Mick Jones | I Turned Out a Punk

The guitarist and founding member of one of the most important and influential bands of the rock era recently turned 67. To celebrate, The Press compiles Mick Jones’ best songs with The Clash.

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The late Joe Strummer may have been the heart and soul of The Clash, but lead guitarist, co-singer and co-songwriter Mick Jones always tempered Strummer’s rough edges, in turn softening and broadening the band’s sound and appeal.

A teen-tearaway who used to sneak into Mott the Hoople shows, Jones assembled The Clash in 1976, recruiting bassist Paul Simonon, a passionate reggae fan, and Strummer, the magnetic frontman of local London pub rock band the 101ers, originally playing seedy London punk clubs before eventually adding excellent drummer Topper Headon. When the opening chords of their debut single “White Riot” in March 1977 announced a dangerous new London band was on the scene, the classic line-up was complete.

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The British group, via their first album THE CLASH (1977) ★★★★★, took the anger and frustration of the country’s working class youth of the 1970s and gave it universal meaning, striking a chord that echoed in the minds of young people around the world. The music was angry and message-laden rock, played fast and furiously with a treble-heavy mix that has aged very well, and their appeal is now broader than ever.

With albums like the strong sophomore effort GIVE ‘EM ENOUGH ROPE (1978) ★★★★, and more so with their rightly exalted creative apex LONDON CALLING (1979) ★★★★★, The Clash possessed a rare songwriting tension between Strummer and Jones, and a relentless driving energy in the studio and on stage, not to mention their formidable songwriting partnership, and contrasting vocal styles as highlighted on duets like Rudy Can’t Fail.

Strummer was the lead singer and main lyricist in The Clash, but Jones’ musical and songwriting contributions can’t be denied. With an immaculate ear for melody and strong hooks, and a penchant for blistering rock ‘n roll, the guitarist’s input was exceptional time after time across five albums and countless singles, compilations, and EP’s, and with Joe, created the perfect balance within this legendary group. And he has some great hats.

Throw in punchy guitar bursts, an electrifying stage presence, strong musicianship, lyrics that never took the easy path to getting their point across, and as highlighted on the triple sprawl of SANDINISTA (1980) ★★★½, an insatiable appetite for multiple stylings including reggae, dub-punk, rap or pop (Charlie Don’t Surf) – what you get is a band that deserves to be in the upper echelon of the best of the era.

Before their next album appeared, COMBAT ROCK (1982) ★★★★, Headon abruptly departed the group, replaced by original drummer Terry Chimes, and while the album would become the band’s biggest seller, particularly in the USA, it was on the accompanying headline tour where cracks were beginning to show. 

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They had achieved the status of a world-renowned rock phenomena both critically and commercially, but uneasy feelings, internal tensions and flagging enthusiasm would eventually send Mick Jones packing less than a year later.

Our hero’s departure from The Clash had a corrosive effect on the band’s creativity to say the least, which soon became evident on 1985’s roundly derided CUT THE CRAP ★, before Strummer would disband The Clash for good. 

While their career was short lived, they were always respected by the hardcore scenesters and equally by the dabblers, earning the slogan “The only band that matters”, but they famously railed against classic-rock hero worship, in turn redesigning rock history in their own impeccable image. 

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Mick came up smiling, assembling a new group called Big Audio Dynamite (BAD) with Don Letts, whose debut album went on to become a best-seller in 1986. Arguably the member who stayed the busiest after the breakup, Mick went on to form new bands and become a much sought-after producer who has collaborated with Simonon on the Gorillaz’ 2010 release, Plastic Beach, and more recently with Flaming Lips and The Avalanches. 

The Clash – I Turned Out a Punk: The Best of Mick Jones mp3

Somebody Got Murdered One of the best tracks off Sandinista! Sung and written by Mick although Joe Strummer wrote the words and does the spoken word section: Joe Strummer: “We got a phone call from Jack Nitzsche and he said ‘We need a heavy rock number for this movie with Al Pacino’ so I said OK. I went home and there was this guy in a pool of blood out by the car parking kiosk. That night I wrote the lyric. I gave it to Mick and he wrote the tune. We recorded it and Jack Nitzsche never called back.”

Stay Free – One of Mick’s best, and a live favourite, Stay Free was recorded in 1978 in London’s Basing Street studios (aka Sarm West Studios) for the Give ‘Em Enough Rope album. 

Lost in the Supermarket On this highlight from the timeless London Calling album, Joe wrote the lyrics and it includes personal references to his own life growing up in a suburban middle-class family. Mick wrote the music and sings lead. Rarely played live.

I’m Not Down – An underrated catchy classic buried on side 4 of London Calling, this one was written and sung my Mick.

Atom Tan – A lovely little call and response number filled with apocalyptic humour, this is one of the many stylistic variations on Combat Rock. Co-sung/written by Joe and Mick. 

Should I Stay Or Should I Go – Mick’s timeless classic from Combat Rock, this great rockin’ song was released in 1982 as a double A-side single alongside the magnificent Straight to Hell and re-released in 1991 topping the UK singles chart.

The Card Cheat – Recorded late in the London Calling sessions, Mick double-tracked just about everything, creating a Phil Spector-style ‘wall of sound’, a ‘Be My Baby’ beat, and a blistering horn section. The song was never performed live.  

1-2 Crush On You B-side to 1978 single Tommy Gun, written by Mick and the first song Joe attempted to play with his new musical allies during the very first Clash rehearsals. Of greater interest for displaying what the Clash might have sounded like had they not discovered politics.

Train in Vain – The final song on, and the last to be recorded for, London Calling. Originally not listed on the LC sleeve, it was the third and final single from the album, and the first Clash song to reach the United States Top 30. 

Jail Guitar Doors – B-side to the band’s fourth single Clash City Rockers, and  both songs were included on the US release of their self-titled album in 1979. The song takes cues from the New York Dolls’ as well as David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel.

Up in Heaven (Not Only Here) – Anchored by a soaring Mick Jones guitar hook, this great track is off Sandinista! with angry, despairing lyrics written by Joe Strummer. 

Police on My Back – This cover is an intense burst of energy with superb drum work from Topper Headon. Originally written by Eddy Grant and performed by The Equals in 1967, this powerful rocker opens with Mick’s guitar duplicating the sound of a siren and off the occasionally brilliant Sandinista! 

Gates of the West – This obscurity came off the excellent The Cost of Living EP released in 1979, something of a transition release before the landmark London Calling LP, lyrically about their first encounter with the USA.

I should be jumpin’ shoutin’ that I made it all this way
From Camden Town station to Fortieth and Eighth
Not many make it this far and many say we’re great
But just like them we walk on an’ we can’t escape our fate

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This entry was posted in Clash, The, Downloads, Mick Jones, Mixtapes, On This Day. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Mick Jones | I Turned Out a Punk

  1. My youngest likes the Clash. So far she only has Combat Rock on vinyl and CD actually.

  2. 00individual says:

    Sandinista! “Charlie Don’t Surf” need that one on an hour long loop – and Big Audio Dynamite debut LP with important movies of the time referenced – every track excellent – and addictive!

  3. Aphoristical says:

    Is that all of Jones’ lead vocals for The Clash. ‘The Card Cheat’ has always been a favourite.

  4. manvmusic says:

    Prolific as ever, The Clash. Fantastic write-up, sir!

  5. I revisit Mick and the boys often.

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