I gotta admit that when my 14 year old self first heard this it came as something of a disappointment. To me back then, sat next to the singles by the Sex Pistols I’d been devouring, this sounded a bit weedy compared to those huge Pistols singles. In the years that followed I did of course beat a good measure of sense into myself and came to love this record as I should have from the off.
From the cover pictures (the back sleeve picture taken during the Notting Hill Carnival “riot” in 1976) to the music within this is the sound of unrest in the UK but more specifically London during that long hot summer of ‘76 when most of this was written. We’re hearing about hookers, the unemployed, calls to revolt, booze, drugs crap TV and wild weekends.
The whole album is a twitchy rush. The opening drum intro to “Janie Jones” arguably sets the scene for how this whole thing is gonna go. Having said that the following “Remote Control” could almost be what came to be known as Power Pop. For a band that later embraced and were embraced by the USA “I’m So Bored With The USA” is quite the statement.
And then at track 4 we have The Clash’s first really important song, possibly one of THE most important songs in all of Punk Rock. “White Riot” is not only a scream of anger, a call to arms and an absolute whirlwind it’s also one of the most intelligently written lyrics I can think of. Calling a song “White Riot” and with that chant it could have been easily misrepresented as something it isn’t. The lyric calls out apathy and expresses admiration for black communities and their willingness to fight back against oppression (Notting Hill ‘76 for instance). It’s a brilliant piece of writing and I’ve consequently never heard “White Riot” being accused of being in any way suspect in content.
On it hurtles. “Police And Thieves” is something of a clumsy try at reggae (they got better eventually) and the closing “Garageland” sees The Clash starting to self-mythologise. It’s a brilliant debut and my 14 year old self really did need a good talking to.
White Riot - https://youtu.be/t6cF3ayJgM4