Armagideon Time

Did I mention I was taking a vacation for a week?

Because I did and it was great, but now it’s time to get back to the grind.

Up until the beginning of this year, I never owned the US version of the first Clash album on vinyl. It’s a startling admission, I know, but one that tracks with the course of the earlier phase of my record collecting days.

I first bought the album on cassette at the tail end of the Eighties and it played a huge role during my transition into punk rock. By the time I started crate digging in earnest, however, it had been shunted aside by newer (to me) and more exciting (at the moment) acts. There was no pressing need to buy a copy — even though they were easily and cheaply obtainable — because I already had one available on another format.

When my Clash fandom did come roaring back in the latter half of the Nineties, I’d already transitioned into the realm of compact discs and their ever-expanding catalog of retro reissues and obscurities. From there I jumped into digital files and never considered there’d ever be a situation where I’d want/need the album on vinyl. Besides, I already owned an original pressing of the UK version of the LP, bought for the princely sum of a buck thanks to a clueless Looney Tunes employee. It was one of the biggest gems of my collection and one of the first (if not the first) platter spun when I sprung for a budget turntable in the autumn of 2016.

It was a great (and lucky) a find, but was it wasn’t the US version. The album as originally released was deemed too crude sounding for tender American ears accustomed to KC and the Sunshine Band and Fleetwood Mac, and thus didn’t get released on this side of the pond until 1979 as a reworked jobber which swapped out some of the rougher cuts in favor of some later non-album single/EP tracks. It’s the type of move that would be pure anathema to the “warts and all” historian in me, but in this case it elevated a great album into something utterly transcendent.

Every single one of the additions showcased the band at their creative peak and two tracks in particular — “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” and “Complete Control” — are the best songs the Clash ever recorded. The label politics which led to it’s existence may have been misguided, but resulted in the epitome of what I consider “essential albums.” There isn’t another album I’ve completely internalized the way I’ve internalized the US version of The Clash. Every note, every one of Joe Strummer’s extemporized (and indecipherable) vocal bits, every one of Mick Jones nasally stabs at harmonizing, every misunderstood lyric that persist despite having looked up the real deal have been permanently engraved into my psyche.

It is the album I turn to when I can’t think of anything else to listen to, and serves up a visceral thrill every single time.

If this was 1990, I could’ve walked into any of the dozen record shops on my regular route and picked up a sealed “Nice Price” copy of the LP for a fiver or a good condition used one for under half that. In the shit-encrusted free-for-all hellscape of 2018, however, it was nigh impossible to find even a beat-to-shit one for less than twenty-five bucks. I would’ve settled for a reissue, but years of music jouno whining about the missing out on the “real version” of The Clash created a situation where the UK release got the 180 gram honors and the US do-over got consigned to limbo. (Supposedly there is one floating out there somewhere, but every retailer listing I checked had the UK tracklist in the description.)

Honestly, twenty-five bucks wasn’t too rich for my blood. I’ve spent more on nostalgic nonsense which didn’t carry a fraction of the album’s personal resonance, but the whole idea of yesteryear’s cut-out bin fare being sold at a premium hit me in the part of the cerebral cortex that gets pissed over twelve-dollar hamburgers and ten dollar action figures. It’s not so much a principled stand than the inability to accept the passage of time, but such is my row to hoe.

Eventually, after months of scouring various listings, I found a fairly clean copy for fifteen bucks on eBay. It was still a bit steep, but not so much that I hesitated about buying it. Any regrets I might have had regarding the price vanished the instant I slipped it out of the packing sleeve and threw it on the turntable.

And when I’m finished writing this, I’m going to spin it again.

One Response to “Back to Wax #30: The one that matters”

  1. sjb

    So its not just me that finds the US version stronger than the UK release. At first I chalked it up to “the version I hard first,” but I finally gave in to a slight self-perceived drop in street cred and decided “nope, its just better”

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