The history of punk rock has in The Clash to one of its most representative, legendary and even versatile bands. The group always distinguished itself from its contemporaries by its edgy discourse on the social problems of the United Kingdom … or the world in general.
How well is the documentary noted Seven Ages Of Rock (chapter Blank Generation), New York punks like Patty Smith and The Ramones were more bohemian. The Sex Pistols were more ‘anarchic’ and self-destructive. But there, in that generation, those commanded by Joe Strummer They were the ones who held a much more political stance; his music was loaded with a more ‘definite’ message when it comes to this area.
And there are tons of songs to prove it: “London Calling”, “White Riot”, “Career Opportunities”, “Spanish Bombs”… Wow, the list is endless. However, among that immense and wonderful sea of tracks, “Rock The Casbah” It is perhaps one of the most curious for its style, its music, its lyrics and the history behind it. This single, whose legacy has transcended in popular culture and which has even been erroneously used as a ‘war hymn’, has a very different origin compared to the final result that we all know.
The Clash, ‘Combat Rock’ and the origin of “Rock The Casbah”
Combat Rock, released on May 14, 1982, is the fifth album by The Clash And it’s a very special one for a good number of reasons. Although he is one of the most successful, he is also remembered as the last one who made the original lineup of the band until the drummer’s departure. Nicky “Topper” Headon. Then, it is one of the albums that contains two of the most remembered songs of the group: “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and the already mentioned “Rock The Casbah”, which was the second promotional single from the album.
This last song, in fact, maintains a close relationship with Headon as it was he who basically created it.. or at least he provided his first sketches in terms of music and lyrics. The percussionist was the one who composed the bass line, the first piano arrangements, the rhythm on the drums and a lyric that was not exactly the one we sing today every time it sounds.
According to what he points out Rolling Stone In a 2009 article, the group’s former manager and frequent producer Kosmo Vinyl stated that Topper’s first lyrics were quite sexually explicit and spoke about his own girlfriend. According to Vinyl, “It had really pornographic lyrics if I remember correctly … Very, very pornographic”, said.
Once in the studio, Headon’s creation surprised the band members who only added a few more guitar sequences and other melodies to complete the theme. Nevertheless, the drummer’s lyrics didn’t impress Joe Strummer at all, who did not hesitate to change the suggestive theme that his colleague had composed.
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Joe Strummer re-composes the lírica
The song opens with the verse “Now the King told the boogie men, ‘You have to let that raga drop’”. The literal translation says something like “Now, the King told the boogie men ‘they must give up that’ raga ‘style“. In that sense, we must first point out, the ‘raga’ is a musical root from India, the same that the band used in an accentuated way in “Rock The Casbah”. And, in fact, the aforementioned lyrical line does have a rather peculiar origin.
It turns out that in the recording sessions of Combat Rock, The Clash he prolonged the execution of the songs for a long time and used the influence of the ‘raga’ quite a bit when playing. When it came time to record the single in question, the group’s representative at the time, Bernie Rhodes, asked the members: “Does everything have to be as long as the ‘raga’?”.
Joe Strummer told Rolling Stone in 2002 that after hearing that suggestion from Rhodes, the first verse of the song came to his mind, where their manager is referred to as ‘The King’ and the members of the band are ‘the boogie men’.
In addition, by that time, in various countries of the Middle East, all that remnant of Western culture was already being viewed with bad eyes. disco music was forbidden, for example. So Joe put together the rest of the lyrics under that idea of people who must challenge authority to enjoy music; ‘rock the citadel (casbah)’, which are the buildings where the rulers of those countries lived and sheltered.
“For some reason, I started to think about what someone had told me before, thatThey attack you for having a disco album in Iran “Strummer mentioned to Rolling Stone about the song’s composition. Hence the famous chorus arose then “Shareef don’t like it…” (Al Shareef / ruler does not like it) and one of the most representative songs of The Clash
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The story of the strange origin of “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash