Certain Songs #234: The Clash – “Know Your Rights”

Knowyourrights Album: Combat Rock
Year: 1982.

Here’s some cognitive dissonance for you: I think that Combat Rock is unfairly slagged. I don’t particularly think that Combat Rock is a very good record.

I mean all of the tendencies that made London Calling and Sandinista! so amazing are still there: the desire to experiment with new forms; the fascination with rap & reggae; the top-notch musicianship.

What’s lacking is the songwriting chops and especially the melodies. I know that’s insane to say for an album that sported their two biggest hit singles, but Combat Rock is dominated far more by more grooves and chants than verses and choruses.

I should point out that I don’t think that one is inherently better than the other, but what I really loved about The Clash through London Calling was the sense that any song could go anywhere at any moment. And what made me come to appreciate Sandinista! over the long decades were the gorgeous melodies attached to even the weirdest songs. And I’m missing all of that on Combat Rock, especially on side two, which trails off into the mists after “Atom Tan.”

It’s all really good, but “really good” isn’t why I’ve written 30 posts about The Clash.

“This is a public service announcement . . . WITH GUITARS!”

With “Know Your Rights,” The Clash somehow invent ska-country, as St. Joe Strummer once again pulls out his Bob Dylan impersonation on one of the most caustic, acerbic and darkly hilarious songs in their entire catalog.

Number one
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a crime!
Unless it was done by a policeman
Or aristocrat
Know your rights

Guessing that the fact that nearly 35 years later that verse would still resonate so deeply probably wouldn’t have surprised Joe at all.

“Know Your Rights” performed live at the US Festival, 1983

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