Clampdown (1980)

The Clash

Written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
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ClashClampdownThe Clash wield their working-class rebellion and anti-Establishment scorn with all the artistic subtly of a drunken roundhouse kick to the chin. The slurring bandleader Joe Strummer – a contagiously twitched-up ball of fire – spits out lyrics with such ferocity and “street cred” authenticity that his disgust with the failures of capitalist, conformist society becomes our disgust (if it wasn’t already). And in few other songs is that revulsion as loud and offensive (in a good way) as it is in the band’s 1979 hit the “Clampdown.”

Strummer kicks the shit out of conformity

ClampdownSingleIt’s the ultimate “us against them” anthem, which taps into a youthful, angst-jammed head space where absolutely nothing is more meaningless and hateful than what the Establishment is pushing: a soul-sucking 9-to-5 company job, a house in the ‘burbs with a minivan parked in the drive. It’s a fucking clampdown – and Strummer spreads the word like his life depends on it.

The song’s lulling 30-second “dreamscape” intro – with incoherent ramblings filtering through the fog – quickly escalates into a snarling, finger-pointing rant stoked by drummer Topper Headon’s heavy, militant pocket groove and bassist Paul Simonon’s heavy, convulsing line. It’s got an irrepressible, fist-pumping x-factor that jammed arenas. You can almost hear the jackboots marching down the street, and the band will make sure you’re ready to rumble.

Taking off his turban
They said, is this man a Jew?
‘Cos working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying
We earn more than you
When we’re working for the clampdown


Mick Jones flanked by Strummer and bassist Simonon

The lyrics incite. They lambaste. They offend. They seethe. They tread where few others dare, and Strummer rattles them off in machine-gun bursts of vocal fury while Mick Jones punctuates his fuzzed-up power chords with wild, violent kicks into the air.

The pair have an undeniable chemistry and complement. If Richards completes Jagger (and vice versa), Jones completes Strummer – the perfect blend of rust and polish, jagged-edge and silky smooth. Just in case it’s not entirely clear, Strummer brings the grit and rusty edge, while Jones polishes and buffs.

“The Only Band that Matters” live at Shea Stadium, 1982

Carved from the same fuck-the-status-quo stock as the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Clampdown” is a bare-knuckled condemnation of a morally bankrupt capitalist system built on the backs of the young and the working poor. Strummer – a proud, loud socialist – calls on society’s youth to resist, at all costs, the yoke of authority and convention.


The tireless Strummer died in 2002 at age 50

The judge said five to ten
But I say double that again
I’m not working for the clampdown
No man born with a living soul
Can be working for the clampdown

The message remains highly relevant to this day. If Occupy Wall Street were ever to adopt a national anthem, “Clampdown” would have to be on the short list. If resistance fails, then revolution – a recurring call-to-action from The Clash – becomes the only option:

Kick over the wall
‘Cause governments to fall

How can you refuse it?
Let fury have the hour
Anger can be power

D’you know that you can use it?


Calling card: Simonon smashes his bass at The Palladium (NYC) 1979

“Clampdown” – from the exalted third studio album, London Calling – is The Clash doing what they do best: Fueling the fires of youthful idealism, whipping up generational tensions and inciting class warfare – all in less than 4 minutes.

Along with other Clash classics like “White Riot” and “Anarchy in the U.K.,” “Clampdown” helped make punk Rock a popular political movement and paved the way for politically outspoken bands like Rage Against the Machine and U2. There’s no doubt that The Clash lived up to their billing as “the Only Band that Matters.” Ha! Git along, git along!

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  • Strummer in a 1984 interview for the Los Angeles Times: “You see, I’m not like Paul (Simonon) or the others, I had a chance to be a ‘good, normal person’ with a nice car and a house in the suburbs – the golden apple or whatever you call it. But I saw through it. I saw it was an empty life.”
  • Legendary “protest band” Rage Against the Machine covered “Clampdown” at their first live show in 1991 in Northridge, CA.
  • Strummer once said The Beach Boys were the reason he played music.

Also by The Clash on

  • London Calling If The Clash don’t quite make music to bang heads to, they surely are ideal for the warm-up calisthenics for a good brain-addling.