By: Stephen Vecsey
Combat Rock was released the 14th of May, 1982 under the label Columbia Records (CBS), a subdivision Epic. This fifth album from the Clash is also the one to shoot them to stardom. Two of the band’s most well-known songs come from it: “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I stay…”. High tempo riffs and hopping cords keep throughout most of the record; while there are a couple of songs that slow down, I believe this is where the Clash’s writing style comes out and struts its stuff to the fullest.
While songs like “Know your Rights” have an upbeat tempo and meaningful lyrics, “Rights” poignant and pithy words are a sharp critique of modern society and how people have rights but can’t fully use them for what they were made for. “Number three, you have the right to free speech as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it”, is one of my favorite lines in this album, showing that while you can say what you want, you run the risk of being persecuted for your ideas.
I feel as though songs such as “Ghetto Defender” have a charm that some other songs just don’t have. Its haunting lines are about abandonment of poor workers and rich people’s infatuation with the poor. Backing vocals by Allen Ginsberg add such a feeling to the piece which makes the song just move with his voice interweaving throughout it. His mention of “broken bottles” is about recycling money symbolizing the struggle people go through just to live a “normal” life. Another great line is in reference to one of the most influential poets in the 19th century: “Jean Arthur Rimbaud, 1873, Paris commune, Died in Marseille, Buried in Charleville”; a poet whose influence is still felt today and in this song with its many allusions to poor neighborhoods and what they do to make it through day to day life.
Other songs such as “Straight to Hell” depict a soldier taking a wife while on leave in Vietnam, having a kid, then abandoning his wife and child to fend for themselves. I also interpret this song as a depiction of globalization of Vietnam by the U.S. government, as it was ripped away and left in a limbo state when the U.S. pulled out and the People’s Republic of Vietnam rushed to take land left behind by our military.
This album has enough for everybody; if you don’t care about wicked cool meanings and passionate lyrics about our government then you can just listen to the jamming tunes. If you want slow meaningful songs that still have a good rhythm, it’s got that too. It’s a good place to start for anybody looking to get into punk, or if you’re into punk but never really listened to much of the Clash before.