Thirty-five years ago yesterday, the Clash screwed up a lot of best-of lists when they released London Calling, one of the greatest punk albums of all-time (and it might not even be the Clash’s finest accomplishment). There are remembrances on the record in all its (death or) glory scattered around today, many of which mention the Clash being “The Only Band That Matters.” It’s a label that’s been attached to them since the 1970s, but where did it come from?
Unsurprisingly, it was a pre-Internet case of #branding.
Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Keith Levene, and Terry Chimes made their debut as the Clash on July 4, 1976, on a bill with Sex Pistols in Sheffield. Less than a year later, and thanks to an explosion in punk’s popularity, CBS Records signed the group for £100,000. They were immediately billed as sell-outs, despite having only played a couple dozen gigs.
London fanzine writer Mark Perry said, “Punk died the day the Clash signed to CBS.” (Via)
The Clash’s alarming response: “White Riot.” Meanwhile, CBS was doing their part to increase awareness of their newly-acquired investment, which is not exactly how the fellas in the band liked to be referred to. Strummer & Co. were fiercely anti-commercial, so imagine the uneasiness they must have felt when they heard about their label’s new slogan.
Strummer, especially, believed that punk should be available to all, and felt inherently hostile to authority. Paradoxically, it was the corporate paymaster CBS that eventually ran ads for the Clash with the tagline “The only band that matters.” In March of 1979, everyone, including the Clash, knew that the hype might be more than hype. But how could a rock band possibly live up to those expectations? (Via)
By releasing London Calling, that’s how.