Greatest Song At This Moment - The Clash's "Guns On The Roof"



Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Beck's "Truckdrivin' Neighbors," Black Sabbath's "N.I.B.," and David Bowie's "Starman."


To a committed and semi-professional ranker of the arts, it is exceedingly helpful when the stars align, ships right themselves, and the collective music-loving world just up and agrees about where exactly to rank an album from a seminal group. So much has been written about London Calling that its rank as the Clash's best could be questioned through simple overexposure. On the other hand, the first album remains one of the most ferocious early punk records... and everyone knows it already. Debate will rage for decades after we've left this plane as to which is the one true best, and I welcome that debate. Fortunately however, this debate has caused the natural settling of Give 'Em Enough Rope as the third best Clash album. Not quite as thoroughly bombastic as the preceding or as ambitious as the proceeding, this sophomore album serves as an instant debate stopper. We can all agree we like it, and that's that.

Modern day revisionists are always on the prowl for that overlooked album to build up into a diamond everyone seemed to miss. Sgt. Peppers gave way to Abbey Road which gave way to Revolver as the top Beatles album. The modern chic' of diamond-in-the-rough rock writing has as much to do with looking cool as it does with finding a record from a big band that hasn't been covered to death. The 33 1/3's books by Continuum serve as a template for this kind of hyper-cool, just-off-the-norm style of writing. Of the 50-plus major artists they've covered, there are perhaps only two obvious choices (those being The Stone Roses first album, which honestly if you were gonna write about the band what else would you pick, and Led Zeppelin's fourth album. Okay, Highway 61 Revisited seems a little obvious, but you see my point). Nearly every other choice is up for debate and I'm convinced that the combination of self-aware cool and need for word count can be the only reason why someone would write about Use Your Illusion I and II when Appetite For Destruction is, well, Appetite for Destruction!

By that turn, Give 'Em Enough Rope is probably due for a revisionist revival, as it has all the appropriate characteristics (few of the group's most famous songs, "middle child" album, etc.), and based on my latest obsession with "Guns on the Roof," I can picture the future very clearly. In fact, if you're considering writing the 33 1/3 book on The Clash and you need convincing that Rope would be the most underground, cool choice, consider the fact that I can't find a homemade YouTube video of "Guns on the Roof" to accompany this article. No live Clash footage, no single camera shot of a spinning '45, not even short with the song playing over clips of 24 as a tribute to Jack Bauer. Nothing. It's ripe for the plucking.

And as for all the talk of "old punk was only three chords," I have found that to be a muddy rule. It was MOSTLY only three chords, with a fourth and sometimes fifth thrown in at the bridge. So to hear a song like "Guns on the Roof" where it's not only exactly three chords through the entire song, but the same pattern of those three chords and it still sounds as big and explosive as any song has, I have new respect for E-D-A. And while I know many songs based on fewer chords, it feels like more is done with these particular three than with any greater number. As a rule, I don't actively do homework for songs or movies (at least when concerning the message of the piece), but where the Clash really get to do the socialist dirty work is in making such a catchy hook so that any dumb-ass like myself will, unconsciously, start chanting "Guns! Guns! Guns on the Roof!" Most of the time I can't understand Strummer's heavily accented lyrics in the moment, and it sometimes put me off (this is a great reason why I rank London Calling lower than The Clash in my personal list). But on this song, that accent not only works and serves some strange purpose; it adds the necessary difference to distract us from E-D-A land. I can't tell you if Brits refer to Europe as "Eu-rope-ah," but it sure sounds great in the context of the song.

"Guns on the Roof" (and much of the more successful tracks on Rope) also serves as a swing point for the band getting not just more experimental but transforming from garage band to cinematic, anthemic giant garage band. It's not that "Janie Jones" wouldn't rock a sold-out theater, but the build and tension of "Guns" is, in a single trite word, powerful. By the time they've seemingly switched up E-D-A as much as you could imagine, and after the spoken-word "Eu-rop-ah" bridge section, they return to the opening riff to wrap up the song with the chorus we cannot help but shout back. By the end, we've been whipped into frenzy and we're all ready to not just sign petitions but to tear down the walls around us.

Now I'm off to read a blog about why Parade is Prince's finest official release.

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Greatest Song At This Moment - The Clash's "Guns On The Roof"