Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 12/22/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This time last year, I did a Christmas edition of VV. This year and every year thereafter, I’ll commemorate something more important: The passing of legendary punker Joe Strummer, who died Dec. 22, 2002. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The 101’ers’ Elgin Avenue Breakdown (1981) on black, as well as The Clash’s The Clash (U.S. version, 1979) and Give ’Em Enough Rope (1978) on black.

Place of Purchase: 101’ers was an eBay find. The Clash came from the defunct record/antiques store Geeks and Gawds in Ambler, Pa. Rope came from Mad Platter Compact Discs in West Chester, Pa.

Thoughts: Joe Strummer remains an inspiration to me as a musician and writer. A charismatic man of contradictions, he represents pure force of will tempered with compassion. He taught himself how to play guitar wrong-handed specifically because he thought he looked cooler right-handed than left. He forced himself to be a good singer, and his insane energy channeled into some of the most galvanizing anthems of all time. I’ve been mad for his complete discography (Cut the Crap aside), with my earliest Strummer tunes dating to his years in The 101’ers, a bar rock band indebted to The Rolling Stones and Van Morrison. While his bark became more effective with The Clash, Strummer brings a real fire to shoulda-been-hits like “Keys to Your Heart” and “Rabies (From the Dogs of Love).” Original pressings of Elgin Avenue Breakdown, a compilation of 101’ers tunes released to capitalize on The Clash’s fame, go for up to $100 on eBay, but I scored it for $20. The seller thought it was the much less valuable re-release from 2005. I saw no reason to correct him.

101’ers were a solid group, but they can’t compare to The Clash. Decades later, their catalogue is still laced with some of the fiercest punk tunes of all time. I know punk rock cred demands I like the original U.K. version of their self-titled debut, but I honestly prefer the American redux. I mean, we got “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais).” The Clash is best represented by intense, snotty songs like “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” and “Clash City Rockers,” but “White Man” is the better tune. It marks the band’s progression towards Jamaican music, takes white punks to task for ripping off black music, and offers my favorite Clash lines of all time: “Ha ha / You think it’s funny / Turning rebellion into money.”

Give ’Em Enough Rope gets a bad rap. Admittedly, it recycles The Clash’s style to diminished returns, and its successor, London Calling, just flat out clobbers it, but it’s still a great record in its own right. It opens strong, with “Safe European Home” and “English Civil War” leading to one of The Clash’s angriest, yet catchiest, songs, “Tommy Gun.” Strummer fires off more political missives while Mick Jones throws in catchy guitar licks. With these two records, The Clash set the standard for how punk bands should sound. If you’re as smart and as intense as them, congrats, you’re legitimately good.

I still wish Joe Strummer was still around – he had more great songs in him – but with these three records, and plenty more, I can at least celebrate his legacy.

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