I admit I'm not even the first of several hundred bloggers to post on The Clash's 1982 song, "Straight To Hell." Recently the blogger Gods that be, at Stereogum, broke the story that sassy Brit Lily Allen was taking her shot at covering it...and it sounds damn great by the way. Most in the music world, especially after the success of Slumdog Millionaire, know about M.I.A. and her beat-injected take on it. But to those of us in the younger-years realm that are learning a bit more about The Clash, this song and its resurgence on our speakers, I'll dive deeper into "Straight To Hell."
"Straight To Hell" was released in September of 1982 from The Clash's album, Combat Rock. The song probably would have seen more airplay if it wasn't overshadowed by the two iconic staple tracks that preceded it in the lineup: "Rock The Casbah" and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" Hidden behind the heavy beats that M.I.A. added on her cover as well as the whimsical sprinkling from Lily Allen's take, "Straight To Hell" tackles rather heavy topics directly related to American and English history. Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, the two Clash writers of this song, touch upon racism and joblessness in England and unsettling leftovers from the Vietnam War. Specifically, the song mentions "Amerasian blues," the abandonment of mass Vietnamese children fathered by American soldiers. And again, thanks to Wikipedia, many more symbolic lines in the 7-minute track (though it was cut to 4 minutes for radio) put "Straight To Hell" in a much more serious political, religious, and social light than I initially accredited to it. The song and album could be considered the high point of the Clash timeline for a few reasons. First off, this was the last album produced before members, Mick Jones and Topper Headon left the band. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the album had a few huge hits and spent 23 weeks on the UK charts and 61 weeks on the U.S. charts. Combat Rock ended up selling over 2,000,000 copies alone in the U.S. Lastly, because of the serious topics and themes of "Straight To Hell" and the lengthy track, it stands apart from all other Clash songs as one of the most down-tempo ballads.
So, thanks to some troubled times and the writing of Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, we now have a few versions to keep our ears happy.
The Clash - Straight To Hell
M.I.A. - Paper Planes
And how hard is it for Brit-popstress Lily Allen to get permission to cover the song while securing an appearance from a Clash member? It makes it easier when your god-father is Joe Strummer. Allen's take will be available in February from the War Child's "Heroes" album.
Lily Allen - Straight To Hell