Set your dials to Radio Clash, fans. It's time for the only music that matters: the complete recorded history of The Clash on vinyl and film.
Author Tony Fletcher is no stranger to good music journalism. He's written acclaimed books about REM, Keith Moon and Echo & the Bunnymen, and is reportedly working on a Smiths project. In short, he knows his stuff--as a writer who carefully researches as well as a fan.
For his latest subject, he chose The Clash--specifically their music, rather than troubling with an already well-documented history of 'The Only Band That Matters'. The Clash: The Music That Matters is a straight forward and detailed breakdown of all the music the band recorded, from their debut single to their final gasp. Much familiar history is included, but there are also plenty of features--from record label wrangles over preferred single choices to stylistic approaches that the fan may simply have come to take for granted (Strummer slurred much of his vocal output rather deliberately, while Jones tended towards more coherent delivery).
The book works well on several levels. For one, we do sort of get a sense of a band both progressing and imploding. We also discover how internal strife--Topper's heroin problems came to weigh the band down; Jones was somewhat uncompromising; and Strummer could be a control freak; Paul may have been a bit marginalized at times (although his limited vocal abilities and his still mastering the bass at early stages probably did not help). Most importantly, we see a band with a vision that develops and dips and ultimately fizzles out. But along the way, we discover just how committed The Clash were to making music that really did matter, no matter if they at times went off the rails.
With each individual single. EP and album, we are given track-by-track commentary, right down to production and engineering details through individual band contributions. From their early pioneering relationship with reggae to their successfully adventurous masterpiece London Calling, to the largely misunderstood and frankly at times messy Sandinista, to the chart-crashing Combat Rock, to the final Clash album (Cut The Crap)--what Fletcher deems an 'aberration' (and rightfully so)--the reader is treated to intriguing details about the recording process.
The book chronicles all The Clash releases from singles through albums proper, and then covers the various compilations (of particular interest are The Vanilla Tapes--the working-process that led to London Calling, which is a part of that album's Anniversary Edition), live recordings, film, soundtrack and video works as well as projects by individual band members outside of The Clash. Significant space is given to Mick Jones' Big Audio Dynamite as Joe Strummers' redeeming adventures with the Mescaleros. However, there is fitting generosity set aside for Paul Simomon (his Havana 3AM stint as well as guest spots on the likes of Damon Albarn's The Good, The Bad & The Queen), and Topper Headon's generally well-received but doomed solo outing.
In the end, The Clash: The Music That Matters is a must-have compendium for fans who simply enjoy knowing the details--even the ugly stuff has its value, and it was probably a measure of both the good and not-so-pretty that motivated The Only Band That Matters to create some of the finest music of the 20th Century. At heart, they did seemed to remain true to the punk ethos throughout, which easily explains the necessary sparring of crunchy with smooth. Bearing this in mind, we discover that Tony Fletcher's research succeeds in producing one of the better Clash books without resorting to some hackneyed retelling of what we already know.
Clash fans need only tune in to their own Radio Clash, listen along and dig into each song in this extensive and amazing journey. The music really does matter. Programming begins with The Clash: The Music That Matters, by Tony Fletcher.