“White Riot”

THE CLASH – “White Riot” / “1977” (CBS S CBS 5058) March 1977

The Clash “White Riot” – Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words wait for another voice. Look out, listen, can you hear it?

It’s pointless to categories this with the other records: “White Riot” isn’t a poxy single of the week, it’s the first meaningful event all year. Try and discount it. Go on, say they sold out to the enemy at CBS, say it’s another idle London fad irrelevant to the lives of working people, say it’s all clever hype that’s conned everyone, say it’s just the ’60s rehashed an’ you can’t make out the words.

Say what you like, you still can’t discount it coz Clash aren’t just a band, and this is more than just a single. There’s a book written by a trad fan in 1963 saying how shoddy The Beatles were, how they ripped off from R&B, how they could never last in the world of Tin Pan Alley. They didn’t last in it, they took it to pieces.

Whatever your standpoint everyone basically agrees there are two sides. You know it’s coming, we know it’s coming and they know it’s coming. Clash are the writing on their wall. The recorded version of “White Riot” is one minute 58 seconds of buzzsaw guitars, Simonson’s pumping offbeat bass, an insolent slurred vocal and sheer musical aggro.

Won’t pick up much airplay coz you can’t make out the words – it’d pick up much less if you could:

“Black men gotta lotta problems,
But they don’t mind throwin’ a brick.
White people go to school,
Where they teach you how to be thick.
. . . White Riot, wanna riot of my own . . . “

Joe Strummer ‘White Riot’

Flip is “1977”, already well known to those in the know: “No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977.”

Hmm, so how come the riff is pure Kinks? No matter – forget the medium, and massage you can get from any other single in the shops. This one has the message. Blag it, steal it, borrow it, tape it off the radio if they play it. Buy it an’ you’re a wimp, miss it and you’re a real turkey. (NME, 19/03/77)

In August 1976, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon were caught up in serious rioting at the Notting Hill Carnival, London’s annual Afro-Caribbean festival.

Ever the political romantic, Strummer went home to his squat and wrote a lyric calling for a ‘white riot’. The song, premiered at the 100 Club festival, patented the group’s Baader-Meinhoff street-guerrilla pose and corrosive early sound: terrace-chant chorus, high-velocity riffing and deceptively creative bass / guitar arrangements.

The irony of such a revolutionary clarion appearing on an American owned corporate behemoth wasn’t lost on fans or band – the former crying “sell-out” and the latter embarking on a symbolic war of attrition with their employers.

The version of “White Riot” recorded for their debut 45 (with defibrilating cop-siren intro, fire alarm and tighter middle-eight) is far superior to the later first-album take, while the ‘police-raid’ B&W picture sleeve blueprinted the generic punks-versus-cops cover design. (Mojo)

More energetic, simple new wave material. Could be a big one. Hope it is. Nice ‘n’ noisy too.
(Record Mirror)

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