The Clash were a band so unique that they refused to be defined. Most often thought of as a punk rock band, the group actually borrowed sensibilities from pop, reggae, dub and everything in between. Never sitting still or conforming to a particular way of performing or producing their records, they earned their title as “the only band that mattered.”
Often referred to as the thinking man’s band, The Clash made a name for themselves as the politically minded side of the punk scene. While the Sex Pistols were all about shock tactics and gobbing in the face of your enemies and/or friends, Strummer’s Clash were more intent on feeding the minds of the disenfranchised youth they represented. They were desperate to add intellectual pursuit and artistic purity to their sound and sent the group and their fans into a new echelon of punk rock, one undeterred by the labelling of the genre.
From their explosive debut on the self-titled LP to their whimpering end, The Clash kept their integrity at the forefront of everything they did and ensured their names were written into the history books long before they gave up the ghost. “Everyone has got to realise you can’t hold onto the past if you want any future,” Joe Strummer once famously said. “Each second should lead to the next one.”
It’s an attitude the band took into their music as they refused to be confined to the genre they had helped create. Instead, The Clash were happy to melt in a myriad of different musical influences into their sound to become one of the most holistic acts of all time. For this reason, among a few others, the group became icons for generations of kids.
The Clash represented a freedom of expression that has rarely been matched since and it has seen the group covered extensively over the years. Below, we’ve picked out ten of our favourites, noting that no two covers of the same song are included. It makes for a serious reminder of their talent and imprint on the music world.
The 10 best covers of The Clash:
‘Janie Jones’ – Babyshambles
One of the natural successors of The Clash were The Libertines. Fronted by Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, the band exploded amid the indie boom of the early noughties and sought counsel from the greats when plotting their rise to the top. Mick Jones would eventually even be signed on as a producer for the band’s self-titled album, unbeknownst to the world that it would be their last.
Soon enough, the tensions between Doherty and Barat, the kind you usually find in Hollywood romances of the golden age, would grow unbearably and the band would split. Doherty would go on to form his semi-successful project, Babyshambles. Across a couple of records, Doherty would prove to be as unpredictable as ever. However, one thing you could always rely on was his affection for The Clash and Joe Strummer. This cover of the band’s self-titled album opener, ‘Janie Jones’ is arguably the best thing Bbayshambles ever did.
‘Clampdown’ – Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello
Springsteen, who has long ties with The Clash and the late frontman Joe Strummer, put his own spin on the song ‘Clampdown’ back in 2014 as part of his High Hopes tour. The song is a Clash fan favourite and taken from the iconic record London Calling. It’s the mark of Springsteen’s admiration for the band.
The feeling of admiration between Springsteen and Strummer was mutual, and, in an interview with Mojo prior to his death, The Clash frontman said: “Bruce is great. If you don’t agree, you’re a pretentious Martian from Venus. His music is great on a dark, rainy morning in England, just when you need some spirit and some proof that the big wide world exists.”
Likewise, Springsteen said: “The Clash were a major influence on my own music. They were the best rock ‘n’ roll band. Thanks, Joe.” He says thank you in the best way possible with this potent cover
‘Spanish Bombs’ – Hinds
As the newest faces of Spain’s always bright garage rock scene, Hinds made their name (actually a different name, but we digress) through a reem of tracks destined for late-night parties and uncoordinated dancing. They rely on their unique vibe and feel more than musical structure and integrity. However, the band quite possibly achieved their greatest feat when covering this classic song.
The song, which was originally released by Joe Strummer and the iconic punks as part of the band’s 1979 album London Calling, famously includes the lyric ‘Yo t’quierro y finito, yo te querda, oh ma côrazon’ which will, of course, ring true with Hinds. “We’ve always loved doing covers,” band member band’s Carlotta Cosials explained. “Maybe ’cause it’s the way we started, or maybe because there are so many good songs in the world already that we wish we had written! And we really enjoy hindsifying them.”
Cosials added: “The Clash were my mom’s forever favourite band and ade’s parents also, so it is always beautiful to connect generations through music. As Spaniards, we don’t usually get shout outs in songs, like ‘New York’ or ‘London’, so the clash writing a song about our civil war made us feel honoured. We recorded it the last day of studio, pretty much live, while recording our third album.”
‘London Calling’ – Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl
The track, taken from the band’s seminal LP of the same name, was given the all-star treatment when Springsteen got together with E-Street bandmate Steven Van Zandt as well as new wave legend and Clash contemporary Elvis Costello, and Foo Fighters’ leading man and all-round nice guy of rock Dave Grohl. Together they delivered one of the most impressive collaborations the Grammys have ever seen.
Smashing through the powerful lyrics and vocal performances the fearsome foursome delivered a fitting homage to Strummer and one of his most perfect punk rock songs was given the acclaim and spot on the stage it deserved.
Take a look below at the powerful performance of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ from Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Elvis Costello, and Dave Grohl in honour of the legendary Joe Strummer.
‘Guns of Brixton’- Jimmy Cliff
One of the few songs to be written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, the classic London Calling track not only offered a vision of the man who wrote it — effortlessly cool and somehow underpinned by danger. It also showed a side of London that was bubbling under the surface.
While Simonon certainly wrote the song because he needed the cash, revealing that “you don’t get paid for designing posters or doing the clothes”, when speaking to Bassist Magazine in October 1990, “you get paid for doing the songs,” he added. It’s clear the track was eager to come out of him, leaning heavily on the now-iconic bassline.
Jimmy Cliff, however, takes the track in a new, more serene, direction. Utilising his own vocal power, Cliff lightens the mood and yet still delivers the message of police oppression.
‘Lost in the Supermarket’ – The Afghan Whigs
Strummer chose to use the song to take aim at the surge of advertising that had been swelling around the globe as the increase of consumerism continued to stagger the singer. He opted to use some attainable imagery to show how far the advertisement infection had spread. Built out of a chugging riff and a vibrant pace, the song is a charming piece of protest. However, given to Afghan Whigs, the song transforms.
The cover is simply dripping in ethereal synthy rhetoric. It feels as close to what The Clash would sound like covered in dry ice as you’ll ever get. Somehow, however, it manages to not feel cheesy but restrained and cultured.
‘Straight to Hell’ – Lily Allen
There’s a lot of enjoyment to be taken from ‘Straight to Hell’ and there’s no doubt that Topper Headon’s bossa nova rhythm on the drums is infectious. Featured on the band’s lesser-celebrated album Combat Rock, the single breaks out from the rest of the album as a politically charged number. Given to Lily Allen, the track is enriched by golden gilding.
Think what you like about Lily Allen, the singer has a unique vocal tone that not only screams Britain’s finest but also works perfectly at making any song she sings sound like her own. Those two worlds collide on this cover she produced for War Child.
The song would later be sampled by M.I.A. on ‘Paper Planes’ but the singer defies the times and produces a seriously good cover. Accompanied by Mick Jones, Allen’s tone and accent shape the song wonderfully and she impresses greatly with every note.
‘White Riot’ – Rage Against The Machine
“The Clash are my favourite rock’n’roll band of all time. London Calling was the launching point for my love of the band. Until I discovered punk, I was a heavy metal fan and it was the cover of that album that first piqued my interest and made me think: ‘Who is this great new heavy metal band?’,” RATM guitarist, Tom Morello recalled to Uncut when speaking about the influence of the band on his own life.
“I devoured that record. I could not believe how great it was; it made much of my heavy metal collection seem very silly. It was music I could relate to lyrically much more than the dungeons-and-dragons-type lyrics of my metal forbears. The conviction with which the band played and with which Joe Strummer sang were indescribable.”
“It was at a time that I was becoming politically aware, and here was a band who made me feel that I wasn’t alone; it was a band that told the truth – unlike my president, unlike the people on the national news, unlike my teacher – and I thought: ‘I’m in’,” Morello stated proudly. It would see the band cover The Clash a few times over their career but perhaps the finest came in 2010 when they performed a huge concert to repay fans who had sent their single to number one in protest of Simon Cowell.
‘Train in Vain’ – Rostam
As one of the principal songwriters in Vampire Weekend, Rostam can comfortably confirm that he knows his way around a pop tune. On the face of it, that’s exactly what ‘Train in Vain’ is. Jaunty and powered by a chorus so hooky it could be velcro, Strummer and Jones were in their pomp when they wrote the original.
We won’t lie, this cover has done a fine job of splitting the office. While some find the angular production and high-gloss pop sheen a little too much to bear, the rest of us are beguiled by his willingness to see what The Clash would sound like if Daft Punk had been their daddy. Synthetic in every way, the only thing that remains from the original is Jones’ powerhouse guitar.
It’s either going to be your new favourite cover or cast into the burning fire. You decide.
‘I Fought The Law’ – Green Day
Before you begin sharpening pitchforks and rousing together an unruly mob, yes, we’re more than aware that The Clash didn’t write ‘I Fought The Law’. Penned by Sonny Curtis and The Crickets, the track found initial fame under the guidance of Bobby Fuller Four. However, nowadays, if you’re pointing to a definitive version of the track, your digits are squarely aimed at The Clash.
Green Day are a band that, without the Clash, would likely never have formed. The London punks provided the California trio with a perfect blueprint to paint the town green.
It seems fitting then that they should not only cover the song but produce a cover for one of their more lucrative paydays, providing backing music for an Apple ad. Of course, not necessarily in the spirit of punk rock, the cover is remarkably energising.