The conventional story is that punk hit hard in 1977 and things were never the same again. That might have been the case in the London world of the New Musical Express or even the Factory Records world in Manchester. In most of the provinces however, it was a slow trickle effect and it was only with the rise of bands like the Stranglers, Squeeze and the Police who introduced a more musical element that the general public really got on board by which time it had become new wave anyway.
Like most young men not mired in prog rock or heavy rock I found punk pretty exciting in the small doses of the 45rpm single but while I might thrill to New Rose by The Dammed there was no way it made me want to wear narrow trousers or get my hair cut any more than Bowies’s ‘Starman’ had encouraged me to wear gold lame and put my arms around other men.
For this reason, I had delayed buying the Clash’s first album buy a good 12 months. Buying a ‘punk’ record was a pretty big step, it was a statement, there were a lot of people, and many of them worked in record shops, who believed that you should only like one sort of music, preferably the sort they liked. Simply liking the wrong sort of music could get you beaten up, these were serious times !
The fact was though I couldn’t ignore just how good the Clash were, there had been the singles ‘White Riot’ which I considered ok followed by ‘Remote Control’ which the band didn’t rate but I loved. The band were pissed off with their record company releasing this so they then issued the stand alone single Complete Control which was also great. Apart from that I’m sure I had heard ‘London’s Burning’ on the radio but clearly if I wanted to hear more, I would need to buy the album which, thanks to the dole and casual jobs, I had the money to do.
Janie Jones wasn’t the first song by the Clash I had ever heard but its track one on the record and the first Clash Song I heard that I had owned.
It starts with a deceptively simple Drum beat, it is in fact a variation on what drummers call rudiments, I never bothered with these, there didn’t seem much point but here the drummer, Terry Chimes, demonstrated, even in punk rock there was room for a bit of technique. Chimes was actually the real rebel in the Clash, unable to get along with bullshit Bernie Rhodes’s various managerial manifesto’s he never really meshed with the others. He had already left once and was recalled for the album where his name was ignominiously recorded as Tory Crimes. He was recalled yet again when they needed a drummer for a final tour of the USA and since then has managed to reconcile diverse roles such as being a practicing Catholic, a drummer for Black Sabbath and a Chiropractor.
I don’t think that Joe Strummer plays on this track, it’s the band at their most punk basic. Mick Jones had been playing for a while but never really seemed a natural guitarist (unlike the Pistols Steve Jones). On other tracks he attempts some simple lead lines but I always sense he’s concentrating really had to get them right. I loved the slight fragility of the band, there were two basic guitarists, a bass player who had just started learning and a stand in drummer, but you get the impression that they were all trying really hard to make a great sound.
For a listening world used to Supertramp or ELO this was a big ask. The Album wasn’t universally welcomed by the critics. I remember the fanzine ZigZag being pretty dismissive. Up to now they had been championing the likes of Richard Thompson and Mike Nesmith, in a year they would have The Slits on their Cover. Times were changing. The big criticism they made was if the Band had such a big message how come you couldn’t hear the lyrics properly.
It wasn’t a big problem to me I consider lyrics to be pretty overrated anyway. I have realised through that I’ve been kind of singing the lyrics in my head for over 40 years without any real idea or what they are a lot of the time. A little bit of research reveals that even lyric sites don’t have a huge consensus on the exact words. I knew a little about Janie Jones who had scandalised the nation by running a prostitution ring or possibly providing ‘favours’ for the rich and influential at her parties. It seems a weird thing to write a song about and I think Strummer just used her as a starting point for writing about a guy in a boring job hoping to have fun at the weekend (which they covered more obviously on ‘48 hours’ also on the album). It was obtuse due to the subject matter, as well as the fact that I couldn’t understand the lyrics, and I like that in a song.
The Clash were my soundtrack for the summer of 78 but I was spoiled for choice, great music was happening every week. The band themselves seemed to be progressing at an alarming pace, Their eponymous debut was already out of date, soon they would release ‘White Man in the Hammersmith Palais’ and go on to further ambitious and sometimes overreaching projects. Janie Jones stayed with them throughout their career playing it live on stage from beginning to end.
The real Janie Jones has been a nightclub singer and recorded a single ‘House of the Ju-ju Queen’ backed by members of the Clash and at least one of the Blockheads. It didn’t set the world alight but, unlike Strummer, who apparently idolised her, she is still with us today.