Dubbed by their fans "the only band that mattered," the Clash were a punk rock group that extended the style of their chosen form to a prodigious extent. They were one of the most influential bands of the last thirty years.
Comprised of Joe Strummer (vocals, guitar), Mick Jones (vocals, guitar), Paul Simonon (bass), and Topper Headon (drums), the Clash formed in London in 1976 during the first wave of British punk. The Clash were at first a straight-forward act, notable only for a strident leftist political outlook. They got their start opening for The Sex Pistols in 1976, and were soon signed to CBS Records. In 1977 they released their first single ("White Riot") and first album ("The Clash") to considerable success in the UK, though their label declined to release either in the United States.
This was a pattern that would repeat itself for some time. Their next album "Give 'Em Enough Rope" was released in 1978 and debuted at number two on the British charts, but failed to crack the top 100 in the United States.
In response, the Clash went on their first tour of the United States, and their first album was released there at more or less the same time.
The band's critical and commercial breakthrough came with "London Calling", a double album released in December 1979. Besides straight-forward punk it featured a much wider array of styles than the Clash's earlier albums, including American-style rockabilly and reggae-tinged works that prefigured the impending Ska movement in Britain. The album is rightly considered a landmark, and tracks such as "Train in Vain," "Clampdown," and "London Calling" show up with regularity on rock stations to this day.
Amazingly, the Clash tried to follow up with a triple album, entitled "Sandanista!" The results were mixed, as the band expanded their experimentation with other musical styles to things as far afield as children's choirs and southern gospel. Fans were confused and sales were down, though they were better in the United States than before.
After that album, the Clash began to slowly disintegrate. Topper Headon left first, battling drug abuse. The two key members, Strummer and Jones, began to feud. The effects of this were not apparent externally at first, as The Clash returned in 1983 with the best-selling of all their albums, "Combat Rock." Featuring the singles "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" it broke into the American Top Ten, and did the same in the UK.
Despite the success, The Clash had nearly reached the end of the line. Strummer ousted Mick Jones from the band towards the end of the year (Jones went on to found Big Audio Dynamite). With a new lineup, The Clash released their last album in 1985. Its unfortunate title "Cut the Crap" supplied an obvious opening to displeased critics and fans, and the album did poorly. The remaining two original members officially disbanded the Clash in 1986.