Retro Review: Joe Before The Clash

This review was originally posted on Crap Filter.

[rating:8.5/10]

Born John Graham Mellor, Joe Strummer became a groundbreaker in the melding of musical styles and a godfather of the punk genre as a member of a little band called The Clash. The Clash is arguably the most important band in British punk rock, and this writer would argue that they are possibly the more important band of the last 30 years… but not until recently did many discover that The Clash wasn’t where it all started for Joe.

In the wake of the punk rock explosion, Joe Strummer was the heart and soul of a band called The 101ers. Self described as “Squat Rock”, the band infused soul, R&B, and reggae into old time rock music. Their original 1975 release entitled, Elgin Avenue Breakdown, was rereleased in 2005 with several previously unreleased tracks as Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited. Shades of The Clash can be heard throughout the CD, but what comes out most clear is Strummer’s sincere love of rock’n’roll as an artform. This CD is a must for fans of The Clash, post-Clash Strummer, and anyone interested in the roots of the punk rock movement of ’77.

The CD opens up with a track called “Letsagetabitarockin'” that shows everyone that Strummer knows the roots of rock music. With Chuck Berry guitars and an Elvis snarl, Strummer rocks like the greats… but he doesn’t stop there. Strummer then begins to infuse reggae, soul, and R&B to show us that even in the mid 70’s, he was capable of the creativity that he displayed in Sandanista years later. The two-part “Keys to Your Heart” displays a Police-esque reggae/rock quality reminiscent of The Clash’s “Police on My Back”. These and the other songs, including a Check Berry cover (“Maybelline”), a live track from a pisron chapel show (“Out of Time”, and a song that displayed shades of the political overtones that would later become synonymous with Strummer (“Lonely Mother’s Son”), begin to paint the picture of the creative climate that led to the punk explosion only a year or so later and a man who would push the limits of punk rock, and popular music in general.

If you like bands like The Velvet Underground, The Police, and other protopunk bands of the 70’s, this is a CD that you’ll love. If you are interested in how rockers like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis helped to inspire punk rock, here is where you start. I must admit, my bias towards Joe Strummer as a man and musician is strong… I have a dog named Strummer, I own The Clash’s self-titled debut on vinyl, and The Mescaleros’ final album Streetcore is easily one of my top ten favorites… but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find bad things to say about this CD. Pick it up and pop it into your stereo at home or in your car, you’ll thank me.

and Joe… God rest your soul, we miss you. I know I do.

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~ by thepaintedman on July 3, 2008.

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