It Was 37 Years Ago Today: The Clash Release First UK Single "White Riot"!


The year was 1977.  Unemployment across Britain was at an all-time high, with over 1.5 million people out of jobs.  Margaret Thatcher's The Ramones and Sex Pistols had begun spearheading a new "punk" movement the year prior, leading to the emergence of dozens of like-minded bands virtually overnight.  One such band was The Clash, who signed to CBS Records despite having played less than 30 gigs, most of which had been support slots.



For their first single, singer/guitarists Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote "White Riot" about the perceived complacency among white people in the UK, whereas they felt that black people were already properly motivated to riot over that which they believed.  Despite coming five months after the first official single by a British punk band (The Damned's "New Rose" in October 1976), "White Riot" is only the third single by a UK punk act, reaching the same chart position (#38) as the second punk single, the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In The UK".  



The song peaked at #38 on the UK singles chart and was followed a month later by the group's self-titled debut album, which featured a slightly different version of the song.  US rock critic Robert Christgau would later call the original UK version of the album "the greatest rock and roll album ever manufactured anywhere".

Clocking in at an economical 1:55, the song is a potent blast of high-octane protest rock that owes an obvious debt to the first Ramones album.  Despite having played bass for less than year, Paul Simonon's melodic bass riff locks in perfect sync with the drums to create a short, sharp groove over which Jones' and Strummer's guitars cut jagged swaths.



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