Following 1980’s triple LP Sandinista!, The Clash headed into the 1981 studio to record what was to eventually become their 1982 album Combat Rock. Before it became a single LP, it was initially a double album. Produced and mixed by Clash guitarist Mick Jones, Combat Rock was originally titled Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg and was intended to be a sixteen track double album release. Rat Patrol featured lengthier versions of songs and a multitude of sound effects on the songs. After much disagreement about the mix from band members, producer Glyn Johns, who had done work with The Who and The Beatles, was brought in to cut the album down to a single LP and strengthen up the songs. Several parts were re-recorded, mostly vocals, sound effects were removed and songs were edited down due to their length. Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg has been available in bootleg form for some time now, but was initially mixed down to acetates back in 1981. Combat Rock and Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg share many similarities, but also many differences.
Rat Patrol initially started off with two tracks that never made the final cut on Combat Rock “The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too” and “Idle In Kangaroo Court (Kill Time)”. The first track featured pre-dominantly synthesizers and funky rhythms, while lyrically it conveyed an anti-drug message about a rock and roll singer that plays out like a scene in a movie. The lyrics “You thought you were the hero/Of "The Fulham Connection 2"/Yeah, the flashing strip/You flashed your jewels/But now: the credits/It must roll through” and “Oh, the beautiful people are ugly too/There's going to be a lot of washing when the dance is through” emphasize these points. “Idle In Kangaroo Court (Kill Time)” brings in Caribbean sounding drums and flavours, while short stabbing guitars filter in and out through this Funk driven track. It then leads into what was to become a chart topping hit for the band much later on after its release “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”. This was as Mick Jones has stated in interviews not to have any specific meaning behind it, but just an attempt at writing a classic song. The original version found on Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg, featured a different vocal take and a saxophone solo. The Combat Rock Version featured different vocals, added fuzz bass to the mix and shortened up Strummer’s Spanish vocal parts, which are more prevalent on the original version.
“Know Your Rights” started off the 1982 album Combat Rock in a pseudo-Rockabilly style as Joe Strummer ranted and raved, starting off with the lyrics ”This is a public service announcement with guitars”. It was said to be a sarcastic take on three essential rights. The Combat Rock version is a much stronger lean version than the original Rat Patrol version, which was more laid back, longer and featured different lyrics. “Car Jamming” was the second song on Combat Rock, but also made a slightly different appearance on Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg, featuring several car sound effects. This song featured a Bo Diddley style drum beat, while combining with The Clash’s stop and start guitar riffing, lyrically the song, like many on the album address the reactions to the Vietnam War. This song tells the story a soldier that returns home after the war and has a hard time adjusting to home life.
The songs that make up Combat Rock, and even on Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg often times play out like movies, lyrically and musically. The music was very influenced by the films Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver. In 2004’s Passion Is A Fashion, author Pat Gilbert had this to say of Combat Rock, commenting on its anti-war stance saying that it was “The Clash’s last great statement, and maybe their most important. …Its two fixations, New York and Vietnam, conjoin to produce a damning indictment of American foreign policy and an exuberant celebration of American street culture.”
Songs such as “Red Angel Dragnet” featured bassist Paul Simonon on vocals and Kosmo Vinyl, the bands associate and road manager in a few instances. It was also definitely influenced by New York street culture and also by the film Taxi Driver, Kosmo even reads a monologue for Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle character. “Ghetto Defendant” is a heavy and spooky dub reggae styled track with harmonica and also features American beat poet Allan Ginsberg. The song once again addresses street culture in particular drawing in apocalyptic imagery and lyrics about drug addiction. These two tracks are not too much different on Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg from Combat Rock. The Combat Rock versions of these tracks just shorten them up so they are not as long.
“Rock The Casbah” would be one of the big hit singles from this album, one that earned them more recognition from mainstream audiences. The song was written by Clash drummer Topper Headon, who plays bass, drums and piano on this track. The songs lyrics were written by Joe Strummer, who wrote the opening line The King told the boogie-men 'you have to let that raga drop”, after their manger Bernie Rhodes said “Does everything have to be as long as a raga? The rest of the lyrics soon followed. Ironically, this song that was written by the drummer was one of their biggest hits at the time, but he was soon sacked for drug related issues as the single was beginning to pick up. It was the beginning of the end for The Clash. Another song of note that is important to mention is “Straight To Hell” a song that specifically addressed numerous issues including the “Amerasian Blues”, which was the abandonment of children fathered by American soldiers in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The song musically had ties to the Boss Nova beat supplied by drummer Topper Headon and is often viewed as a strong point in the band’s catalogue.
As a whole, Combat Rock stands up as a lean and for the most part straight to the point album musically and lyrically, it also showcased The Clash's ability to reach a wider audience. Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg is looser and draws in more instrumental aspects. Like all Clash albums, they all had something different to offer than the previous release. The influences such as Punk, Funk, Reggae, Dub, Hip Hop and elements of Jazz are all over this album and come off in an aggressive nature. In 1991, approximately a decade after its 1982 release “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” became a number one hit single in the UK, proving its sustainability. Combat Rock lived up to its title, the conflicts amongst the band members and the songs would both result in their success and eventual split. Rat Patrol From Fort Brag seems to travel greater lengths to get its point across, featuring more songs, while Combat Rock arrives quicker creating more of a sense of immediacy.
The Play List:
1. The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
2. Idle In Kangaroo Court (Kill Time) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
3. Know Your Rights (Combat Rock)
4. Know Your Rights (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
5. Car Jamming (Combat Rock)
6. Over Powered By Funk (Combat Rock)
7. Should I Stay Or Should I Go (Alternate Version) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
8. Rock The Casbah (w/Rankin Rodger) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
9. Red Angel Dragnet (Instrumental Version) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
10. Red Angel Dragnet (w/Rankin Rodger) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
11. Red Angel Dragnet (Combat Rock)
12. Ghetto Defendant (Extended Version) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
13. Walk Evil Talk (Instrumental)(Outtake) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
14. Death Is A Star (Combat Rock)
15. Atom Tan (Combat Rock)
16. Innoculated City (Combat Rock)
17. Sean Flynn (Extended Version) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
18. Innoculated City (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
19. Cool Confusion (Instrumental 2) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
20. Cool Confusion (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg/Should I Stay Or Should I Go 1983 single)
21. First Night Back In London (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg/Know Your Rights 1982 single)
22. Straight To Hell (Extended Version) (Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg)
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