Top '80s Songs of The Clash - Volume 1

Essential Tracks for General Audiences

Though best known as one of the most important bands of the British punk rock explosion of 1976, England's The Clash has ultimately come to be lauded as one of the most revered, eclectic and politically potent rock bands of all time. In addition, from all but the most technically minded of perspectives, the majority of the group's recorded work was released and heard for the first time during the '80s. Across three albums (two of them double LPs) that appeared over the course of less than two and a half years, The Clash presented some of its most challenging and politically charged music yet. Here's a chronological look at the very best songs from that relatively brief but unusually fertile period for the band still sometimes labeled as "the only band that matters."

01
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"London Calling"

The Clash performs live circa 1980.
Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

A '70s classic from only the most technical of perspectives (released, along with the double album of the same name, in December 1979), this stellar lead-off track kicked off an explosive early-'80s run for The Clash. Almost a perfectly balanced blend of punk rock power and reggae-inflected guitar rhythms, the song's iconic opening and repeated central riff serves as fine reinforcement for Joe Strummer's urgently poetic lyrical wake-up call for a society and culture he felt was dangerously stuck in perpetual slumber. To say this is not the best song of the band's early-'80s string of masterpieces is less a commentary on the shortcomings of the tune than it is testament to the incredibly high ceiling of The Clash's offerings at this stage. Buy from Amazon »

02
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"Spanish Bombs"

The Clash released its often-lauded masterpiece LP 'London Calling' in December 1979.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia

Though in many ways a conventional mainstream guitar rocker, this standout from London Calling manages many impressive feats in terms of execution. Built on an utterly engaging central guitar fill and what could be labeled a potentially repetitive ongoing melody, the song scores high emotionally throughout. This is true despite (or perhaps because of) the impassioned nature of this Spanish Civil War history lesson. As a lyricist and force of nature, the band's strident frontman never hid his sympathies for and philosophical ties to leftist politics, but this song manages to combine those potentially narrowed interests with compelling, accessible rock tunefulness. Buy from Amazon »

03
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"Lost in the Supermarket"

This fine album track from London Calling explores plenty of new musical territory for the band and also is far more personal lyrically than the anthemic, somewhat distant nature of the previous two selections on this list. Guitarist Mick Jones takes lead vocals here, imparting the tune with a slightly more anxious tone that matches the lonesome unease in Strummer's lyrics. The concept of feeling like a stranger in a strange world in an increasingly consumerist landscape has certainly lost none of its relevance in the more than three decades that have passed since the birth of the composition. And the adventurous, innovative guitar arrangements here continue to sparkle and crackle with pure creative energy for ensuing generations of listeners. Buy from Amazon »

04
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"Clampdown"

In this aggressive rocker, Strummer continues to work hard to wake up the subservient proles who help fuel the swelling fortunes of capitalists worldwide. Or something like that. His righteous indignation toward the establishment comes off earnest but never naive, and the power of his words mesh perfectly with the inventive guitar riffs of Jones. Listening to The Clash should probably always be a multi-layered and highly attentive activity, as the quartet can be relied upon to have so much going on in its recordings. This gem of a deep track proves this statement in wave after wave of its sonic attack. Buy from Amazon »

05
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"Death or Glory"

For a band as top-notch as The Clash, it's certainly a difficult enterprise to zero in on just one as a clear favorite. Nevertheless, this straight-ahead anthemic gem has become just that for me over a stretch of recent years. For some fans of the band, perhaps the central hook in the chorus is just too damn catchy, but of course there's plenty more than that to praise here. Musically, the track delivers sophisticated pleasure aplenty, especially during the instrumental portion at the outset. Lyrically, it's an unforgiving send-up of rock bravado that - ironically enough - works compellingly well as a melodic arena rock fist-pumper. Never as simple as it might seem, this is a rock song for the ages - full of various gifts that keep right on giving. Buy from Amazon »

06
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"The Magnificent Seven"

'Sandinista' - the 1981 LP release from The Clash.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia

The lead-off track on 1981's Sandinista! - another double LP effort from The Clash - perhaps stands as the album's finest moment, particularly for those of us who favor the band's more straight-ahead rock tendencies over its dub and reggae fascinations. While the bass line alone here is worthy of extreme reverence if not outright worship, the most lasting element of the tune may just be Strummer's machine-gun stream of lyrical gems, many of which stand alone incredibly well ("Take my baby to sophistication" and "What do we have for entertainment?" come to mind as stellar examples). Combined with the persistent rhythm and sheer duration of the track, lines like these transform "The Magnificent Seven" into a full-tilt post-punk epic. Buy from Amazon »

07
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"Know Your Rights"

The Clash's 1982 album 'Combat Rock.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia

If a heretofore punk rock-unfamiliar observer were to ask for one song that best describes and represents Joe Strummer, perhaps this would be the one. Fearless, defiant and jaw-droppingly relevant today in ways we wish were not so, this lead-off track from 1982's Combat Rock crystallizes so beautifully the injustice that continues to stare us all in the face every day. Musically, it's simplistic and almost secondary, but this is a leftist anthem that communicates a no-surrender sort of disgust that is nothing less than life-affirming. Strummer may have had a few lyrical moments more profound and a couple of vocal ones more breathtaking, but at the moment I kinda have to doubt it. Buy from Amazon »

08
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"Rock the Casbah"

Single Cover for 1982's hit single
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia

This song doesn't belong on this list because it was the biggest American hit enjoyed by The Clash. Instead, it makes the cut because - in spite of an overplayed status in the U.S. that is downright reductive - the melodies, groove and overall energy of the performance perfectly illustrate that The Clash remains one of the best examples of genuinely balanced dance-rock. Perhaps that term/genre doesn't even exist, but certainly The Clash stands supreme as one of the bands most able to generate legitimately wide accessibility without making a calculated effort to maximize commercial impact. "Degenerate the faithful" indeed - and admirers of The Clash have never wanted it any other way. Buy from Amazon »