Last week, Paste revealed that The Clash’s 1979 masterwork London Calling would be available as downloadable content for Rock Band 3 starting on Feb. 1. That announcement, combined with the recent reunion of Mick Jones’s post-Clash group Big Audio Dynamite, has given us a convenient reason to put together a best songs list for these famed English punk rockers.
After much deliberation, we finally settled on chosing the best 18 songs by The Clash. We chose 18, rather than a nice round number like 10 or 20, because that’s how many songs are on the double LP London Calling. But enough of our reasoning behind the list—here are our picks for The Clash’s 18 best songs.
18. “Straight To Hell”
While this song may sound familiar nowadays thanks to M.I.A., it stands as one of the many outcries by the Clash against injustice. This one concerns the abandonment of children fathered by American soldiers overseas during the Vietnam War.
17. “Police & Thieves”
The Clash’s six-plus minute cover of Junior Murvin’s reggae classic was one of numerous fusions by the band incorporating punk and reggae together.
16. “White Riot”
“Are you taking over / Or are you taking orders? / Are you going backwards / Or are you going forwards?”
15. “Janie Jones”
The album opener off The Clash [UK Version] even went so far as to get prominently featured as a Californication character named after it.
14. “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”
As one of the most famous Clash singles, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” has permeated pop culture in countless way from Rolling Stone to Rock Band and everything in between.
13. “Death or Glory”
Strummer’s response to critics of The Clash selling out: “But I believe in this—and it’s been tested by research / That he who fucks nuns will later join the church.”
12. “Clash City Rockers”
The opening chords from the band’s eponymous album define punk’s raw simplistic power.
11. “Career Opportunities”
“Career opportunities are the ones that never knock / Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock.”
The Clash’s call-to-arms for the youth to fight the status quo.
9. “Lost In The Supermarket”
On this Strummer-Jones collaboration, the two offer their take on a increasingly meaningless existence within a commercialized world.
8. “Police On My Back”
The Clash were no strangers to doing covers, in part because of their ability to effectively put a fresh spin on the songs they choose to rework. “Police On My Back” stands one of the better examples of this, as they completely transformed this Eddy Grant original into their own.
7. “Remote Control”
This song took fire at the music industry after numerous cancellations and disruptions throughout one of the band’s earlier tours. Later, CBS released the song as a single without consent from the band—which prompted The Clash to use “Remote Control” as an example of their fight against their labels.
6. “Complete Control”
On “Complete Control,” The Clash directly addressed CBS about their release of “Remote Control” as a single without the band’s permission. The Clash later released the song on CBS as well. Oddly enough, both tracks were placed back-to-back on The Clash (US version).
5. “Spanish Bombs”
“Spanish Bombs” stood as Joe Strummer’s ode to Spanish Civil War heroics.
4. “I Fought the Law”
This brilliant Sonny Curtis and The Crickets’ cover eventually caused one of one Panama’s top military leaders to surrender to the U.S. during to late ‘80s—so the story goes. Any cover can that can do that speaks for itself.
3. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”
“(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” arguably sparked the spawn of ‘90s ska-rock bands (including an onslaught of questionable acts to emerge from that particular sub-genre). But nevertheless, it was an original blend of two previously isolated genres that rarely coexisted before The Clash’s time.
2. “London Calling”
The title track from The Clash’s masterpiece represents everything that The Clash typically symbolize—quintessential political-minded punk at its finest.
1. “Train in Vain”
“London Calling” usually claim this spot, but not on this list. For a ‘punk’ band, The Clash were about as versatile as they come—incorporating elements rock, funk, reggae, ska and numerous other influences that seamlessly fit into their coherent sound. So while “Train In Vain” was only a secret track at the end of London Calling, it shows that even The Clash could master the art of the pop song. For a band whose legacy is typically derived from rebellious and political-minded attitude, “Train In Vain” represents The Clash’s musical dexterity—the most overlooked, yet defining factor of these legendary punk rockers.