6. “Janie Jones” by The Clash (1977)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

Is this a surprise? It’s The motherfucking Clash. It’s the only band that matters. It’s the first cut on their debut album. In both the book and the movie High Fidelity, it’s Rob’s first choice to the prompt of naming his “Top 5 Track One, Side Ones.” The chorus is:

He’s in love with rock ‘n roll, whoa
He’s in love with getting stoned, whoa
He’s in love with Janie Jones, whoa
He don’t like his boring job, no

In a nutshell it exalts the greatness of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and notes how much work sucks. That’s a balanced breakfast, my friend. Everything a growing punk rock boy needs. This song rules, and even I’m surprised there are 5 songs ahead of it. Case closed, case dismissed, goodnight London, go smoke a J, listen to this song, and fuck right off if you disagree.

More? Ok.

One of the greatest pieces of music-related advice I have ever heard is “find out who your favorite bands’ favorite bands are.” Kurt Cobain famously said “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was his attempt at making a Pixies song. I had the privilege of seeing Pixies this year for the first time and it was eye-opening listening to them and realizing that pretty much every rock band I have ever loved has stolen something from them. Similarly, I saw Descendents, the godfathers of SoCal pop punk, and after 40 years, I realized no one is going to out-punk them. They went harder and better than pretty much any punk band I’ve ever seen.

Then there’s The Clash. You can draw a line from any punk band in the history of the world and it’ll find its way back to The Clash. Just unassailably cool, trenchant, vital, and innovative, The Clash are the wellspring from which the vast, vast majority of the music I love originates. I wrote this already, but to put this in more personal terms, if I had to assign the label of “the only band that matters” to any single band in my own life, it would go to The Clash.

It’s probably here that I should talk about the Sex Pistols because they often get mentioned in the same breath as The Clash due to geographic, temporal, cultural and stylistic proximity. Let me say this unequivocally: The Sex Pistols fucking suck. I hate them. I hate everything about them. Just a fraud ass boy band assembled by a British boutique owner fronted by a soggy, dour prick with a moronic, derelict addict on bass and backed by three other inconsequential asswipes I can’t even be bothered to remember. The Sex Pistols can get all the way fucked. They released one album and lasted a grand total of three years. Hoo-fuckin-ray.

The Sex Pistols are best known for “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen” which are cutesy poo catchphrases any right-thinking American should not give even half a shit about, especially now. The Sex Pistols aren’t so much music as they are trendy boutique mannequins used to sell fashion.

The Clash, on the other hand, made banger after banger after banger and incorporated music from all over the world. Thematically the music touched on the rampant poverty and raging xenophobia that plagued England at the time, the creeping authoritarianism of the government, and they spoke up for marginalized peoples. And you can find all that if you really want to look. Hell, you could change a few details in the lyrics of The Clash, and you’d be talking about the worsening income inequality, the raging xenophobia, the fascist fetishism of a certain sect of American political ideology and the continued shitty treatment of marginalized people in America in 2023. But if you’re not in the mood for your music to be an op-ed page from 40 years ago, it doesn’t have to be.

Because The Clash operated on multiple levels at the same time. If you’re just in the mood to have your nuts rocked off, The Clash is there for you. The entire album that follows “Janie Jones,” which, it bears mention, “Janie Jones” isn’t Track 1 on the American release of this album and that fact annoys the absolute piss out of me, is one I can listen to from start to finish and never get bored. You don’t have to know much about England’s socioeconomic situation in 1977 to enjoy the biting commentary, propulsive sound, and sheer grit of The Clash. I don’t really say this about anything else, but if you don’t like, or can’t even at least appreciate The Clash, I’m not sure we can be friends.

The Clash stands for everything punk is and should be. It’s music about serious issues that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, “Janie Jones” is apparently about a cabaret singer who organized sex parties at her home, was imprisoned for it, and who allegedly caused Joe Strummer to become smitten with her. That’s some serious dirtbag shit. I love it.

I think when you get right down to it, that’s the whole essence of the punk ethos. We’re all dirtbags at heart, and that’s fine. Live your life. What’s not fine is when the world uses its power to enforce a shitty set of values on us all. Punk is there to hit back, or at least it should be. In Cash by Johnny Cash, which I’m currently reading, Johnny talks about how he can’t relate to modern country’s embrace of the police. Country music has its roots in standing up to bullshit authority. So does punk. So does rock ‘n roll. Damn near every piece of art ever made worth a shit is forged from defiance of some sort of forced set of values. Anything else is basically public relations.

The Clash represent one of the guiding ethos of my life, and yes that includes many of my most annoying personality traits. But here’s one that I’m most proud of: Make cool, unique shit that is unabashedly true to yourself. Do that and you’ll rarely let yourself down.

Up next: Number 5.

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