Combat Rock + The People's Hall: The Clash Cash In

By 1981, The Clash was in shambles. Seeking more direction following their 1980 triple album Sandinista!, co-frontman Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon rehired the band's notoriously difficult original manager, Bernie Rhodes, to the dismay of other co-frontman Mick Jones. Jones sought to continue the band's expansive forays into dub, reggae, and hip-hop, while Strummer wanted something more streamlined. Yet despite all of that, plus drummer Topper Headon's spiraling heroin and cocaine addiction, The Clash toured and managed to record new material at The People's Hall in the Republic of Frestonia (a small area in West London populated by squatters hoping to secede from the UK) as well as Electric Lady Studios in New York City.

Towards the end of that year, Jones presented to the group his mix of a planned double LP, Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg. While imperfect and somewhat overlong, Rat Patrol was a sprawling culmination of everything The Clash had to offer, good and bad; more concise than Sandinista! but more sonically diverse than London Calling, Rat Patrol was scrappy but considered, indulgent but not excessively so. (Acetates of a shorter Rat Patrol also circulate, though the double album configuration is better known.) Despite its convoluted tracklist and relative lack of overall commerciality, with some additional polish it might've been the best Clash record.

Yet, the other band members and Rhodes (who later assumed complete creative control of "The Clash") rejected Jones' version of the album, deeming it overlong and possibly too out-there. Rhodes hired Glyn Johns to remix the sessions and distill it down to the final 46-minute LP, May 1982's Combat Rock. Johns, along with Strummer and sometimes Jones, assembled Combat Rock for maximum commercial impact; editing songs, removing others, and giving the material a punchier, clearer mix.

Combat Rock became The Clash's biggest commercial achievement and is among their best records artistically, though in retrospect it's front-loaded and a bit inconsistent. Side one yielded the enduring singles "Should I Stay Or Should I Go," "Rock The Casbah," "Straight To Hell," and "Know Your Rights," alongside deeper cuts "Red Angel Dragnet" and "Car Jamming." Side two, however, fails to continue the momentum; "Overpowered By Funk" and "Death Is A Star" are good, and "Sean Flynn" is certainly interesting, though the rest sounds like filler, even if four decades later the politically charged lyrics about urban decay and war retain relevance.

Last month, Sony/Legacy released Combat Rock + The People's Hall, a 3LP or 2CD set combining the remastered Combat Rock album with The People's Hall, a 12-track, 2LP or CD compilation documenting the period from 1981's "This Is Radio Clash" 12" to Combat Rock's release. The People's Hall is 55 minutes long, and only takes up three sides on the LP version, leaving the last side completely blank—no etching, no printed label even, nothing. It's not the official Rat Patrol release that fans clamor for, nor is it a very deep dive into the band's vault.

To put it mildly, The People's Hall is a mess of a bonus compilation. Sure, it includes the previously unreleased instrumental "He Who Dares Or Is Tired," a scrappier early take of "Know Your Rights," the unreleased original mix of graffiti artist Futura's "The Escapades Of Futura 2000" (here labeled simply as "Futura 2000"), and some other B-sides and rare outtakes. However, it presents this often good material in the most boring way imaginable, and doesn't seem to serve any real purpose. To start, it's incomplete; they assume you already have the canonical "This Is Radio Clash," so they instead include the alternate lyrics version "Radio Clash" but neither of that original 12" single's two B-sides. You won't find "Rock The Casbah" 12" B-side "Mustafa Dance" or "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" B-side "Cool Confusion," yet they give you Mikey Dread's inessential "Radio One" (the B-side of Sandinista!'s "Hitsville UK," meaning it doesn't belong on a Combat Rock reissue anyway). The full-length "Straight To Hell" or the Bob Clearmountain single mix of "Rock The Casbah"? Missing, but you get the seven-and-a-half-minute extended "Sean Flynn."

The People's Hall opens with "Outside Bonds," an absolute joke of a bonus track that's merely a field recording from outside Bonds, the New York casino where the Clash played 17 shows in 1981. By the time you reach this set's best material—outtakes "The Fulham Connection" (aka "The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too"), "Midnight To Stevens" (a tribute to London Calling producer Guy Stevens), and "Idle In Kangaroo Court" (aka "Kill Time")—you're already exhausted by the poorly paced material stuffed in the middle, which would sound much less mediocre had someone rearranged the tracklist, which isn't even chronologically organized.

As for that blank last side? It's a violation of the "value for money" principles that the Clash so strongly held in its heyday, and Joe Strummer's probably rolling in his grave right now. "There will be no six-quid Clash LP, ever!" Strummer said in 1979, though £6 then is around £24 now, which in turn is about $30 USD, and the 180gm 3LP edition of Combat Rock + The People's Hall retails for around $60. Sure, the surviving members might have retirements to pay for, but it's not like those regularly issued London Calling remasters haven't already generated a nice nest egg. To add insult to injury, a 7" with Ranking Roger toasting over "Rock The Casbah" and "Red Angel Dragnet" sells separately for another $12, when using that blank LP side could've saved plastic (Strummer also cared about the environment).

Tim Young at Metropolis digitally mastered and cut lacquers for this reissue, although the main album is probably sourced from his 2013 remaster. These remasters are great for digital, and they sound decent on vinyl, though the Combat Rock disc can't even touch the original UK pressing cut by Noel Summerville. That original UK edition has an abundance of air and space, with spectacularly realistic vocals, taut bass, and extremely clean transients; in comparison, the digitally remastered vinyl here sounds thicker and blurred, and despite being similarly EQ'd and not too compressed, it eventually gets a bit fatiguing. It seems that MPO pressed the EU 3LP while an unidentified American facility (I'll assume United until/unless corrected) did the US version. My copy of the US version looks mediocre but plays quiet, and despite The People's Hall being ever so slightly off-center, the 180gm discs are thick and flat. That said, the artwork reproductions (including the original poster and inner sleeve) are grainy, and Tom Vague's new liner notes are an almost unreadable mess. For $60, the vinyl edition is a ripoff, but once the price inevitably drops, Clash completists might enjoy it.

There's also a limited edition Japanese pressing of the core album, cut in Japan (maybe from these same Tim Young remasters) and pressed on clear vinyl at the Sony DADC plant in Shizuoka. In my experience so far, the Japanese Sony plant is currently the best in the world for dead quiet vinyl, and in that regard this Combat Rock pressing doesn't disappoint. The cut is also better than the one in the US deluxe set—more realistic, more spacious, and with smoother bass. When put against the original UK it has less air and smeared sibilants, but it's a cleaner cut on quieter vinyl and therefore the absolute best you can get from a digital source (both pressings sound extremely close). The tip-on jacket uses the same mediocre artwork scans as the 3LP, though there's a replica of the original Japanese obi and information insert plus a new set of Japanese liner notes. It'll surely increase in value, so I'd recommend getting one (or two) as soon as possible. (The 8/10 sound rating is for the US 3LP set. The original UK pressing gets a 10 for sound, and the new Japanese reissue gets a 9.)

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

COMMENTS
rich d's picture

Did they restore the 2,000 Flushes commercial on 'Inoculated City'?

MalachiLui's picture

yes, the 2000 flushes advert is restored on both of these reissues, it's also there on the 2013 remaster (can't speak for the late 90s/early 00s CD)

rich d's picture

I'll probably still take your advice and spend that sixty bucks elsewhere.

As I'm an old @#*! now, I was able to the Clash and the Who on the same bill 40 years ago when I was a very young @#*!. Damn what a show.

Montpier's picture

Hey Malachi - your writing has really improved. The background factoids don't feel cobbled together from Google and your critique of music, sound quality and alternative pressings flows nicely.

Your value-for-money comments are spot on.

As I recall Sandinista (maybe just import which came out before US release?) was ridiculously cheap for a 3 LP set -- though arguably might have been an even better value if the band had to trimmed it down to 2 discs. Of course CBS/Sony would have eventually added the third disc for a later anniversary reissue so maybe it wasn't too bad after all?

MalachiLui's picture

reason it was so cheap is because the clash sacrificed royalties on the first i think 200k UK copies and agreed to a 50% cut on royalties from other territories so they could price a 3LP set as a 2LP set. that said, i think that record was so focused on "value for money" that it forgot about "quality over quantity" (i have an original UK pressing).

rich d's picture

Every Clash album would have benefited from a dash of brevity. Certainly 'Cut the Crap' would have made a good single rather than an LP. on the other hand, one could level the same charge against a great many groups whose music never scaled the heights achieved by the Clash.

MalachiLui's picture

don't talk shit about 'cut the crap,' it's really a solid record despite the laughably amateurish production!

audiotom's picture

I am so glad that you lived through this period and experienced all of it first hand

This album may have been “Give Em Enough Vinyl” but your”insight” on the band’s trauma or having not released another London Calling…. I digress

MalachiLui's picture

hope you're being sarcastic lmao

Anton D's picture

You can only understand it if you were living in mom’s basement at the time.

Tom L's picture

It seems idiotic to blame someone for when they were born...makes no sense whatsoever.

rich d's picture

"Don't talk shit about Cut the Crap" may be the best piece of music criticism ever. If you ever write a book you've already got your title.

I plan to quote you regularly, maybe with attribution maybe not.

Glotz's picture

This is great info on The People's Hall. I'll have to search it out when it gets disco'd online...

Hackmartian's picture

THANK YOU for going deeper than a discussion of the sound quality and taking this release to task for the quality of the packaging, the notes, the A&R, and sequencing. This stuff all matters and too often these issues are overlooked by reviewers who just want to talk about the original album and the quality of the pressing, ignoring everything else we're being charged for or relegating it to a short mention. Conversely, I hope this is the new direction for discussing packages like this and AP will go out of its way to praise the work of the reissue producers where appropriate.

Lemon Curry's picture

Firstly, this is a well-written, informative review. Keep up the good work!

As far as Rat Patrol, however, imho they made the right decision. Rat Patrol is not another Sandinista, it is a rambling journey through a lot of B sides, which is where some of these tracks ended up. They didn't light the world on fire.

But the big question for me is: how compressed was this release? You handed out some decent sound rankings, but in my experience anything released in the past 10 years that says The Clash on the cover has been really compressed. The great irony being that The Only Band That Matters sounds fairly puny on a compressed release.

Any comment on compression?

MalachiLui's picture

i don't think the 2013 remasters are awful, they're more compressed than the original LPs but still sound very good in digital format (the 'london calling' 2013 remaster EU vinyl also sounds solid). this 'combat rock' deluxe reissue, which as far as i can tell uses the 2013 remaster, is definitely more compressed than the original LP but not overly so. no insane peak limiting or anything like that going on here.

TokyoMatt's picture

Hey Malachi!
I just got a copy of the Japanese clear vinyl pressing.
Wow! You weren't kidding about dead quiet!
Is it the same 'Clarity Clear' vinyl formula that AS/QRP are using? Sure looks and sounds the same.
Thanks for the tip!

MalachiLui's picture

no, i don't think it's the same vinyl formation as the acoustic sounds clarity vinyl. that one is more a milky white/clear color, while the sony DADC clear vinyl is just super clear. however, i'm sure the sony clear vinyl is the purest formulation that they have, or at least close, because it is probably the quietest vinyl in the world (quieter than SRX/mofi supervinyl and clarity vinyl, and much quieter than the old JVC supervinyl).

Robcos02330's picture

And they’re right! Another great review. I’m really impressed with how you’ve grown in the past year. It seems like you walked though a door(so to speak) and came out the other side with greater command of what you want to say, how to say it-and how to handle criticism after you’re done. I just read the Stones article prior to this one. You’re going to cause me to spend money more money than I intend if this keeps up. Slow it down a bit. :)

dial's picture

I'm less enthusiastic about the remastering which brings absolutely NOTHING to the vintage CD or vinyl version. The compilation will perhaps be listened to once. This music has aged very badly like everything that follows fashion.

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