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Published: 2013/09/14
by Brian Robbins

The Clash
Sound System & Hits Back

Sony Music Entertainment

The new box set Sound System is a sprawling collection of sound, sights, and swag galore that totally befits “the only band that matters”: The Clash.

Packed into a replica boombox designed by Clash bassist Paul Simonon are remastered versions of five of the band’s studio albums ( The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat Rock ); three CDs’ worth of rarities (including demos, singles, and B-sides); a DVD of unseen archival footage along with videos and live performances; and a pile of memorabilia that includes stickers, badges, dog tags, fanzines, and a poster – pretty near everything you’d want except the surviving members of the band hanging out in your living room.

The remastering of the studio classics – overseen by Clash members Mick Jones (guitar/vocals), Topper Headon (drums), and Simonon – offers new dimension to music that was already ahead of its time when released. From the snarling spit- and sweat-soaked immediacy of 1977’s The Clash to 1982’s Combat Rock (which offered up everything from Beat poetry to dancehall beats) the remasters do the band’s music justice – and pay tribute to the genius of vocalist/guitarist Joe Strummer, who passed away in December of 2002. From beginning to end, the five-album run makes one point perfectly clear: no matter how massive their output might have been, The Clash released no filler. They simply had a lot to say.

Included in the CDs of extras are cuts from the band’s first-ever recording sessions in 1976, along with some demos recorded later that year by the madman genius Guy Stevens (who produced the original London Calling album).

The DVD footage takes us from home movie-style footage of a very young-looking Strummer, Jones, and Simonon (who already bear the aura of men who know who they are) to footage from the band’s 1982 shows at Shea Stadium. From scripted MTV vids to candid moments, The Clash never appear to be more or less than themselves, with the range of settings helping to prove the point.

For those who choose not to whole-hog with the Sound System boombox (or even for those who do) there is the new Hits Back album. The 2-CD collection’s tracks were chosen and sequenced based on Joe Strummer’s hand-written setlist from a show on 7/10/82, taped to the back of his battle-scarred Telecaster. To be clear, these are studio tracks, not the legendary Brixton Fairdeal show itself – but the wallop of the songs’ order and pacing makes for a “greatest hits” package that casts chronology to the wind and goes for maximum emotion and impact.

Hits Back kicks off with the iconic warning of “London Calling” and ends with “Garageland”, the tune that concluded the band’s self-titled debut. (Included on the second disc are an additional eight tunes that weren’t part of the July ’82 show, including the chainsaw guitar churn of “White Riot”, the stick-in-your-craw hook of “Tommy Gun”, and the disco dub funk of “Radio Clash”.) Along the way we revisit The Clash’s forays into pop radio stardom (“Should I Stay Or Should I Go”, “Train In Vain”, and “Rock The Casbah”); the unflinching defiance of Paul Simonon’s lead vocal on “The Guns Of Brixton”; the switchblade rockabilly of “Brand New Cadillac”; “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”’s just-for-fun-but-pay-attention-just-the-same hybrid ska; the power chord-fueled pronouncements of “Clampdown”; and their morphing of surf and punk in their cover of the classic “I Fought The Law”. In lesser hands, The Clash’s take on Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves” would have been easily dismissed as white boys trying to be Jamaican rudies; instead, Strummer’s real-as-hell vocals, the powerful bass/drum womp of Simonon and Header, and the snarl of Jones and Strummer’s guitars make for a fist-in-the-air rock/reggae masterpiece.

Along with these offerings come a 5-album/8-CD Studio Set (the core of the Sound System box minus the rarities, DVD, and swag) plus vinyl Clash releases galore.

Whether you are a newcomer to The Clash’s world punk and crusade for awareness – or a Clash completest looking to fill holes in the collection or replace well-loved/worn-out albums, Legacy has made many choices available to you.

This is a band that has been (and will continue to be) imitated by many – and served as inspiration to many, many more. The main message of any and all of these new offerings, however, is a simple one: there was only one Clash.


Brian Robbins tapes his setlists to the back of a Fender Esquire over at

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