Monday, June 2, 2008
The Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg.
The year was 1981, and The Clash were on a roll, but already some cracks were appearing in the verneer. Tensions in the band were beginning to wear the band down as well as drummer Topper Headon's 100 pound a day heroin habit. The good news was that even though their three album set SANDINISTA! was greeted with mixed reviews, they had finally broke wide open in the U.S. after a triumphant series of sold out shows at Bonds Theater in NYC (which resulted in Beatlemania type riots) and with release of THE MAGNIFICIENT SEVEN single, which dominated R&B airwaves earlier that Summer. Their time in New York allowed them to fully embrace the influence of the newly emerging hip hop culture, and as a result they quickly recorded and released "This Is Radio Clash" with a video for MTV chock full of footage from the Bonds shows, and from a Don Letts super 8 film titled THE CLASH ON BROADWAY chronicling the band's new found liason with Rap. The beginning of the decade was severely prolific and hectic for them; with five albums and nine singles already in the can, as well as what became a somewhat overbearing tour schedule.
So what did they do? They started another record of course, settling into Hendrix's Electric Ladyland Studios to lay backing tracks, and to relish in their hipness to the Manhattan Mass of Celebrity. They were also becoming fascinated, like much of America, with all things Vietnam after the release of such films as Apocalypse Now, Coming Home, and The Boys In Company C; and the release of the Michael Herr memoir DISPATCHES. Still riding on the massive influence of New York, they rarely rested; soon building up a batch of songs that promised to be yet another multi-sided release like their previous two albums. The working Title was THE RAT PATROL FROM FORT BRAGG.
The Clash then went on a short tour of Japan and southeast Asia where they were met with even more riots and positive fan response. They donned their now famous military regalia and mohawks, and returned to London to mix down the double album. The band was divided about the length of the songs, with guitarist Mick being the only one who was into the lengthy dance mixes, while the others were beginning to feel the record would end up being panned for being as bloated as SANDINISTA! Glyn Johns; who was already legendary for paring The Beatles GET BACK and The Who's LIFEHOUSE sessions down to single disc offerings (Let It Be and Who's Next) was brought in to clean up the mess. Songs were chopped in half, edited, and in some cases excluded all together. The result was what most people now know as COMBAT ROCK, an album that broke them wide open in the states and elsewhere. Soon Mick and Topper both would be sacked, and the band as we knew it would be effectively over.
Its a shame that the sessions were whittled away into what became a single record; because while The Beatles and The Who sessions really were bloated messes, THE RAT PATROL sessions were what is now looked back on as quite coherent and groundbreaking. With Joe Strummer's death, there is no possibility of a reunion of course, and with numerous compilations flooding the market; it would be wonderful if Mick Jones reasserted control of these neglected mixes and re-released this set perhaps as a DELUXE EDITION. I can't think of any other album that deserves it more.