Flashback: 'Give 'Em Enough Rope' by The Clash
Sandwiched between two classics, the band's often overlooked sophomore release is 45. Does it still hold up?
As it turns 45, we’re taking a quick look at ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ by The Clash.
“They said we'd be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant "Let's make a lots of money
And worry about it later"
~The Clash ‘Complete Control’
After the blitz of their debut, that was certainly what CBS and Clash manager Bernie Rhodes were hoping for.
Audiences were hungry for more of what they’d found on the band’s first record and the few singles they’d released in the meantime. “Complete Control,” “Clash City Rockers,” and the game-changing “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” weren’t enough to sate them.
Meanwhile, CBS—who’d refused to release that first record stateside— wanted a cleaner sound, one that would appeal to program directors and ostensibly to listeners (the same listeners who were clamoring for more of the same, by the way). The label gave Rhodes a list of “approved” producers, and Sandy Perlman, who’d worked with Blue Oyster Cult, was selected.
On paper, that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense- BOC and The Clash were light years apart both lyrically and stylistically, but Rhodes had “made” them through his insistence on complete control, and the thought was that he would repeat that magic here.
On the surface, the result is what you might think it’d be; Strummer’s vocals are shoved down as far as they can go. The jagged edges are mostly papered over, and it takes eight tracks before we can prove bassist Paul Simonon’s existence on the album.
When looked at through the lens of their discography as a whole, this can be diplomatically labeled a '“transition” album. It’s good but isn’t nearly as incendiary as its older sibling. Nor is it the classic that London Calling would go on to become. There is some real middle-child energy here. On the plus side, it’s not Cut The Crap.
Taken on its own, however, it’s a solid release. Despite Perlman’s attempts at a more homogenized sound, it’s a compelling sophomore record, enjoyable on its own terms. By this point, the band had already pulled ahead of the rest of the snarling, spitting-at-the-crowd pack. There’s some there there.
And here, whether it’s on ‘Safe European Home,’ a song about a trip to Jamaica where, according to Strummer, “I went to the place where every white face is an invitation to robbery,” ‘Tommy Gun’ an anti-terrorism screed, or the poor LSD makers on ‘Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad,’ no one is safe.
On ‘Stay Free,’ where we finally (finally!) hear proof that Simonon was in the studio, it’s Mick’s friends who he hopes will stay out of jail and who we all know won’t. ‘Guns on the Roof’ is all about the terror of gun violence- a subject all too relevant 45 years later.
Back to ‘Tommy Gun’; can we talk about Topper Headon for a second? Joe Strummer and Mick Jones cast long shadows, but man, can he play. If his playing on ‘Rock The Casbah’ got my attention (and sparked an obsession with roto-toms), then ‘Tommy Gun’ got me to fall in love with the band. The pattern of snare hits here feels almost weaponized--on brand for the song’s subject matter. This is the band at 100 mph, the record’s strongest track, and again, unfortunately, terribly relevant today.
Bottom Line: Being sandwiched between The Clash and London Calling was never going to be easy.
Had any other band dropped this, it would be regarded much more highly. Maybe even tagged as a classic? I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I do know that we’re talking about “the only band that matters,” and it’s stuck between two records regarded as two of the best in the punk genre.
Still, this is a record that succeeds despite itself. It’s here that The Clash proved that they were worthy of consideration both as intelligent songwriters and creators of a thunderous sound. A sound that no producer obsessed with “complete control” would be allowed to stifle again.
In fact, for their next release, the producer dared them to put it all on the line, the result being a record many consider one of the best ever made. Give ‘Em Enough Rope walked so that London Calling could run.
The CLash | Give ‘Em Enough Rope, 1978
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What are your thoughts on this record? Do you have any favorite tracks or memories associated with it? Where would you rank it in their discography? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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