I didn’t realize it at the time because I was just a kid, but the 80s began on December 14, 1979 with the release of London Calling. The Clash’s masterpiece of focused punk rage was varied, catchy, and smarter than any mere punk rock. The rest of the 80s had a tough act to follow.
London Calling was added to the Rock Band catalog earlier this year when Harmonix released the entire album. But as far as I’m concerned, The Clash’s contribution to the 80s isn’t fully represented without a single from their album Combat Rock, released two years later. Rock the Casbah. I was never a big Clash fan while growing up. Silly Brit musicians, thinking they’re playing punk rock when they sound nothing like Black Flag or The Dead Kennedys or even The Sex Pistols. But I remember everyone playing Rock the Casbah when the Gulf War began in 1991. If you listened to the lyrics, which were mostly easy to parse except for some line about being “fundamentally caught naked”, the song was about repressive Islamic governments cracking down on Western culture. It was probably a response to the Islamic revolution in Iran, something kind of weird for a punk band to get bent out of shape about, particularly a punk band with an album called Sandinista. If you overthrow puppets like the Shah and Samoza, you’re going to get what you get. But it was the Cold War, so the rules were more about ideology than consistency. “Fundamentally caught naked” indeed.
So thematically, nearly ten years later, Rock the Casbah had nothing to do with an American-led coalition responding to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which I would argue was the end of the 80s, as we found a new post-Cold War place in the world. But there was some stuff in the song about jets dropping bombs between minarets, so it would have to do. And because it was a very English song, it folded nicely into Operation Desert Storm’s international flavor. Just as The Clash played us into the 80s, here they were playing us out of the 80s as we made our way into the 90s.
Rock the Casbah is available today, along with some Blink 182 stuff that I’m sure the other kids in your dorm would enjoy.