The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP-Sing #469…White Riot by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #469: White Riot by The Clash.

There is a long, rich legacy of political songs based upon real events. “Biko” by Peter Gabriel and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” by U2 are just two examples that spring readily to mind. I have always maintained that poets and artists, singers and writers are among the most dangerous forces allied against oppression because they have the power and skill to put into words what so many people feel and, in doing so, rally us into action.

“White Riot” by The Clash concerns real events that took place in England at the end of the 1970s and into the early 80s. As mentioned in previous posts, this was the era of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a time of austerity. Unemployment was high. Poverty was on the rise. Ordinary citizens were growing frustrated. Throughout History, times such as this often give rise to political scapegoating. In this specific case, the scapegoats were immigrants. Politicians on the Right gave speeches extolling actions designed to “Keep Britain for the British”. ***It is sad how History repeats. “Make America Great Again” and “America First” policies introduced by Trump were, in fact, nothing new on his part. They were a repeat of what transpired in England in the late 70s and in Germany in the 1930s with Jewish people as the scapegoats then.

In the case of this song, the tipping point for many people opposed to racism was a concert given by the legendary singer/guitarist, Eric Clapton. At a concert, he gave an anti-immigration speech from the stage and re-iterated his support for policies to “Keep Britain for the British”. Around the same time, there was to be a music festival celebrating Jamaican culture. As you know, Reggae was very popular in the UK and this festival had been a regular event for several years. However, in this tense political climate, hundreds of police officers descended on a parade being held to lead festival attendees to a park for a concert. A riot ensued. Joe Strummer and Topper Headon of The Clash were in the parade because of their love of Reggae and, as such, they became involved in the riot.

Arising from this incident was a group that called themselves, “Rock Against Racism”. Their slogan was, “Love music. Hate Racism”. One of their first organizational events was to host an anti-racism concert. The headliners of that concert were The Clash. The song “White Riot” premiered there. There is a full documentary about this race riot and the anti-racism concert. I will post the trailer below and then, in the comments section, I will post The Clash actually performing this short, two-minute burst of rebellion.

Sometimes we are guilty of judging books by their proverbial covers. In the case of some of the early Punk Rock bands, we have labelled them as uncivilized and as anarchists. In the case of The Clash, they were actually trying to change the systemic nature of their government’s policies so as to protect immigrants from being singled out for abuse. Like many good musicians, they used the power of their words to chronicle a case of injustice. “White Riot” was their battle cry. The documentary below tells this story.

The link to the trailer for the White Riot Documentary, featuring The Clash and many others, can be found here.

The link for archive footage of The Clash premiering White Riot at the Rock Against Racism Festival can be found here.

Rock Against Racism have a website that can be found here.

The Clash have an interesting website that can be linked to here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for creating their own list of 500 great songs and inspiring me to create my own. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP Song #485…(White Man) at Hammersmith Palais by The Clash.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #485: (White Man) at Hammersmith Palais by The Clash.

I love this song!

The storytelling in this song is fantastic! It speaks, perhaps better than any song I know, to that moment in all of our lives when the idealism of our youth smacks headlong into the reality of how the world really works. Dealing with that sudden sense of disillusionment often comes to define the shape our adult lives take. Let’s take a look at the context in which The Clash told this story so well.

The Clash are generally considered to be one of the first successful Punk bands to emerge out of that scene in England in the early 80s. The Clash consisted of singer/guitar players, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, bassist, Paul Simonon and drummer, Topper Headon. To The Clash, music was always political. But what ended up separating them from other punk bands at the time was their desire to, not just rail against perceived injustices engrained within society’s rules but, to actively seek alternative solutions. The Clash began writing music in England at the same time as Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sat in the leader’s chair in the UK Parliament. That time in England’s history was marked by racial tension and class strife. As a consequence, many early Clash songs spoke to the topics of race and class, (such as “White Riot” and “Guns of Brixton”). One of the ways that The Clash sought to make things better was by uniting the races through music. It was their contention that the Punk movement and the various manifestations of the Reggae movement shared much in common and, therefore, were natural cultural and musical allies. If Black and White could rally around songs then, perhaps, that could form a positive foundation upon which to build a better, more just society.

“(White man) at Hammersmith Palais” describes a real incident that illustrated to Joe Strummer, in particular, how hard it was going to be to overcome the racial divide that the government sought to exploit. In the song, Strummer describes going to a Reggae concert at The Hammersmith Palais. He went in hopes of the crowd being a mix of blacks and whites. But, when he got there, he found that he was one of the only white people in attendance. Reggae hadn’t become “the people’s music”. It remained predominantly Black in appeal. That was disheartening. Furthermore, he was found the performances underwhelming and ended up being hassled by the crowd for having been there in the first place. Upon reflection, Strummer ends the song by examining the worth of what The Clash were trying to accomplish and then turned his steely gaze toward other bands, like The Jam and Joy Division, and notes that they were already moving in ways that he feels are co-opting their integrity, as they begin chasing fame and fortune, instead of social justice.

The final note of importance about this song is that it was written in a Reggae style. Initially, Joe Strummer feared that there would be a backlash to having a white band release a Reggae-influenced song. But, it turns out that this song was well-received by audiences and ended up being one of Strummer’s favourite Clash songs of all time. In fact, this was one of the songs played at his funeral a few years ago.

Unfortunately, racial tension and class division continue to serve a useful purpose for those who seek money and power and control. Hopefully, somewhere out in our world, there is some young person who believes that our society can be a better, more equal and just place for us all to live. Maybe, they will write a story or a song or a poem that will move us in ways that cause us all to be better people. If they do, hopefully, the idealism that exists within their heart will win the day and they will never have to write a new song about how growing up can truly suck sometimes, as The Clash did so well in “(White man) at Hammersmith Palais”.

The music video for (White Man) at Hammersmith Palais by The Clash can be found here.

The Clash have a website in which you can learn more about why they were one of the most vital and important bands of all time. The link to their website can be found here.

KEXP!!!! You folks are the best. Thanks for helping to inspire me to create this post and, all of the others in this music series. A link to their great website can be found here.