The Clash’s Sandinista!, their fourth and penultimate studio album (let’s not talk about Cut the Crap) inspired critical rhapsodies and rose to the top of lists everywhere in 1981. When I encountered it almost ten years later as a young fan, I didn’t give it much of a chance, except for a song with the same name as my beleaguered hometown’s NBA team. In hindsight, it was my loss, but it’s also true that nearly every generation of Clash fans, including the very first, has put their finger on the band’s moment of either “selling out” or sharply declining. Maybe for me it was what a Rolling Stone review called Sandinista!’s “mainstream moves” and “studio sophistication.” Maybe it was the “whiff of grandeur” of the triple album. I think it also had to do with what Tom Snyder, in his 1981 interview with the band above, says of them in his introduction: they preferred to be identified “not so much as a Rock and Roll group but as a ‘News-giving group.’”
It was hardly news when I heard it, and I didn’t much care for topical songs anyway. But I’ve always admired Joe Strummer’s sincerity and sense of political urgency. I don’t know how seriously Strummer takes Snyder’s “News-giving” open, but he rolls with it, and the band turns on the charm offensive, alternately cuddling and abusing a teddy bear (against Snyder’s protestations), professing their sincere loyalty to their fans, and covering the host with merchandise. It’s a fun eight and half minutes. Then they do two songs, “The Magnificent Seven” (above), from Sandinista!, and “This is Radio Clash” (below), which doesn’t appear on any of their studio albums. Behind Mick Jones’ wall of amps, pioneering graffiti artist Futura 2000 spray-paints some unidentifiable words, and beneath the whole affair is what Dangerous Minds calls “an undercurrent of controlled mayhem.” This kind of TV just doesn’t happen anymore.