Song of the Week – Stay Free, The Clash

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Clash’s eponymous debut was released in the UK in 40 years ago, in April 1977. But it wasn’t released in the US until July 1979 – and that was in a modified version that replaced 5 of the original cuts with 6 different ones.

As a result, many here in the US (me included) heard their second album – Give ‘Em Enough Rope, released in November 1978 – before the more critically acclaimed The Clash. But as is often the case, the first album we are exposed to by a band becomes our lifelong favorite. Often criticized for its “sanitized” production by American Sandy Pearlman who had previously worked with Blue Oyster Cult, GEER sounded good to me then and still does today.

Today’s SotW is “Stay Free.”

When I first hear “Stay Free” back in ’78 I thought it might be a song about the childhood relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon. That was way off base, but you can’t blame me for heading in that direction since “Stay Free” is the Clash’s most Beatle-y song.

It turns out this Mick Jones song is actually about his childhood schoolmate, Robin Banks. They became lifelong friends after getting sent to the headmaster after having an argument in class over who was better, Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. The headmaster was so spitting mad that his jacket lapel ended up with gob on it. That hilarious situation and their mutual disdain for authority figures bonded their friendship.

Mick wrote the tribute to his old buddy when Robin was locked up for bank robbery.

He covers their childhood:

We met when we were in school
Never took no shit from no one, we weren’t fools
The teacher says we’re dumb
We’re only having fun
We piss on everyone
In the classroom

The bank robbery and related incarceration:

I practiced daily in my room
You were down the crown planning your next move
Go on a nicking spree
Hit the wrong guy
Each of you get three
Years in Brixton

It ends with a poignant love letter:

‘Cause years have passed and things have changed
And I move anyway I want to go
I’ll never forget the feeling I got
When I heard that you’d got home
An’ I’ll never forget the smile on my face
‘Cause I knew where you would be
An’ if you’re in the crown tonight
Have a drink on me
But go easy…step lightly…stay free

Then Jones rips into a guitar solo that captures the spirit of the young boys’ wilder days. It’s a beautiful thing!

Enjoy… until next week.

4 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Stay Free, The Clash

  1. One of my favorite Clash songs. I wrote a screenplay back in my screenplay writing days using the title, trying to get at the way high school friends change their clothes as they get older, but also keep that bond between them. Thanks for calling up the memory.

  2. I got the first English album shortly after it came out. Those were the days of jumping on every debut album of any of the “big” punk bands because it took a good while before anyone had anything but singles. All the English stuff was Import only. (Was thinking recently how “imports” was a kind of fun thing – certainly important to me – that kids of today know nothing about.)

    Mentioned many times before here, both versions of the Clash debut are essentials.

    Got the second one probably days after it was released. The first three songs knocked me over upon first listen, but the rest of the album is kinda hit and miss.

    Thought “Stay Free” was quite wimpy and still feel that way (one of the misses). Always thought it should’ve been an a jingle for maxipads.

    Just realized today I never bought “Rope” on CD and, of course, I sold my album with all the others. Will have to remedy that soon.

    Have always been a little contrarian on The Clash because they’re always the safe go-to choice as favorite punk band for those who don’t know or like punk all that much.

  3. I agree it’s not a great album, but Safe European Home is worth the price alone – everything that was great about them is there in spades, and when the talk turns to all-time intros I can’t think of better.

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