The Clash were part of the original wave of Punk bands that emerged in Britain during the mid 1970s; their first performance was opening for the Sex Pistols in 1976. But they soon moved past the stylistic limitations of Punk, demonstrating a depth of talent and musical ambition that peaked on 1979’s London Calling, a double LP that’s been hailed as a masterpiece.
Formed in London, the band – singer Joe Strummer, guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simenon and drummer Terry Chimes (soon replaced by Topper Headon) – released its first single, the stomping “White Riot” in March 1977. A month later they issued their self-titled debut, a landmark Punk album that alongside Jones and Strummer’s originals included a retooling of Junior Murvin's reggae protest song "Police and Thieves.” At the behest of their record label, CBS, the group made their next record with producer Sandy Pearlman, best known for his work with Blue Oyster Cult. Pearlman put a radio-friendly sheen on the band’s tough sound, but the resulting album, 1978’s “Give ’Em Enough Rope” failed to provide the U.S. breakthrough the label was after.
It was the band's third album, London Calling, released in 1979, that launched the Clash internationally. A sprawling two-record set, it retained the band’s energy and immediacy while greatly expanding their sound, incorporating influences including Reggae, Ska, Rockabilly and Pop. It yielded a modest U.S. hit with “Train in Vain,” a “hidden” track not listed on the album credits. The band followed it with the three-record set Sandinista, which cast their net even further, incorporating Dub, Funk, Rap and other stylistic elements, with Strummer’s lyrics putting political matters front and center. Reception was mixed; some hailed the band’s ambition, while others called the record unfocused and overlong.
It was the next Clash record, 1982’s “Combat Rock,” that turned the band into superstars. While few considered it the band’s strongest work, the singles “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” became international hits, and “Combat Rock” went platinum. Instead of riding high on the success, though, the band soon disintegrated. Tensions built between Jones and the other band members, and in 1983, Strummer and Simenon axed Jones – an unusual move both because they were at the peak of their success and because Jones wrote all the band’s music.
Strummer and Simenon made one final record as the Clash in 1985, Cut the Crap, but it was clear the magic was gone, and the Clash permanently dissolved in 1986. Jones went on to form Big Audio Dynamite, while Strummer recorded and toured as a solo artist. Strummer died of a heart attack in December 2002, a month after the Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.