“Give ‘Em Enough Rope” by The Clash (1978)
Release Date: November 10, 1978
Produced by Sandy Pearlman
Chart Positions: #128 (US), #2 (UK), #15 (New Zealand), #36 (Sweden)
Certifications: Gold (UK)
Singles: “Tommy Gun” (UK #19)
“English Civil War” (#25 UK, #29 Ireland)
“Give ‘Em Enough Rope” is the second studio album released by the influential British punk rock band The Clash. CBS Records released it on November 10, 1978 and was their first album released in the United States. Shortly after their first studio album “The Clash” was released in the US. “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” was well received by critics and fans, peaking at #2 in the UK and #128 in the US.
The album's cover art was designed by Gene Greif, the front of which was based on a postcard titled "End of the Trail", photographed by Adrian Atwater and featuring Wallace Irving Robertson. The cover of the first US pressings showed the band's name written in block capital letters. Subsequent US pressings used a faux-oriental style font, which was then replaced with the more ornate faux-oriental style font used on the UK release. Before designing the Clash album cover Gene Greif had previously designed album covers for a variety of jazz musicians such as John McLaughlin, Lonnie Liston Smith and Woody Shaw. After his collaboration with The Clash he expanded to other punk, new wave and dance artists such as Gary’s Gang, Flash and the Pan, Nina Hagen and The B-52’s.
Sandy Pearlman, an American hard rock producer who was best known for discovering and producing Blue Oyster Cult, produced ”Give ‘Em Enough Rope.” The teaming was quite controversial within the punk community, the result was a much cleaner sounding album than The Clash’s debut, yet the more direct sound hardly tamed them.
“Give ‘Em Enough Rope” dealt primarily with political issues, terrorism, drug abuse and other contemporary subjects. "Tommy Gun" deals with Middle Eastern terrorism, specifically the hi-jacking of aircraft, while "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad" is a commentary on the infamous "Operation Julie" drug bust that saw the largest LSD production ring in the world, based in Wales, dismantled by an undercover police operation. The song also makes a reference to the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" in the opening line, "It's Lucy in the sky and all kinds of apple pie". "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad" was originally titled "Julie's in the Drug Squad", as listed on the original pressing of the album. The song's title was changed when Give 'Em Enough Rope was released on CD. "Guns on the Roof", is ostensibly about global terrorism, war and corruption, it was partly inspired by an incident that resulted in the Metropolitan Police's armed anti-terrorist squad raiding the Clash's Camden Market base. The Clash band members, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon, were arrested and charged with criminal damage (and later fined £750) for shooting racing pigeons with an air gun from the roof of their rehearsal building.
Rolling Stone Magazine described the album as being fire and brimstone with a sense of humor.
The first single release “Tommy Gun,” was The Clash's first Top 20 hit in the UK, peaking at #19, but failed to chart anywhere else in the world. The "Thompson Submachine Gun" or "Tommy Gun" for short, is the typical gun from the American prohibition era, where it was used by both the police and gangsters. A series of rapid snare drum beats by Topper Headon mimics the "rat-ta-ta-ta" sound of them, and were suggested by him during recording. It was after recording the drum tracks for "Tommy Gun" in one take each time with no mistakes that producer Sandy Pearlman labelled Headon "The Human Drum Machine." Joe Strummer said that he got the idea for the song when he was thinking about terrorists, and how they probably enjoy reading about their killings as much as movie stars like seeing their films reviewed.
The next single release was “English Civil War,” it charted at 325 in the UK and #28 in Ireland. Their sound was in the beginning stages of expanding to other parts of the world. The song is derived from an American Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", written by Irish-born Massachusetts Unionist Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, which is in turn derived from the Irish anti-war song "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye". It was popular amongst both sides of the conflict.
Having learnt the song at school, Joe Strummer suggested that the band should update it. The lyrics, passionately delivered by Joe Strummer, discuss the band's fears about the rise of the National Front and radical, far-right-wing politics in the UK, and fears that this will cause tensions and riots on the streets. In April 1978 the song had its first live performance at a Rock Against Racism concert in Victoria Park. The song features a series of interlocking guitar parts assembled and overlaid. Oddly Mick Jones has two extravagant solos, unusual for a punk rock song in which solos and over-the-top instrumentation were profoundly shunned.
The Clash (1978)