While known as a punk band, the Clash explored different genres.
By JOHN BENSON
When you think of '70s punk, the Sex Pistols is normally atop the list. But don't sell yourself short.
The one band that truly had a lasting impact on not only music but world issues is the Clash. From their genre-bending style to their political and social agenda, Joe Strummer (vocals, guitar), Mick Jones (vocals, guitar), Paul Simonon (bass) and Topper Headon (drums) played an integral role in shaping contemporary music forever.
Such influence and power explains why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is presenting the "Revolution Rock: The Story of the Clash" exhibit, which runs Saturday through April 15 at the Rock Hall.
"I think the Clash is due for a reassessment," said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Curatorial Director Howard Kramer. "I think they should be as important as Led Zeppelin. I mean, they're very similar in that they had a short career. Clash was around for seven years, put out five albums and every one of those records was incredible to listen to and is full of incredible music." He added, "They're incredibly important and their power is not diminished. Their importance and message is still relevant. It's truthful music."
In a snapshot of time that lives on to this day, Simonon of the Clash defined the band's angst-filled image by smashing his instrument on stage in a fit of disgust and rage at a show in the band's early days. Fittingly, a photo of this aggressive gesture would act as the cover to the band's seminal 1979 album "London Calling."
Such visceral emotion was also evident in the band's fan base, said Cleveland Agora Owner Hank LoConti, who remembers a Feb. 13, 1979, Clash show at his old E. 24th location in Cleveland.
"My memory is that four buildings around the neighborhood were completely tagged with the Clash name," LoConti said. "Of all the groups we played, that was probably the biggest amount of graffiti we ever received."
He added, "The Clash was the forerunner to that type of music that was extremely popular at the time. You're talking about alternative [music, which] came out in the mid-'70s, but it was very, very limited. And by 1979, the Clash was one of the groups that broke it wide open."
"They came in under the banner of being a punk band, but that wasn't what they were," Kramer said. "They did that, and did that extremely well, but they also could do a lot of other things extremely well."
Together less than a decade, the outfit used its punk mindset to explore different genres, including the roots of American rock 'n' roll, ska, reggae and more. The Clash was the band that defied image and mainstream appeal for the greater good of its music, which continuously railed against the status quo of corporate rock and safe middle-class values.
Such activism remains alive today, which plays into the timing of "Revolution Rock: The Story of the Clash." The exhibit is the first of its kind and includes items loaned to the Rock Hall from Mick Jones and Strummer's widow, Lucinda Mellor.
Among the cherished items on display are Strummer's Fender Telecaster, Mick Jones' Gibson Les Paul Jr., Paul Simonon's smashed bass guitar from the cover of "London Calling" and handwritten lyrics for "London Calling," "Know Your Rights" and "Clampdown." Kramer noted that Strummer's Telecaster still has a stack of band set lists taped to its outside.
While the band was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2003, it sadly came a few months after Strummer suddenly died of a heart attack. Still, the group's legacy continues with numerous bands still citing the Clash as an influence. The members of U2 have stated how the Clash's continually evolving songwriting and political protestations to seek change through music were big influences, while as recently as a few years ago New York City garage rock act The Strokes covered the Clash's "Clampdown" during one of its tours.
"It's extremely powerful," Kramer said. "Those records have not aged. They sound like they could have come out this week and sound better than most records that have come out this past week. That's why I think people aspire to their greatness and people recognize that."