Certain Songs #233: The Clash – “The Street Parade”

The_Clash_-_Sandinista! Album: Sandinista!
Year: 1980.

. . . by the time we got to side five, the only thing we knew for sure about Sandinista! was that we didn’t know anything at all about Sandinista!

At this point, it was clear that anything could happen, that the the best thing was to sit back, enjoy the ride and hope for the best.

Still, the one thing that we couldn’t have known — even after all of the twists and turns — was that Sandinista! had one more surprise up its sleeve: putting one of its very greatest songs at the very end of side five. Most records didn’t even have a side five . . .

“The Street Parade” is the 30th song on Sandinista! — stuck deep in the part of the record where the guest vocals, boring instrumentals and jazz experiments have begun to take over, and it fades in slowly from the also pretty great “Kingston Advice” in a haze of percussion instruments and distantly echoing guitars.

Looks like it’s another dub song, kids! Then St. Joe Strummer sings, tenderly:

When I was waiting for your phone call
The one that never came
Like a man about to burst
I was dying of thirst

And then, as the sax that was following his words trails off into the distance, Topper Headon kicks in with a martial drumbeat while Mick Jones plays one of the most haunting guitar parts of his career. It’s so simple: just a single, very loud and echoing guitar that is totally out of time with what the rest of the band is playing, and yet completely surrounds and therefore defines it.

Meanwhile, Joe Strummer sings:

Though I will never fade
Or get lost in this daze
Though I will disappear
Into the street parade

This is just me speaking now, but I think that the chorus to “The Street Parade” is the most beautiful thing that The Clash ever recorded.

I guess it’s possible that they thought so as well, so not only did they stick the song deep into the record — where people would have to dig for it — they buried the melody in that echoing guitar figure, as well as a panoply of horns and percussion. It doesn’t matter: by the end of the song, it’s not just Joe singing the chorus, but Mick. And Topper and Paul. And you and me.

Though I will disappear
To join the street parade
Disappear and fade
Into the street parade

And the last minute of the song is just that: The Clash disappearing into the street parade, marching along with the drums and the bass and the sax. All following that guitar figure. Marching into history. Marching into infinity.

Fan-made video for “The Street Parade”

One Response to “Certain Songs #233: The Clash – “The Street Parade””

  1. Aidan says:

    This is my favorite Sandinista! track and in many ways is a microcosm of the whole record as it brings together such a wide variety of styles, and yet at its core it is a very catchy and accessible pop song.

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