The Clash was a band that walked the walk and wrote anthems embedded in truth; they set out to not just be a revolutionary band, but also an alternative outlet for information and news, even Mick Jones once said that Joe Strummer wrote lyrics “like a newspaperman.” Mick Jones, the band’s lead guitar player, was in some ways the softer edge to Strummer’s loquacious silver tongue, the singer once stating that he wanted to write songs to expand people’s vocabulary. Jones, however, possessed more of the pop sensibilities required for success. In other words, he was, perhaps, McCartney to Strummer’s Lennon.
While the band is known as pioneers associated with punk; they were more than punk. They were genre-defying, the beating heart of a new generation, the antithesis of fashion and all the while defining a whole generation of punks whose attitude was steeped in intellectual rock n’ roll with integrity. Their fashion and style and were as organic as it was born from poverty, but it became something greater, something more meaningful. It seemed that it was true, they were, in fact, the only band that truly mattered.
Joe Strummer once stated in the 2014 BBC4 Documentary on The Clash, that “before you have an idea, you need to have destruction.” The band that kicked off the whole punk movement was, of course, the Sex Pistols, who were a force that constantly threatened and destroyed all things we came to know as the ‘old’, music or otherwise. The Sex Pistols were a force of destruction, and The Clash was a force of creation. While Joe Strummer was a brilliant lyricist and an idea generator, Strummer certainly needed Mick Jones, for his innate ability to write infectious melodies and play the guitar in a way that other musicians would come to admire.
Outside of The Clash, Mick Jones continued to thrive as a musician, songwriter, and producer. He would work with newer groundbreaking acts, such as Gorillaz, The Libertines, The Wallflowers, and co-produced an album for his early influence and hero Ian Hunter. When he left The Clash, after a short stint with a new group called General Public, he would go on to form Big Audio Dynamite in 1984, with film director and Clash collaborator, Don Letts.
Mick Jones, sonic sculptor, and punk rock’s geek, while still very much a punk at heart, had a soft spot for the best pop songs out there, and was not afraid, unlike Strummer, to delve into the softer side of rock. Because of this sensibility, he was responsible for charting The Clash at times, especially with ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’.
We decided to take a deeper look into Mick Jones’s six definitive songs, during his work with The Clash, as well as outside of The Clash.
Six definitive songs of Mick Jones
‘White Riot’ – The Clash (1977)
This was The Clash’s first single off their eponymous debut album. ‘White Riot’ would become the definitive “punk” song, setting the standard for many other bands to emulate in years to come. Strummer and the band’s bassist, Paul Simonon, lived in, what was at the time, the poor, largely Jamaican neighbourhood of Notting Hill.
What ensued in the summer of 1976 in this neighborhood, would be masterfully captured in the sheer force of the single. After years of police brutality and their bullying of the largely black neighborhood, the dam would break so to speak, and a riot ensued.
The song is a ‘meditation’ on why the white kids were partaking in the rebellion. While Strummer captured the memory very well, Mick Jones created the atmosphere with his brilliant guitar work, setting the stage for more to come. There are few sounds as visceral on Jones’ fledgling guitar on ‘White Riot’ and very few sounds that would ever match its intensity.
‘Tommy Gun’ – Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)
Another first of its kind in regards to the lyrical ground it covers, this was the band’s next single off their second album. The song takes a unique look at terrorism in the world at large, providing that much needed alternative perspective on world events.
Carl Barat of The Libertines would later say about the song, “It’s [‘Tommy Gun’] a product of the volatile climate of the late seventies — all those references to terrorist organizations like Baader-Meinhof and The Red Brigades. It’s like a punk rock adaptation of The Beatles’ ‘Revolution.'” It certainly shaped how Barat would approach his own work. More on that later.
The single’s B-Side, ‘1-2 Crush on you’, would feature a pre-Clash Mick Jones song. While Strummer would express his disdain for the single by saying “There’s no room for it”, when one takes a listen to it, it’s easy to hear the foundational elements of the song, and how Mick would apply those to the A-side, ‘Tommy Gun’
‘London Calling’ – London Calling (1979)
Hands down, the band’s biggest hit of all time, and probably one of the best songs ever written, this is the eponymous single that skyrocketed The Clash through the stratosphere.
The album has sold over 5 million copies and is considered one of the greatest albums of all time. Accredited to the usual Jones/Strummer songwriting partnership, the song’s guitar work, the brutality of the single’s honesty and it’s prophetic nature, would become Jones’ and the rest of the band’s, Magnum Opus.
This is a must-listen for anyone wanting to get into Mick Jones’ work and The Clash at large. Not only is it a brilliant album containing the quintessential punk ethos, but it’s also a great lesson on how to culminate multiple genres of music into one creation. London Calling pulls from reggae, New Orleans R&B, and rockabilly, and of course cold-blooded, pure rock n’ roll.
‘E=MC²’ – This Is Big Audio Dynamite (1984)
After Mick Jones got fired from The Clash, and after a small stint with a band he briefly started, General Public, he eventually formed Big Audio Dynamite with film director Don Letts, who had previously shot a lot of music videos for The Clash.
When the album’s first single performed poorly, the follow-up single, ‘E=MC²’, became their only top 20 hit.
This band’s material showcases another side to Mick Jones, despite its concentration on his previous-seen pop sensibilities in The Clash; BAD incorporated punk rock, dance music, hip hop, and funk. Please give it a listen, and then give it another listen. Then the third listen will be on your own accord, as you realise that it is simply and deceivingly so, infectious, and incorporates interesting music and sound collages.
‘The Man Who Would Be King’ – Up the Bracket (2003)
When delving into Mick Jones’ work, one shouldn’t forget that although he is best known for his innovative but accessible guitar work with The Clash, he would later introduce the world to a sort of revival of guitar music. Using his indelible ear for artistic pop hooks, a punk attitude, and maintaining all forms of raw energy, through his work as a producer in the studio.
This would of course include The Libertines’ debut album, Up the Bracket, which Mick Jones produced.
Mick Jones would pay it forward, by recognising another potential for a sort of “Strummer/Jones songwriting” partnership. While one can only imagine the kind of misanthropy that occurred within those recording sessions, Jones still had to take a break at 6pm, so he could watch Eastenders, to which he developed a healthy addiction.
Watch The Libertines put together ‘The Man Who would Be King’ in a raw studio session with Mick Jones.
‘Plastic Beach’ – Plastic Beach (2010)
Another testament to Mick Jones’s fearlessness, proving that while he would explore other genres, his punk attitude never left him; he knew how to inject any style of music with his own brand of punk sonic gold.
Mick Jones laid some guitar work on the title track to the groundbreaking Gorrilaz album. Not only this, but Jones would reunite with the bass player and fellow ex-Clash member, Paul Simonon, to support the album during the 2010 Gorillaz tour.
Watch Mick Jones perform with Gorillaz below as he joins Simonon on stage for a mini-Clash reunion.