The Last Great Punk Rock Single

30 Dec

This is England

See, no question mark. I carry this as a universal statement of fact. I should have said the last great rock single or the last great single but I will allow a little leniency. At times I will bore people to death with that opinion. My youngest daughter spent her first year listening to me articulate that opinion as we listened to the song over and over. It was a challenge to see if her first words would be ” Daddy get a job ” or ” Lets listen to something other than the last great single ever ”

Anyway back to the facts.

Fact. This is England was released in September 1985.

Fact. The clash were gone, kaput, all out , exit stage left .

Fact. Cut the crap is just crap, even for a 12 year old.

But This is England is something else , it brings anger , cynicism ,politics all together without losing the plot. It’s the statement Joe should have made on Combat Rock. We were crying out for some Anti Thatcher, alternative view of England from our leader. Punk was losing its voice against our politicians, England was losing the battle against the Thatcherites and the Celts never stood a chance. When we needed it we got Taxi Driver for beginners.

Anyway the facts, because im dealing in truths now.

Fact. Musically it’s very simple. , a looped guitar riff. No Mick Jones 12 minute grooves, this is the real deal a real punk riff that anyone can play (well obviously not me but anyone anyone )

Within a short song Strummer seems to understand exactly what’s going on. The economy is dying, the grim reality of the early eighties.

He knows the games up – not just for the Clash but for us all, its time to move on. Melancholy in his voice and words – it’s like Orwell on vinyl. There’s no finer lyricist when the chips are down, and they were down. We had a fight on our hand and Joe was on our side , even if we all knew it was a losing battle. Many people try to write for the common man, Joe is one of the few to succeed, maybe he did just want to be Woody Guthrie after all. The fact that he did it without Mick was even better, a real last stand. When Mick was off finding dance grooves , Jo just kept fighting.. for now anyway – the last ditch of punk rock.

Around this time I saw BAD on the TV – at 12 I just didn’t get it. They looked like the happy ending to an American film, all big suits. I was convinced Jones had left the Clash and let them down that he had abandoned Joe and made This is England seem even more melancholic. Of course I had no idea of the truth then!

Anyway the real Facts.

Well the lyrics anyway. That line about “ive got my motorcycle jacket but I walk all the time works on so many levels. He’s Lenny Bruce holding a mirror to the punks. What are you in your jackets ? He’s one of the guys , unable to afford the bike but he’s got the gear. There’s so much alienation in that one line alone. The gang that’s not the real gang. And when he looked around the room at the Clash B team how did he feel? Alienated? Maybe, maybe they were the ” human factory farm “.

Sheffield steel – to a child of the 50s there was no better symbol of English decline than Sheffield steel – well except the motorcycle industry and he’s covered them as well. Like the dying industries – symbolic of Thatcherites pseudo economics – Joes there to the bitter end with the clash the last men standing. This was post miners strike remember.

This is England should legally have to be the last track on any future Clash compilations, dvds whatever. Its lyrics at the end of all Clash books. Joe never came back as strong as that moment, somehow none of us did, we all awoke from the dream to the nightmare – the yuppies were coming. The hedonistic late eighties were here. When he did come back he was the world music sage old guvnor, it shouldn’t be ignored but This is England will always be his last word , his final hurrah – the last great single .


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