Big Audio Dynamite are better than The Clash. Yes, you read that correctly. Take a moment to catch your breath, because I know that sentence is a battle cry. I could put the word “better” in quotes, because art is subjective, right? I could say I LIKE Big Audio Dynamite more than The Clash without saying B.A.D. is BETTER, right? I could say it’s my opinion. But I won’t say that (and not only because this is written). I simply think Big Audio Dynamite is the superior, more original and groundbreaking group.
This is a controversial stand, especially among people my age, and people a bit older than me who really love The Clash. (Or even just like the three or four songs they know.) I realize The Clash is more “important” in the way that bands are “important,” in the grand scheme of things. Sure, life would suck without bands, but without stuff like water, we’d be REALLY screwed. So, yeah. I realize the relative importance of The Clash to music lovers, old guard hipsters and the current artisan generation that demands hand-pulled mozzarella. But I also realize they were kind of boring, churning out well-meaning rockers that were above average for the first years of their career, but only turning truly interesting once they started to broaden their musical horizons. It’s ironic (or predictable and fitting?) that the infighting and tension between the members of the band would cause their break up, but also produce their most truly enjoyable music.
“Sandinista” is unimpeachable, but some of it is preachy, self-righteous, corny, and the whole affair is half a side too long. “Combat Rock,” however, is their unfairly slagged-off masterpiece. I LOVE “Combat Rock,” truly LOVE it, not only because it’s a collection of fantastic ideas and songs, but because it’s the blueprint for Big Audio Dynamite. A blueprint which was largely influential without many people seeming to notice. In the same way that post punk is far more interesting and nuanced than punk, Combat Rock goes places the early Clash canon didn’t: weird samples of TV commercials, copious funky beats bearing the influence of nascent hip-hop and the flavor of recording in New York, kooky reggae (with the weird samples over it), and more weird samples.
Okay, maybe The Clash were smoking buckets of weed, but the musical experimentation on “Combat Rock” comes through loudly and clearly (or perhaps hazily through a ganja haze?), as they pushed their music into unexplored territories. Which led directly to B.A.D. in ’85, and their amazing blend of rap and rock, which came before Aerosmith and Run-DMC hooked up, before the Red Hot Chili Peppers put socks on their wangs, before Public Enemy (who were one of the first hip-hop BANDS I can recall) and before all white kids wanted to be black. B.A.D. were ahead of the curve in a way that The Clash were not, as The Clash were a part of the punk curve.
B.A.D. is superior because they are they pure essence of what music is about: SOUNDS, NONSENSE, FEELING and FUN. I may like your band, but don’t tell me how to vote, or try to prove you’re more political than I am and you know the way to the truth. You don’t. You are a drunk or high musician, (probably both), with a shaky, tentative, ill-informed grasp of current foreign policy that’s as oblivious as mine typically is. The difference is, you want to change the world with your music and you’re frustrated because that’s never happened, EVER. And I don’t mean that in a bitter, negative way. I mean that in a helpful, realistic way. If a Republican president getting shot in the 80′s couldn’t somehow convince his NRA loving base that we need gun control, or a worldwide concert for African famine couldn’t make a dent in curbing poverty, did The Clash really think “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” would convince blacks and whites in the UK to get along after years and years of institutionalized racism? Maybe they didn’t think that, but it doesn’t matter anyway, ’cause it certainly wouldn’t have.
Now would be a great time to point out that NO ONE EVER AGREES WITH ME, YET I AM RIGHT. This incendiary opinion always makes me feel like a woman in a 70′s horror film who can’t convince the town/police/her husband that someone or something is after her. They only believe her after some major damage has been done and lives have been taken. But let’s not go down that road. Instead:
HOW I KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE:
1. I still listen to B.A.D. Their music sounds very fresh and relevant to this day. Their album “Megatop Phoenix” has tracks that could be played at an EDM festival alongside the current dance music knob-twisters. Sometimes a Clash song will come onto my ipod and it will get the old skiparoo, but I listen all the way through the B.A.D. ones and thoroughly enjoy them.
—Well, there’s no “2.” 1. is it, really. I understand it’s not a great collection of evidence and wouldn’t hold up in music court. But I FEEL a track like “Kool-Aid/In My Dreams” from “The Globe” more than I ever feel Clash’s “City Rockers.” I should clarify that I don’t think any of those early Clash songs are terrible, they are clearly a landmark band in rock history, but they don’t MOVE me. And that’s what music should do. And that’s what Big Audio Dynamite does. Every damn time, in an unpredictable, non-two chord way, an unpredictability that somehow PREDICTED the last twenty-eight years of music! The Clash did not pull this off. They predicted the present, i.e., the present situation in England during their brief, explosive time. Their music sounds a quaint, noisy past, while B.A.D. still sounds like an innovative future.
(TRICKED YOU. I only get high once or twice a year, and I wrote this opinion while being totally sober. So maybe THAT’S the problem with it)