Compilations are a funny old business for fans of the band concerned. Usually they have two or three songs that you just “have to have” and so you end up spending money on the compilation to add to your extensive collection of albums. Obviously nowadays you can just download those extra tracks, but back in 1994 (or three years earlier for you Americans) you would have had to shell out a massive £30 (I don’t know what that is in dollars) for Clash box-set ‘Clash On Broadway’, the name taken from the ill-fated Don Lett’s film that was supposed to document The Clash’s residency at Bond’s International Casino in 1981. What’s left of that film was recovered and released as a bonus to the ‘Westway To The World’ DVD. The problem for fans also comes with what tracks are included – very often some of your favourites are omitted – here some of my favourite Clash songs such as ‘Guns On The Roof’, ‘Car Jamming’, ‘Hitsville UK’, ‘The Is England’ and ‘Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)’ are not included. As such, I’m going to try to veer away from commenting strictly on the tracks, and merely point readers towards what I think are the tracks you should hear from the CD.
‘Clash On Broadway’, released in the US in November 1991 and in the UK in June 1994, was the first Clash compilation released in the US, and the third released in the UK after ‘The Singles’ in 1991 and B-sides compendium ‘Super Black Market Clash’ in 1993. Despite the volume of Clash compilations available (the above mentioned plus ‘Live: From Here To Eternity’, ‘The Story Of The Clash Vol. 1’ and ‘The Essential Clash’), ‘Clash On Broadway’ stands head and shoulders above the rest simply by sheer volume – it is a 3-disc box set that includes 65 Clash songs, three of which are live tracks (the first officially released live Clash recordings) and two of which are demos from their much fabled first sessions with Guy Stevens in 1976, where he failed to capture the bands energy and Strummer felt he over-pronounced everything and “sounded like Matt Monro”. There are also edited versions of three songs from the album ‘Combat Rock’, and three previously unreleased songs. This goes alongside album tracks covering virtually every aspect of their albums (except ‘Cut The Crap’, which was not acknowledged by The Clash camp until the inclusion of ‘This Is England’ on ‘The Essential Clash’ in 2003) plus a wealth of b-sides and non-album singles. There are two ways to approach ‘Clash On Broadway’. Firstly, bear in mind that with ‘Super Black Market Clash’ on the market you have the chance to own all the b-sides anyway and the unreleased tracks could be downloaded, so do you really want to shell out £30 for this box-set? The second option is to buy it anyway, which applies to completist who will buy it regardless and to the Clash newbie – there really is no more comprehensive Clash overview available.
Most people will be familiar with The Clash, but as it is a compilation its necessary to dig a bit of history up for curious readers. The Clash were a band formed in the heyday of punk, 1976, comprising of ex-members of The London SS – guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simmonon, and their former manager Bernie Rhodes, who would also go on to manage The Clash until 1978 – , former pub band The 101’ers singer Joe Strummer, and drummer Terry Chimes, who was replaced in mid-1977 by Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon, who also had an audition with The London SS before running off to join a soul band tour. They released ‘The Clash’ in 1977, following it up with several non-album singles, before releasing ‘Give Em Enough Rope’ in 1978, and ‘The Cost Of Living E.P’, an altered version of ‘The Clash’ for the US market, and ‘London Calling’ in 1979. A stopgap single ‘Bankrobber’ was released in 1980, followed by compilation 12” ‘Black Market Clash’ for the US market, and then sprawling triple-album ‘Sandinista!’ in late 1980. Another non-album single was then released, ‘This Is Radio Clash’, and the album ‘Combat Rock’ was released in 1982. However, soon after its release drummer Topper Headon was sacked following drug problems, and he was followed out of the door by band founder Mick Jones in 1983 The Clash then limped on with Headon and Jones’ replacements, releasing poorly-received album ‘Cut The Crap’, until 1985, when they called it a day after a busking tour of the UK. ‘Clash On Broadway’ captures the sound of The Clash in chronological order from their earliest demo sessions through until the release of ‘Combat Rock’.
Disc One contains 25 songs, covering the earliest sessions with producer Guy Stevens in 1976, to late 1977 with the non-album singles ‘Capital Radio’, ‘Complete Control’, Clash City Rockers’ and ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’. The disc also includes live versions of ‘English Civil War’ from ‘Give Em Enough Rope’, and ‘I Fought The Law’, the leadoff single from 1979 EP ‘The Cost Of Living’ (it is also available on Live: From Here To Eternity’). Both of these songs were taken from the London Lyceum show on January 3rd 1979 which was filmed for the film ‘Rude Boy’, and are utterly thunderous versions, giving a real impression on what the band must have been like live. The disc also contains virtually all of ‘The Clash’ – except the single ‘Remote Control’, probably not included due to the long-standing swipe at their record company who they didn’t want to release the song. The version of ‘White Riot’ is the single version included on all the compilations. The album version is much grittier, faster and has a different middle 8. There are sound effects included on this version as well.
‘Janie Jones’ and ‘Career Opportunities’ are the demo songs included (the others recorded were ‘1977’, ‘White Riot’ and ‘London’s Burning’ and can be found on various bootlegs), and they were chosen to open up the CD. A large incentive for fans to buy compilations or retrospectives is so that they can hear the first demo sessions of their favourite band. The first Clash sessions sound horrible; lo-fi, slow, devoid of energy and Joe Strummer sings ‘Career Opportunities’ with an over-emphasis on his diction. This let to Clash insider Mickey Foote producing their self-titled debut, resulting in a thicker-sounding album, with the fury of the band intact. The standout tracks of disc one are the venomous call-to-arms of ‘White Riot’, the record company-baiting ‘Complete Control’, the “original” punk-reggae song ‘Police And Thieves’, the 1977 NME limited edition single ‘Capital Radio One’ that attacks mainstream radio stations (and is still relevant today), fantastic b-side ‘Pressure Drop’, a cover of a song by reggae vocal group Toots And The Maytals, and a galloping live version of ‘I Fought The Law’, replete with falsetto Mick Jones vocal harmonies. As a standalone CD I give Disc One a 4/5.
Disc Two is a far more rounded proposition than disc ones abrasive punk snarls. Comprising mostly of tracks taken from 1978’s ‘Give Em Enough Rope’ and The Clash’s magnum opus ‘London Calling’ of 1979, disc two is more varied in content, as the band were exploring different styles of music. However, unlike disc three, the music is still intrinsically The Clash. Disc two opens much better than the previous disc, with ‘Safe European Home’ - still one of the best songs in the Clash catalogue - blasting from the speakers. There are only three more songs included from ‘Give Em Enough Rope’, though they are arguably the pick of the album – the single ‘Tommy Gun’, the bar-room piano-led punk of ‘Julie’s Been Working For The Drug Squad’ (renamed ‘Julie’s In The Drug Squad’ on this compilation) and Jones’ heartfelt ode to his schoolfriend Robin Crocker, ‘Stay Free’. After the ‘Give Em Enough Rope’ songs, previously unreleased Basing Street outtake ‘One Emotion’(apparently named after Roger Moore’s acting range), two songs from ‘The Cost Of Living’ EP and the B-side of the ‘London Calling’ single, ‘Armagideon Time’ provide a stop-gap between ‘Give Em Enough Rope’ and the 11 songs included from ‘London Calling’. ‘Armagideon Time’ represents the band’s first approaches into authentic-sounding reggae – previous forays into the genre resulted in punk-reggae tracks ‘Police & Thieves’, ‘Pressure Drop’ and ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’. ‘Armagideon Time’ is an overlong, atmospheric reggae song originally written by Willie Williams, which has dub-sounding overtones and must have been half-improvised as you can hear Clash ‘ideas-person’ Kosmo Vinyl call from the recording booth at about 3 minutes in that they should start to wrap it up, only for Strummer to reply – in perfect time – “Ok ok, don’t push us when we’re hot!”, before the song continues for another few minutes! The CD then continues into tracks taken from ‘London Calling’, arguably their masterpiece. Virtually all the tracks present are excellent, further emphasising the bands musical experimentation at this time. The songs range through balls out rock, reggae, rockabilly, ska, dub, and disco and naturally a few straight u Clash punk-rock specials. The final song on the CD is ‘Bankrobber’, in my opinion one of the best Clash songs ever. The song was written by Strummer, originally as a ska song, before Jamaican producer Mikey Dread slowed it down and developed it into an authentic roots-reggae track, complete with dub echo and sound effects. CBS, the band’s record company, complained the song sounded like “David Bowie played backwards”. Dread also cut a dub version, ‘Rockers Galore…UK Tour’ as the single version’s b-side. The record company weren’t impressed, but the ‘Bankrobber’ single got to No.12 in the UK singles charts. The pick of disc two is ‘Safe European Home’, ‘Stay Free’, ‘Armagideon Time’, ‘Clampdown’, ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ and ‘Bankrobber’. Disc Two is probably the best of the three discs; as a standalone CD I give it 4.5/5.
And so to the final disc. Disc Three is an interesting prospect, as by the time of the included tracks original releases The Clash were totally and utterly consumed by a will to experiment with any style of music. This ended up in the sprawling 36-track triple album ‘Sandinista!’, released in 1980. Here ‘Sandinista!’ is whittled down from 36 songs to 9. Naturally this will cause debate amongst purists over which songs should be included, but I think ‘Clash On Broadway’ does a decent job with it’s selection, with only ‘The Call Up’ being the weak inclusion. Oddly, despite the experimentation on ‘Sandinista!’ disc three opens with the very Clash-like outlaw rocker ‘Police On My Back’. ‘Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)’ is a live version of the song, with more of a rock than hip-hop feel to it. This version was performed at New York’s Bonds International Casino for the original ‘Clash On Broadway’ film. After ‘Sandinista!’ inclusions, the unreleased song ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, a cover of the Spencer Davis Group original, is included. This was originally recorded in the ‘Sandinista!’ sessions but despite being finished was not included. Thus it holds the dubious honour of being the only completed song written in those sessions that was not included on the final album, despite it’s frequently low quality bar……..despite this, I really like the song, I think Mick Jones’ voice really suits it. The final unreleased Clash song is also present on this disc, in ‘Midnight To Stevens’. This song will tug at the heartstrings of Clash fans, as it is a heartfelt tale of ‘London Calling’ producer Guy Stevens, concerning his alcoholism and drug addictions, and subsequent death in 1981 after his lifestyle finally caught up with him. Apparently Strummer wrote this song after hearing about Stevens’ death, and the band recorded it at the Rolling Stones mobile studio, before completely forgetting about it (hence the unpolished mix). It is the best of the three unreleased songs available on the box set. The CD then moves on to the disco-funk stomp of non-album single ‘This Is Radio Clash’, and the odd-sounding b-side ‘Cool Confusion’, the song full of sound effects. According to the sleevenotes on the ‘Super Black Market Clash’ compilation it was ‘almost’ included on ‘Combat Rock’. It truly is an awful song. The CD then ends with 5 excerpts from ‘Combat Rock’, all edited versions. ‘Red Angel Dragnet’ is a Paul Simmonon spoken word song that includes Kosmo Vinyl quoting the film Taxi Driver, and ‘Ghetto Defendant’ has alternating verses that include spoken word excerpts from beat poet Allen Ginsburg (having previously joined The Clash onstage at Bond’s in 1981 for a poem-song entitled ‘Capital Air’) alongside wailing from Joe Strummer and Mick Jones’ synth-guitar playing. Both of these songs are edited down fro the album versions. Next are probably the most well-known Clash songs, the singles ‘Rock The Casbah’ and ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, both of which are present in the versions that were released as singles. Lastly, disc three is rounded off by an extra-long unedited version of the awesome ‘Clash-opera’ of ‘Straight To Hell’, which adds in an extra verse about an alphabet city. ‘Straight To Hell’ truly is the band’s tour-de-force, and is even more powerful in its seven-minute form. However, ‘Straight To Hell’ leads into ‘Sandinista!’ track ‘The Street Parade’, in a nod to ‘London Calling’s ‘secret’ track ‘Train In Vain’, that wasn’t mentioned on that album’s track-list. ‘The Street Parade’ sends us off with a tooting carnival atmosphere. Disc three is the most interesting of the three, with a see-saw of quality in the track list. As a standalone CD I give Disc Three a 3.5/5.
Overall, the ‘Clash On Broadway’ box set is a mammoth. It is worth investigating for several reasons, but most fans of the band need not apply because they will probably own 90%of what is included here. As a retrospective the package is exhaustive, and it really is the best Clash compendium you could wish for. On the negative side, the third disc is very up-and-down in quality content, songs such as ‘Stop The World’ and ‘Cool Confusion’ providing heavy dips, but that is a small point. For its purpose of providing a Clash ‘best of’, ‘Clash On Broadway’ succeeds on virtually every front.