Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
In the 1960s, music fans were usually in the Stones camp or The Beatles camp. In the ’90s, in England at least, it was Blur or Oasis. For many, in the depressed and murky Britain of the late ’70s it was the Sex Pistols or The Clash.
The Pistols were genuine oiks, scallywags from the wrong part of town determined to have their say and a good spit. The Clash, similarly tarred with the antisocial bad boy brush, were a more complex, more sophisticated being altogether. More middle class, better educated and a wee bit posh, The Clash, despite more bourgeois roots, left the Pistols standing when it came to political calls to action.
The Clash, sprung quickly from touring with the Pistols to turning Lydon’s indirect call for anarchy into a vociferous demand for Britain’s youth to take to the streets. “White Riot” was a startling record. It was vitriolic, incisive and to the point – and as catchy as any soccer chant.
With record labels fighting each other to get on the bandwagon, Strummer and the boys picked up a cool $300,000 and made their first single and album. In the middle of March 1977, The Clash put out their first single, “White Riot,” which with the rush of interest in new music, shot to #38 on the U.K. chart. Their self-titled debut album followed quickly after, beefed up with similarly powerful slices of melodic anger on “I’m So Bored with the USA,” and the prophetic “London’s Burning.” It was rushed, it was frantic, and it was almost perfect.
Mick Jones told MTV: “We did our first record really quickly after that. We were in the studio. We had a single first, our first single: ‘White Riot.’ And we did the record in like three weekends at CBS studios.”
And then there was a tour. The White Riot tour kicked off on this day in 1977. Also on the tour were upcoming bands The Jam, the Buzzcocks, The Subway Sect and The Slits. It would turn a raw, hungry band with huge potential into a genuine rock and roll act and one of the finest musical units Britain ever produced.
Tickets were around $2 and no less an authority than Britain’s greatest-ever rock critic Nick Kent was wowed by The Clash. He reviewed their live version of “London’s Burning” saying it had “equal quotients of rage and the sheer exhilarating rush of speeding down the Westway.”
“Strummer’s stance sums up this band at its best, really,” he said. “It’s all to do with real ‘punk’ credentials – a Billy The Kid sense of tough tempered with an innate sense of humanity which involves possessing a sense of morality totally absent in the childish nihilism flaunted by Johnny Rotten and clownish co-conspirators.
“That is what Eddie Cochran had, what Townshend had... not some half-baked feelings about anarchy or any of that other jive.”
But more than the music The Clash established themselves as legit rock and roll bad boys on the White Riot tour with multiple arrests and concert bans coloring their treks across the U.K.
Their growing notoriety was highlighted by an infamous date at the Rainbow in London when, in an echo of London teenagers’ reaction to Bill Haley back in the ’50s, fans ripped out seats from the venue in an orgy of punk-fueled vitriol.
On the rest of the tour Strummer and Mick Jones shocked the establishment and tickled their fans with numerous indiscretions on the road including vandalism and an arrest (for Jones and Strummer) in Newcastle for stealing a pillowcase and (for Simonon and Headon) for shooting pigeons with an air gun. Maybe not the stuff to really induce a white riot, but enough to fuel the outlaw image that would stay with The Clash until the very end and allow them to make some of the best agit-pop since Woody Guthrie tried killing fascists with his guitar.