The Clash are a British institution. A little before my time, but everybody knows the hits: London Calling, Rock the Kasbah. They’re part of our history. A generation too late, nevertheless I grew up on them. We all do. And, the author, Martin Popoff, is a heavyweight in the world of rock and metal stories. He wrote Agents of Fortune: The Blue Oyster Cult Story, books about Ozzy Osbourne and Whitesnake. The man knows his music, and I was delighted to receive a copy of the book from the publisher.
They’re also not a band I know a huge amount about, besides the names of the band members, a few songs, and that they were part of the punk movement. I felt I could stand a little education in this area.
First things first: The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs is a book for the fans. If you don’t know anything about the band, start with Wikipedia or something. This is not a history lesson. I didn’t come away with a vast amount more knowledge about who they were as people, how the band formed, or why they quit. What was interesting in particular though, was Popoff’s thoughts on how The Clash related to mainstream culture, and vice versa, and their role and relationship to the wider movements happening within music at that time.
That being said, bear in mind that this book is a song by song exploration of The Clash’s music. This is more a literary documentary than coffee table fluff. If you weren’t a fan, if the band didn’t mean anything to you, you’d probably find it a bit much. It’s really detailed, for one, and written in the language of musicians; phrases like “musical architecture” and discussion of bass lines and rhythm. It doesn’t necessarily make for light reading. But if you like the band, and know the songs, it’s fascinating.
The layout and images are colourful, bright, eye-catching, and interesting in and of themselves. They tell the story of an era, as much as of one band. They were clearly chosen thoughtfully, as there was a good mixture of memorabilia, flyers, album covers, and the like. If you’re interested in British musical history, this book is good value for the images alone.
I enjoyed the book, though perhaps didn’t know enough about the band and their songs in the first place to make the most of Popoff’s intelligent and considered commentary. I would recommend it for die-hard Clash fans, or anyone with a general interest in rock and metal musical history.