The Day The Clash Hit The Top

(Gibson) On this day in 1991, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" gave The Clash their only U.K. no. 1 single after the track was used for a Levi's TV advertisement. The track was first released in 1982 from their Combat Rock album. Gibson takes a look back:

Although it's common for groundbreaking bands to gain more appreciation long after they've made their mark, it doesn't often happen that they have their biggest hit a few years after their breakup. But that's exactly what happened to The Clash on this day in 1991.

Part of the original first wave of British punk in the late '70s, The Clash progressed as artists and musicians at warp speed. Like a lot of punk acts, they quickly brought in reggae elements but Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon continued to explore other music styles from Jamaica, such as dub and ska. In a few short years, they had brought together a menagerie of musical styles (rockabilly, punk, folk, reggae, rock, R&B, dub, pop and even hip-hop), and expertly hopped between genres on albums such as 1979's London Calling and 1980's Sandinista!

Although the boys continued to push boundaries on 1982's Combat Rock, the record also included some of The Clash's most radio-friendly material. The heavy-handed "Should I Stay or Should I Go" and the danceable "Rock the Casbah" were each worldwide hits, especially the latter, which hit the Top 10 in the U.S. and Australia. Yet, in the long term, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" would end up becoming a signature song for the band and their only chart-topper.

"Should I Stay or Should I Go" was written by guitarist Mick Jones, who also sang lead vocals on the song (something he did from time to time on Clash recordings), moving frontman Joe Strummer to backing vocals. While many fans have assumed the song is about Jones impending split with The Clash (he was "dismissed" in 1983), the guitarist wrote the song about his troubled relationship with singer Ellen Foley, known for her work with Meat Loaf.

Strummer might have been forced into the background on this tune, but he added an interesting touch singing in Spanish. "On the spur of the moment I said 'I'm going to do the backing vocals in Spanish,'" he remembered later. "We needed a translator so Eddie Garcia, the tape operator, called his mother in Brooklyn Heights and read her the lyrics over the phone and she translated them. But Eddie and his mum are Ecuadorian, so it's Ecuadorian Spanish that me and Joe Ely are singing on the backing vocals."

With its distinctive riff, indecisive lyrics and Spanish backing vocals, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" did very well in the U.K. (where it rose to #17) and the U.S. (where it became The Clash's second charting single). It's easy to understand why it became a concert staple during the band's tours to support Combat Rock. more on this story

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