The Clash: Why one of the greatest Punk albums was never released in the U.S.A.
Above Photo: In 1977: The Clash in Camden Town, London (© Chalky Davis)
The first Clash album – called The Clash – was one of the greatest Punk albums ever released, and they were even better live. In Bombed Out!, I describe a Clash gig in Liverpool in 1979 as one of the best Punk gigs I ever went to. They played many tracks off the album and I heard a bootleg recently, and they still sound fantastic.
Unfortunately, for some reason, their first album was viewed very differently by the band’s record label in the USA, and I have often wondered why they refused to release it there.
Now I know, having read this letter, which I discuss further below:
The Clash had signed to CBS in January 1977 for the then-staggering sum of GBP 100,000. A couple of months later their first album The Clash was released, which got to Number 12 in the UK album charts, which was pretty amazing back then for a Punk band.
Epic, CBS’s parent company in the US, however, was not happy with the quality of the recording or its production. This letter, sent from an Epic A&R man, Bruce Harris, to an annoyed New York Punk, Paul Dougherty, in late 1977 explains why.
Epic believed the production values on the album would see it ‘fail miserably’ in the US. The writer, who liked Punk, compared it to the Sex Pistols’ first LP which was well produced and which captured the power of the band, but he bizarrely believed the Clash album was “deliberately shoddy” and failed as a result.
He mentions that US radio stations, who were not giving airplay to Punk records back then were holding Punk back in the US and this wasn’t the fault of record companies failing to sign or record Punk bands, as claimed, but solely down to the radio stations.
The Vibrators, David Johansen, Blondie, The Adverts and Talking Heads are all name-checked in the letter, which provides interesting historical evidence on the different musical values that separated the British and US Punk scenes in 1977, from a marketing and professional point of view.
Ironically, a version of the Clash album was finally released in the US in 1979, after it proved to be the best selling import album that year, although the Clash’s big US breakthrough had to wait until the release of their double album, London Calling.
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