On paper, The Clash and The Beatles appear as though they don’t share a great deal in common. The punk three-piece, who very rarely held back in their disregard for contemporaries, once went as far as on a lyric in1977 stating “no Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones” as they sought to distance themselves from the classic rock star cliches they felt like was the antithesis of everything they wanted to be.
Unlike a lot of alternative groups, The Beatles were not a large influence on The Clash who were well and truly part of a punk scene which was about much more than just the music — it was a way of living. On the Londoners’ epic thirty-six track triple album Sandinista! they couldn’t resist sharing a joke at The Beatles expense when they mimicked the somewhat self-indulgent effort ‘Revolution 9‘.
The production techniques and use of vocals being played backwards which on ‘Mensforth Hill’ replicates ‘Revolution 9’, making it difficult to tell whether it is supposed to be a nod of appreciation to The Beatles or just a downright piss-take. The track in question is a shining example of John Lennon viewing himself as a groundbreaking artist whose songs could be avant-garde pieces that didn’t fit in with the traditional songwriting structures that were in place at the time.
Considering The Clash had tried to distance themselves away from the hedonistic rockstar era of the decade before them, attempting to appear more down to earth and real, Joe Strummer and his bandmates refused to play up to the role. However, the music from The Beatles was undoubtedly groundbreaking, especially a track like ‘Revolution 9’, material which is one of the last things you would expect from the biggest band on the planet.
Lennon told Rolling Stone that the track was “an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens; that was just like a drawing of revolution.” He added: “All the thing was made with loops, I had about thirty loops going, fed them onto one basic track. I was getting classical tapes, going upstairs and chopping them up, making it backwards and things like that, to get the sound effects.
“One thing was an engineer’s testing tape and it would come on with a voice saying ‘This is EMI Test Series #9.’ I just cut up whatever he said and I’d number nine it,” he added. “Nine turned out to be my birthday and my lucky number and everything. I didn’t realize it; it was just so funny the voice saying ‘Number nine’; it was like a joke, bringing number nine into it all the time, that’s all it was.”
Sandinista! has often been labelled as The Clash’s White Album, a factor which may have influenced their decision to include ‘Mensforth Hill’, a number with such a striking similarity with ‘Revolution 9’. While fans of both bands have debated tirelessly about its origins, it still remains hard to tell whether it was a deliberate parody or a way of admitting admiration. Perhaps it’s best for it to remain a mystery.