The incomparable band known as The Clash has been making earworms for us for more than four decades. With songs so classic they’ve been covered and re-covered, yet the original still makes the radio today, it’s hard to find a more iconic and identifiable sound. Searching for the top ten best The Clash songs of all time was an incredible musical journey in the rock and roll industry and one that we’d take again in a heartbeat. If you don’t recognize at least five of these songs, you probably grew up without a radio.
10. Brand New Cadillac
Brand New Cadillac was originally a rockabilly song written by Vince Taylor in 1959. Interestingly it did well in a lot of Europe but never really hit home in the UK. At least, not until The Clash did their cover of it. Initially a b-side track, this was the first song recorded on the band’s third album (London Calling). With this new variation, the song finally got the recognition it deserved in the UK as well.
9. Koka Kola
Koka Kola is one of the most often interpreted songs by The Clash. According to Song Meanings, it’s all about turning into someone who is upwardly mobile and career goal-oriented. Meanwhile, other interpretations imply that it’s more about drug use and party time. However, if you look at the lyrics and note that it was released in 1979 or just before the start of the 1980s, it’s easy to see that those two things weren’t necessarily separate issues at the time.
8. The Guns of Brixton
The sheer power behind this song earns it the title anthem as one of the best songs talking about guns. Written by bassist Paul Simonon, this is the first track featuring him on vocals. It was clearly a good move for The Clash since the song is nothing short of epic, and we don’t use that term lightly. Simonon grew up in Brixton, so it’s a direct commentary on his experiences and point of view.
Never released on a studio album, Bankrobber is the song about a criminal with a heart of gold. The thief in the song loves his work deeply. However, he is not in the business of killing or even hurting people. It’s a fun storytelling piece that throws the common perception of hardened criminals to the wind and humanizes a typically demonized archetype.
6. Police and Thieves
Junior Murvin recorded this song with a reggae beat in 1976. However, The Clash did a compelling cover with this song. The whole concept is that damage and danger aren’t limited to one side of the law. When we stop following civil social constructs, the system breaks down.
5. London Calling
You can’t make a top-anything list about The Clash without bringing up London Calling. Only the fact that this band made so many incredible and memorable songs could knock it back to fifth place. Their third album shared its name with this song for a good reason. In a time when nuclear issues were on a lot of minds, this tune was about the idea that an accident could happen. Doubtless, the accident they intended was bomb-based. Still, the concept is terrifying, especially in light of incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, though neither had happened yet when the song came out.
4. Train in Vain
The sheer ingenuity and versatility of The Clash led to a string of ridiculous hits. Choosing just a few of the most memorable and truly outstanding songs for the top of this list means sharing the songs you can’t forget. Train in Vain is one of those songs that transcends generations because the sound sticks with you.
3. I Fought The Law
I Fought The Law could have been a Buddy Holly song, but he never lived to see it released. Instead, his band The Crickets recorded this rebellious anthem after his tragic death. It started as rock, but this became a classic punk song once The Clash got their hands on it. In fact, it is so associated with The Clash that people often forget it was Sonny Curtis who “…captured the zeitgeist,” as the Financial Times so aptly put it.
2. Should I Stay or Should I Go
When it dropped in 1982, Combat Rock was an instant fan favorite and all-around spectacular album. Should I Stay Or Should I Go is a great bop that anyone can sing along to, but what does it mean? Well, Mick Jones won’t answer that. Either it’s a personal meaning, which is plausible since it sounds like it could be a breakup song, or some music is more about the sheer audacious joy it brings than any deeper philosophy.
1. Rock the Casbah
If you are surprised that this is the number one song by The Clash, you shouldn’t be. Everyone who has ever heard music seems to know the lyrics to this song. There are not a lot of universal sounds, but Rock The Casbah is something you can sing from Russia to India, Europe to the USA, and beyond, and someone nearby will smile or sing with you.
Once billed as “The Only Band That Matters,” we wouldn’t take it that far, but The Clash certainly changed the face of music as we know it. Unsurprisingly, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, and we’re left to wonder what took so long. It’s not fair to say that The Clash is the only band that contributed to the punk rock revolution. Especially not when other amazing groups like the Sex Pistols played at the same time. However, the iconic sound of The Clash did help cement the punk genre, and for that, they deserve every award and acknowledgment they ever got and more.