Certain Songs #236: The Clash – “This is England”

220px-Thisisengland_single Single, 1985.

I’ve already written about how not having a high school newspaper means I don’t have any embarrassing 1980 pans of London Calling out there. However, since I ended up publishing the KFSR fanzine in 1983, I do have a couple of dead wrong #hottakes on The Clash post-Mick Jones to quote from!!

At some point in mid-October of 1983, after I found out that Mick had been booted from the band, I wrote:

The worst news of 1983 is the news that Mick Jones was axed by The Clash. We understand that Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon will continue without Mick, but we wonder what the point is. In our opinion (using the editorial “we” & “our”), Mick Jones was the heart and soul of The Clash, and to continue to use the name “The Clash” without Mick would be as honest as a Beatles reunion.

Oy! In any event, just a few months later, the reconstituted Clash played the Warnors Theatre. Joe, Paul, and three other guys. And because I loved those songs so much and I loved St. Joe Strummer’s ferocious conviction in getting them across, I was completely blown away. So much so that I completely reversed myself:

Because even though The Clash were the greatest band in rock and roll in the late ’70s, it was getting obvious that their moment had passed. They were still great, but the spark that had made them the very best was missing. Now, there is a sense of renewed commitment on Joe’s and Paul’s part, and they have taken the legacy and burden of The Clash squarely on their shoulders. What they will do with it is anybody’s guess. But they’re off to an excellent start.

The Clash I saw that night felt to me like The Clash I loved as a teenager. Even the new songs were great! And given their previous level of prolificness, I was looking forward to a new album before 1984 was over. And I had really high hopes for it. It seemed entirely possible that Joe and Paul could move forward by looking backwards

Of course nothing happened. Not until “This is England” showed up as an import in September of 1985. And while it was a far cry from the new punk rock songs they played live — drum machines and synths were as prominent as Joe’s voice and the guitar — it was fucking excellent.

“This Is England” features an instantly memorable call-and-response football chant chorus and an absolutely gorgeous melody. Really, it sounds a lot like Strummer’s answer to Big Audio Dynamite.

This is England
The land of illegal dances
This is England
Land of a thousand stances

And, of course, it is by far the best thing on Cut The Crap, the legendary Bernie Rhodes botch job of an album that joins the post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground’s Squeezed as the weakest sister to the greatest canon. Kids, the lesson here is don’t try to extend your band’s shelf life by trying to make record without your strongest musician.

Maybe, in a better world, “This is England” comes out as a Joe Strummer solo single, and the Cut The Crap demos (or a live recording from the aborted tour) comes out in a box set at some point and The Clash’s story has a better ending.

But then again, better endings weren’t really what The Clash were about, were they?

Fan-made video for “This is England”

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