Track This: The Clash's "Something About England"

Sandinista! often gets short shrift in discussions of The Clash's output. Critics and fans discuss it in dismissive tones, often viewing it as a failed experiment that should have been released as a single LP, not a triple. To be fair, there are quite a few people that view it as an underrated masterpiece that shows how effective the band was at disparate musical styles and gives more credence to the growth of their songwriting. The conventional approach in the punk rock community these days is to entirely dismiss the Clash and treat them as a punchline, except for their first record, which will always remain the classic for punk fans because it includes straightforward angry, punk numbers. However, these are not often punk enough. London Calling remains their acclaimed classic rock masterpiece, while Combat Rock is their breakthrough. Fortuitously, the only radio track off London Calling is continuously played on classic rock radio alongside Combat Rock's "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Unlike other British punk bands, such as The Sex Pistols, the band lasted long enough to pass the point of definitive album band. The Pistols had their one righteous record, Never Mind The Bollocks, that maintained the seething punk ferocity of the early scene and provided numerous anthems, which relied more on the Chuck Berry song format than genre experimentation. Other bands like The Damned never achieved mainstream success outside of the UK, and their music stayed more ferocious than the Clash and stayed truer to the original punk template, except for a primary flirtation with goth. Their first album, 1977's Damned, Damned, Damned and their third, 1979's  Machine Gun Etiquette, are considered classics, while the public commonly dismisses their second, 1977's Music For Pleasure.
I think Sandinista! contains some of the Clash's best and most interesting work, but I admit there are rough spots that will detract from fans who do not relate to dub, early hip hop, or jazz. For example, the Mose Allison cover, "Look Here" is a slight rhyming experiment, "One More Dub" might seem like overkill as it directly follows one more time, and side six suffers from four dub versions and the re-recording of "Career Opportunities" with vocals from Mickey Gallagher's children. These tracks are for completists only, but they give the album a "warts and all" charm, that grows on the listener.
The band experiments frequently throughout the album, from the very first track, "The Magnificent Seven," which borrows heavily from New York's hip hop scene at the time, particularly Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. "Hitsville UK" is a funky history of the independent music scene, while they even attempt gospel on "The Sound of Sinners." The band delivers melodic rockers like "Somebody Got Murdered" and "Washington Bullets" alongside folky tunes like "Something About England" and "Corner Soul."

"Something About England" is one of my favorite tracks on the record, and I nominate it as one of the overlooked gems in the Clash's catalog. It is not representative of the band's punk rock tracks, but its captivating, folky undertones and piano glissandos recall the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies. Lyrically, the track could be a lost, somber cousin to Cut The Crap's "This is England." Mick Jones and Joe Strummer alternate vocals as they tell an alternate history of England that riffs on the right wing belief that "England will be for Englishmen again" to the dissonant sounds of sirens and other instrumentation. Just listen to that transformed siren after Jones sings over tickling piano keys and the weird, near indistinguishable gang vocals that pop up after Strummer takes his turn. Mick Jones' vocals are his best since "Lost in the Supermarket," plaintive and yearning, as he introduces and closes the song.  Underneath the poppy structure of the song's melody bubbles, Strummer's gruffer pipes answer in conversation like Tom Wait's higher-pitched cousin, rapping lyrics on the far side of an alternate reality's Bone Machine. The song critiques the warring ways of England and the never-changing class structure. It seems to offer the sage advice that nothing much has changed because England remains alone.

Track This is a recurring feature of Snobbin' that turns the music appreciation dial up and rips it off of your stereo. It introduces a new track, allows readers to rediscover an underappreciated one, and serves as a forum to discuss a song that falls into the ear candy category and should be listened to unabashedly for years to come.


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