Today is the 43rd birthday of Nicky "Topper" Headon, drummer for the
Clash, who was with the great punk band for a short, but creative
period. The Clash, along with the Sex Pistols, were one of the
pre-eminent British punk-rock bands, mixing leftist political messages
with reggae-tinged driving rock. Though the Clash never became
superstars in America, their reputation as one of the most important
bands of the '80s has grown with the years.
When the Clash were formed by guitarist/vocalist Mick Jones in London in
the drum spot was filled by Terry Chimes. Paul
Simonon (bass) and Joe Strummer (guitars, vocals) rounded out the
lineup. The Clash, whose songwriting was done predominantly by Jones and
Strummer, positioned themselves as outlaws, which contributed to their
early popularity in Britain.
The Clash joined the Sex Pistols' Anarchy
Tour in late 1976 and their performances led to a record contract early
the next year with British CBS. After the Clash recorded their eponymous
debut album in 1977, Chimes left and was replaced by Headon. The album
and its single, "White Riot," were greeted rapturously by critics and
record-buyers in the U.K. Though the American arm of their record label
didn't release it, the album became a hot import in the U.S.
As the Clash began touring heavily, they played up their rebel image by
arrested for vandalism, theft and shooting pigeons, among other
things. The band also began to practice what it preached in its lyrics
by becoming more socially active, including headlining a Rock Against
The Clash's second album, 1978's Give 'Em Enough Rope,
was less successful, but the band began two well-received American tours
in 1979. That year's London Calling was a milestone: It was a
double-LP for the price of one that contained a perfect mixture of rock,
reggae, R&B, rockabilly and pop. It enjoyed huge hit singles in both
the U.S. ("Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" which was untitled on the album)
and the U.K.
(the title track), and it has since been named the best album of the decade
by Rolling Stone magazine.
Taking advantage of the popularity generated
by London Calling, their creative peak, the Clash overreached for
their follow-up. The three-LP set, Sandinista! (1980), was a
critical disaster and only contained a few memorable tunes. The
reviewers were kinder in the U.S., where the album actually sold more
than in the U.K.
Around the time that they released their next release, their
best-selling LP, Combat Rock (1982), the Clash fired Headon
because of his growing drug use, although they said they parted ways
political differences. Headon was replaced with original drummer
"Rock The Casbah" (RealAudio excerpt), from Combat Rock,
was a top-10 smash on both sides of the Atlantic, and the band opened for
the Who on their "farewell" tour.
Although they were at the zenith of their popularity, the Clash were
Chimes was soon fired. After the band played the US Festival, its last
Jones was dismissed. After touring with another lineup, Strummer and
Simonon finally disbanded the Clash in 1986.
While most of the band's
members have pursued their musical post-Clash careers in various bands --
most notably Jones' Big Audio Dynamite -- Headon has not been heard from.
Meanwhile, rumors of a Clash reunion have popped up sporadically in the
'90s, intensifying in 1991 when a re-release of Combat Rock's
Go.ram">"Should I Stay Or Should I Go" (RealAudio excerpt) shot to
#1 in the U.K. on the heels of
its use in a TV ad.
Members of the Clash are reportedly working
together to compile tapes for a possible live album. In the meantime, a
collection of rock, rap and ska artists, all influenced by the Clash,
are readying a tribute album to the band for release in the summer on
Epic. It will include cover versions of Clash favorites by the likes of
the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Third Eye Blind.
Other birthdays: Lenny Davidson (Dave Clark Five), 54; Marie Fredericksson
Wynonna Judd (the Judds), 34; Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), 34;
Tim Burgess (Charlatans U.K.), 30; and Patrick Dalheimer (Live), 27.