Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

It’s A Topper

The whole of The Clash‘s Sandinista! might be almost too much to take for the first 40 years of listening, but one day you’ll wake up and it’ll all make perfect sense. It’s an exhaustive listen, a triple album that cliché would have you believe would be better off trimmed to a double, but it’s great precisely because it’s so sprawling and genre-hopping: dub reggae, punk rock, soul, rockabilly, whacked-out proto hip-hop, stadium-sized riffage, Clashified covers of Mose Allison, the Equals and The Clash themselves (how meta, the hipsters might say today)…. you name it, Sandinista! has it all.

Side 1 of 6 sets the entire stall out, spinning wildly through the perennially groovy Magnificent Seven and the take-it-to-church Supremes stomp of Hitsville U.K. via Junco Partner‘s head-nodding roots reggae before alighting on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe.

Ivan… comes at you like a rush of hot dusty, musty air from out of the westbound tunnel at Ladbroke Grove underground station, a clattering, echoing, rattling racket that arrives suddenly, hangs about for a prime-time 3 minutes then rushes off again, a blown-up trail of what the fuck was that? left in its wake. Four songs in and The Clash have merged more ideas and genres than most bands would dare to tackle in a lifetime.

The ClashIvan Meets G.I. Joe

A fantastically-arranged track and surely a blueprint for the future Rock The Casbah, Ivan Meets G.I. Joe is a Cold War dance-off that predates Frankie’s Two Tribes by a good three and a half years. Where Frankie revelled in the fight, The Clash suggest the two superpowers might be better off hitting the dancefloor than one another. The entire track is smothered in added bleeps and whooshes, Howitzer explosions and rapid-fire machine gun fire. It’s certainly dance music Jim, just not as we know it.

Joe Strummer may have written the vast majority of the words, but it’s the drummer that this track really belongs to. Arranged by Topper Headon, he incorporates pounding piano, a juddering brass section and a tight-but-loose disco drum beat that showcases his talents. In concert, the track afforded Topper his Ringo moment, the spotlight leaving the other three to jump about in the shadows for the duration. Y’can say what y’like about Topper, but you won’t hear many bad words about Ivan Meets G.I. Joe.

Forever principled, The Clash eschewed individual songwriting credits on Sandinista! Lower royalty payments would allow them to sell the album at a fan-friendly price and despite pressure from those at CBS, they were adamant that the entirety of the album they’d presented would be the album that was released. Turning money into rebellion (!) they gave up all royalties on the first 200,000 copies sold, enabling the six sided album to be sold for not much more than the price of a standard LP. Can you imagine any act suggesting this nowadays?! (Can you imagine (m)any acts selling 200,000 albums nowadays?)

My copy of Sandinista! came from a second-hand record shop in Liverpool. A victim of the punk wars, its sleeve had seen better days, but the three records (and the copy of the Armagideon Times inside) were in amazingly well-preserved condition. For the price of a medium Costa, it was rescued and rehoused and won’t be going anywhere other than my turntable ever again. Like all the best albums, every time it plays, it throws up something new. I’m sure you knew that already though.

 

7 thoughts on “It’s A Topper”

  1. Mista Callsta!
    Superb words Good Sir, as always. I usually find it difficult to speak to people about ‘Sandinista’ because of it’s sprawlingness (is that a word?). There’s a lot to digest about the Clash from a 2020 perspective (especially for 20 somethings, are they the same as Pink Floyd, just a logo?). I’m 59 and The Clash were/are for me ‘the only band that mattered’ in so many ways. They were/are truly life changing, and I really hope that Gee/ Callum/Erin get to experience something as powerful in their lives. Sandinista is/was a behemoth and, as Joe himself say’s in Don Letts doc “I wouldn’t change it”. “WakAttack”. Ivan Meets GI Joe, indeed. I think the reason I love The Clash so much is the same reason I love Bruce, Elton, Wilko, because I would (very) happily go for a pint with any of ’em just to drunkenly discuss ‘music’ – blues, Motown, Guns Of Brixton, Rock, Jamaica, C&W, Mahalia Jackson, such a list of types of music ……. but, again as Joe says “Go to New York, and take New York, that is great!”

  2. Thanks Rik. I’d give anything to have been the right age for punk. The kicking down of barriers and breaking of rules – as The Clash did on Sandinista! – would have been great to experience first-hand.

    Sent from my ayePhone

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  3. A truly great album, there’s so much in it and I’m still finding new things to enjoy even now. I even like side 6. Although Ivan Meets GI Joe is one of my less favourite songs tbh

  4. On December 12th 1980 I was laid low with a nasty case of the mumps – eating, drinking and even breathing with considerable difficulty. In the evening, my best mate unexpectedly knocked at my parents’ front door and we stood for a moment, one of us at each end of the hall, about 10 feet apart. I was in no condition to hold a conversation, so few words were exchanged and I was puzzled as to why he’d chosen to put his health on the line to visit me when he could’ve just picked up the phone to find out how I was. He reached into his backpack, pulled out a record in a carrier bag, crouched down and slid it along the floor, the length of the hall. ‘I thought you’d want this, however rough you’re feeling’, he said. I picked it up and took the record from the bag. He was right. It was ‘Sandinista’ by The Clash, which had been released that very day. A brief nod of gratitude was all I could muster in my fevered state. He turned, opened the front door and was gone.

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