When Two Sevens Clash: Reggae Meets Punk

The punk movement has its roots in Detroit and Cleveland before exploding in New York and then London. But the influence of Jamaican and on (The Clash, in particular) is perhaps less well known. In 1977 ("when the two sevens clash"), both reggae and punk were both feeding into massive social upheavals in the UK and the two scenes formed a strange alliance. That year saw Bob Marley visit England and see The Clash, which led to the recording of "Bob Marley – Punky Reggae Party" with legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry at the helm.
Don Letts worked as a DJ at the in Brixton, where Sex Pistols and The Clash regularly played sets. In between sets of the newest punk sounds, Letts would spin equally groundbreaking tracks of dub reggae. This tremendous influence on the punk scene is chronicled in Letts' compilation Various Artists - Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown.

The Clash, like John Lydon of the Sex Pistols, became huge fans of the Jamaican music scene. They would go on to cover many reggae hits, like Junior Murvin's "Junior Murvin – Police and Thieves" and The Maytal's The Maytals – Pressure Drop. In addition to covering reggae songs, The Clash's bass player Paul Simonon drew on the reggae sound and the '' culture portrayed in the classic 1972 film The Harder They Come in writing "The Clash – The Guns of Brixton".

It's perhaps a bit too simplistic to talk about "cover songs" and being influenced by reggae rhythms. Jamaican music was far ahead of hip hop and electronica in terms of sampling. Jamaican DJs created new songs and sounds out by mixing and 'toasting' over other records, referencing and extending the originals at the same time. The punk movement merely tapped into this musical narrative.

As an example of the evolution of a sound (or 'riddim'), listen closely as "Sound Dimension – Real Rock" (1968) by the Sound Dimension, gets the dub treatment by Augustus Pablo as "Augustus Pablo – Rockers Rock", which itself becomes the basis for a Willie Williams to lay vocals on top of as "Willie Williams – Armagideon Time" (1978). The Clash do their own version of the same, and created their own dub version ("The Clash – Justice Tonight/Kick It Over") available on Black Market Clash, and Super Black Market Clash.

A quite different evolution can be heard from a very early Jamaican hit "The Folkes Brothers – Oh Carolina" (an early ancestor of the reggae sound) through to The Clash's cover of The Ruler's "The Rulers – Wrong 'em Boyo". A great source of these early influential Jamaican tracks can be found on the compilation Various - One Original Step Beyond.

The Clash weren't alone in the punk scene of borrowing from Jamaican roots. The female punk band The Slits had a clear heavy dub reggae influence, as were the The Ruts. Already leaving punk behind to explore more diverse sounds, Blondie covered another early Jamaican hit "The Paragons – The Tide Is High", echoing Patti Smith's early use of reggae sounds on "Patti Smith – Redondo Beach" from Patti Smith - Horses (1975).

The fusion of reggae and punk emerged in the post-punk '/' movement represented by bands like The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, and to an extent, The Stranglers. Adopting a more mod fashion sensibility and a more polished sound, these bands would take the essence of punk and the spirit and horns of ska and develop it into what eventually became .

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Posted on November 20, 2006 and filed under Tunes.