’d you get so rude and a reckless?
Don’t ya be so crude and feckless
You bin drinking brew for breakfast
Rudie can’t fail

As the verses progress, you start noticing the New Orleans horns, the underlying Bo Diddley beat, as well as Joe Strummer’s constant cheerleading (“Hear them saying!”So we reply!”). And then you notice Joe sneaking in backing vocals at the end of every verse so when it’s time to sing “Rudie can’t fail” they’re singing together, and hell, eventually they’re just trading off vocals like they’re making it up as they go along. Which they probably were.

“Rudie Can’t Fail” highlights a huge part of the appeal of London Calling: not just the mixing of genres, but the feel that anything could happen at anytime, especially vocally. Who knew what kind of asides Strummer was going to throw in? Who knew what kind of harmonies Mick was going to come up with? And yet, at the end, no matter how ramshackle a song like “Rudie Can’t Fail” got, they were somehow able to reel it all in so the whole world could sing along with:

Rudie can’t fail
Rudie can’t fail
Rudie can’t fail
Rudie can’t fail
Rudie can’t fail
Rudie can’t fail
Rudie can’t fail

Fan-made video for “Rudie Can’t Fail”

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