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Rock the Casbah by The Clash

Album: Combat RockReleased: 1982Charted:
8
30
Get some Geography in the Rock the Casbah Songplaces
  • Clash drummer Topper Headon wrote the music and the original lyrics. In an interview, singer Joe Strummer claimed that "the real genius of 'Rock The Casbah' is Topper. He banged down the drum track. Then ran over to the piano and then the bass."

    The sad irony about the song is that Headon wrote it musically, but had been fired from the group because of drug problems by the time the song became an enormous hit in the US. Indeed, in the music video for the song, its original Clash drummer Terry Chimes at the kit (he had returned to replace Headon temporarily).
  • Joe Strummer decided to take Headon's lyrics in a different direction. According to former Clash co-manager Kosmo Vinyl, Headon's original words were a filthy ode to his girlfriend. Vinyl recalled to Rolling Stone: "He had really pornographic lyrics for it if I remember correctly. Very, very pornographic lyrics."

    The first line of Strummer's re-written lyrics had a specific genesis: manager Bernie Rhodes was frustrated in the early Combat Rock sessions with every track ending up being really long (stuff like "Straight To Hell" and "Sean Flynn") and in one session shouted, "Does everything have to be as long as raga?!" Strummer told Rolling Stone shortly before he died in 2002: "I got back to the hotel that night and wrote on a typewriter, 'The King told the boogie men You gotta get that raga drop.' I looked at it and for some reason I started to think about what someone had told me earlier, that you get lashed for owning a Disco album in Iran." This served as inspiration for the rest of the lyrics, about the people defying the Arab ruler (Shareef)'s ban on Disco music and "Rocking the Casbah."
  • This was The Clash's biggest United States hit, and along with "Train In Vain," one of only two that reached the Top 40. They had several Top 40 hits in England.
  • "Casbah" (also spelled "Qasbah" or "Kasbah") refers to walled areas in many North African towns, especially the one in Algiers. The lyrics use many different terms in humorous context from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish and Sanskrit language and culture - along with Casbah, there are also Sharifs, Bedouins, Sheikh, kosher, raga and minerets in the song.
  • In the UK this single was backed on the B-side by "Long Time Jerk," a song mostly written by bassist Paul Simonon about his then-girlfriend Pearl Harbour. "Jerk" wasn't available anywhere else until it was included on the expanded Super Black Market Clash rarities compilation in 1993.
  • The US military used this as a rallying cry when they invaded Iraq in 1991. During Operation Desert Storm, Joe Strummer was irate over the song being one of the most requested on US radio because of the misunderstanding that it was an anti-Iraq in sentiment (a similar fate befell The Cure's "Killing An Arab").
  • With electronic sound effects and an intriguing video, this appealed to Americans more than any other Clash song, but it wasn't a good representation of the band. For many young people in the US, The Clash were known as a British import with a catchy song, similar to MTV darlings like Thomas Dolby and A Flock of Seagulls. In England they were revered for breaking new ground as Rock rebels.
  • When this became a hit, Joe Strummer considered leaving The Clash. He couldn't justify singing rebellious songs when the band was rich and successful. In their early years, when they were struggling, their music was sincere, but he felt they were becoming a joke.

    When the band broke up in 1985, it was speculated that their plan all along was to break up once they had conquered America, a feat that was achieved by "Rock the Casbah" becoming such a huge hit along with "Should I Stay or Should I Go?."
  • The music video features an Arab and an orthodox Jewish person skanking, to go with the Middle Eastern theme. The parts of the Arab and Jew were played by Titos Menchaca (the sheik), and local theater director Dennis Razze (the Jew). Titos told us the story:

    We shot it in 1981 in and around Austin, Texas. This was a few months before MTV was even launched. At the time, I was a young film acting student (I had stage experience/training, but working in front of the camera is a different beast). My teacher was a guy named Loren Bivens. One day after class he mentioned that some guys were in from out of town to do some sort of film shoot. He didn't know much about it but thought it'd be a good opportunity to work in front of a camera.

    I chatted with them at their hotel room later. There was Don Letts, a rastah from London who would direct, John Hazard, ace camera man from New York, and some guy named Barry, who I later learned was their DP (director of photography). They explained that they were with the Clash and working in a brand new medium called "music videos" that bands were going to be using to pitch songs to record companies and other powers-that-be. It was such a foreign concept at the time that I didn't think much about it after the interview until they called later and said they wanted me for the part of the sheik, they liked the contrast between my height (6'3") and Dennis', and the gig would pay $350 for one day's work. NOW they had my attention.

    This was Don's directorial debut, so he was a bit unsure how to handle actors. But, he was extremely creative and we soon learned to glean from his instructions what he wanted from us in each scene.

    A few quick notes about the shoot: The rock quarry scene near the beginning where I'm running - we shot that about 6 times because Don wanted to see dust flying off my shoulders à la Indiana Jones when he's running from the natives at the beginning of the original Raiders movie which had just come out and was all the rage. He kept heaping more and more dirt on me and we kept doing takes until, mercifully, John and Barry told him it simply couldn't be seen from that distance.
    The scene where we're jamming down the highway with the Austin skyline in the background - John was shooting out an open panel van door and there was lots of honking traffic behind us.
    That was real beer we were drinking all day.
    For the final scene where we're dancing in the crowd at the concert – some punk kept trying to worm his way into the shot and Don had to physically block him out (like a basketball player) so we could get the shot. (that venue has since been torn down to make a park).

    We got to hang out with the band for a bit before the show. They struck me as quiet, serious. Sober, too. Joe Ely was there, also. That night, I hung out at a local reggae joint in Austin called Liberty Lunch (now torn down also) with Bivens, Barry, and these two brothers from New York who were former students of Bivens' - in town to scout locations for their first feature, which Barry was going to DP for them.

    I enjoyed some notoriety from the video when it became an MTV (and later VH1) mainstay, but that all kind of quieted down after a few years except for rabid fans of the band (of which there are many). I find it interesting that it has such social relevance now, as it did then. Maybe more. Also, kids today are rediscovering the Clash and when I do guest artist gigs at colleges my 'cool factor' shoots up immediately. Heh heh!
    Oh, by the way... Barry's last name? Sonnenfeld. And the two brothers scouting locations? Joel and Ethen Coen. The movie? Blood Simple.

    Dennis Razze, who played The Rabbi, told us:
    A casting agent friend of mine suggested I audition for this video shoot, so on a lark I went down to the Sheraton Hotel that night to audition. At 8pm or so was a long line around the block of guys auditioning, and finally around 11pm I was ushered into the hotel room to meet three guys who were doing the shoot. Titos, who was a friend of mine, was next in line so we went in together. They had a boom box on which they played this song I had never heard (Rock the Casbah) and asked us to improv to it. We danced around a bit and did some interaction as the two characters they wanted - the Sheik and the Rabbi. When we were done they told us on the spot we got the job. We were told to be back there at 5am for makeup and costume!

    I had to wear three layers of dark heavy wool and also fake "locks" that were glued to my sideburns. The day of the shoot was ungodly hot as Austin can be in the summer. Close to 100 degrees. They drove us around in a van from location to location and by mid day we had also met the band who didn't have much to do with us (and I didn't have a clue who they were). They had rented an expensive film camera to do the shoot (most people don't realize that music videos were shot on film) The director loved the little bits I added like the "Fiddler on the Roof" dance and spitting beer in the pool. He encouraged me to have fun and I had no trouble being silly. As the day went by, I began to really like the song that they played over and over again at each location. The coolest thing was doing the scene with the armadillo - what a cool creature, bigger than I thought one might be.

    We didn't end the very long day till around midnight after the concert shoot which was absolutely crazy because they just worked us into the audience in front of the stage and shot us and the band in real time during the concert. I was drenched in sweat by that time, exhausted, and just wanted to go home to bed.

    I never thought I would hear another thing about the video, but six months later, friends of mine form the East Coast would call and say they saw me on HBO and later MTV. (I never saw the video myself till almost two years after it was shot) We were paid a few hundred dollars for our work, and because there were no residuals in the early days of music videos, we never made another cent off of our success. Given the number of times over so many years the video has been aired, Titos and I would have made a sizable sum I think if the video had been shot a year later when it was determined that music videos would work the same way as commercials.
  • Combat Rock was recorded at the Electric Ladyland studio in New York. Topper Headon recalled to Mojo magazine November 2008: "I loved New York, the 24-hour city. (But) we'd lost that unity and had stopped hanging out together as friends, and would all turn up at the studio at different times, writing stuff as and when it came up. The sessions were supposed to start at two in the afternoon, though by the time everyone turned up it was seven. I got there early, and what else was I going to do except put down an idea?" That idea was the drum pattern and tune for this song.
  • Live performances of this song often took a different direction, since by this time the band had given up on taking a keyboard player on tour. This meant the piano part couldn't be played live, and the song took on a heavier, more all-out Rock feel in a live setting.

    It was a live staple from its introduction in 1982 through to the band's breakup in 1985. Joe Strummer was so proud of the song that it was one of the Clash songs that he performed live with his solo band, The Mescaleros (who did indeed have a keyboard player!).
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Comments: 64

Song with a reference toThe Clash anthems = Cowboy Mouth--"Joe Strummer": Touching story of a bloke who ditches his girl 'cos she wears all the right clothes but doesn't know who Joe Strummer is: "It's not that she didn't Rock My Casbah / It's not that I couldn't burn her London down / It's just that she kept on disappearing whenever the Sandanistas came to town…"Deethewriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
Dr. Demento played a parody of this song on his show by Bobby Volare, (a morning show dj on kkdj) called, "Lock the Snackbar". At the time, parodies were not necessarily legal, and it couldn't be released on cd. Now, his video of the song is on youtube. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mqKKWIsYOk)Margaret - Buellton, Ca
this was used in a commercial for something... I forget what, but it was two guys arguing one said i was "rock the cat box" when the other said it was "rock the casbah". I sing it rock the cat boxDusty - St. Louis, Mo
Shareef can scooch over, because I didn't like it either. It's total Strummer self-indulgence. Lyrically funny, interesting etc as you'd expect, but musically weak. One of my least favourite from a superb bandJon - Hackney, United Kingdom
I'd like to emphasize that this video was one of the first on MTV along with 'Hungry Like A Wolf' by Duran Duran, and 'Shock the Monkey' by Peter Gabriel. These videos began a revolution in where the focus of music went. About a year later Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' captured headlines for MTV as the place to be but now MTV is just a footnote in the evolution of rock n roll, today YouTube is much more important than watching cable TV. Probably because the format of MTV changed, besides, who could afford to keep up with the cost of video productions?John - Eugene, Or
Robert: It is no mistake -- the City Coliseum shown in the video is now torn down and a park is indeed in its place. The City Auditorium is what they turned into the Long Center, and it sits about 3 blocks east of the old coliseum location. As a native Austinite who saw Ram Das in the old coliseum and as an actor who recently played four sold-out shows in the Long Center, trust me on this.

Katrina: Yes, indeed. I DID tear tickets at the AQ4, as we used to call it. Wow, I was in high school then, so you must be (or know) some reeeally old time Austin folk!
Titos - Austin, Tx
Went there (1st nite) saw them- STILL have the Tshirt- Combat rock- Know your rights...Briman - Austin, Tx
That is the pool at the old Sheraton. I was at the show and saw Titos and Dennis in costume- I can remember thinking "what's with the get-ups". It was at the old coliseum- SR Vaughan and Double trouble were warm-ups.Briman - Austin, Tx
I named my Persian cat "Casbah". My friends all
think of the song when they see the cat.
Grace - Phoenix, Az
There is a little error about the facts about the music video which was filmed in Austin Texas; It was stated that the venue in the final scene "has since been torn down to make a park". As an Austin native I know this wrong, granet it has been heavly remodeled and renamed as the Long Center, but its still there. And my dad was there for that show.

In other locals in the video I know them all...

The Burger King is still there and still a Burger King on Guadalupe "the drag" and a mecca to UT students.

The military air base which was Bergstrom Air Force Base is now the Austin International Airport.

The victorian house, is still there on Congress and Oltorf but its a Wells-Fargo Bank now

The Austin skyline is still there too but is completly unrecognizable.
Robert - Austin, Tx
Someone asked about the chimes that sort of sound like a ringtone that can be heard in this song.

I once owned a watch made by Commodore Intl. which is the same Commodore responsible for the C64. This watch had an alarm which was the song "Dixie" a la "The Dukes of Hazzard" etc. And it is the first part of this alarm that is heard on "Rock the Casbah."

It is actually one of the reasons I liked this song as a kid, because I loved that watch.
Brian - Jacksonville, Fl
Titos Menchaca, sheik, is it true that you used to take tickets at the (now torn down, add that to our Austin list)Aquarius theater on Pleasant Valley? Thanks for all of the free movies!Kristina - Austin, Tx
Misunderstood Lyrics:"Lock the Cashbox"or"Rock the Catbox".John - Mansfield, Tx
I apologise if my last comment broke the comment guidelines, i only just read them. I'm so sorry. I'm really really sorry. I'm listening to Rock the Casbah now =] again im sorry please delete my comment if you want..sorry again. Love to you all.

Cecil xXx
Cecil - Your Mum, Bouvet Island
I liked PUNK a lot better when the rest of the world HATED IT. I was a teen in the late Seventies and The Clash's Combat Rock was the first punk album EVERYBODY BOUGHT (oh yeah, they bought Joan Jett too). It would have been better if they kept on hating it and left me and my music alone!Tom - Marble Falls, Ar
Does any one else hear the electronic beep beep ring like tone on rock the casbah? Its not on some versions, I love the song but the strange ring like noise does my head in......Taffy - Wales, Wales
Many of you are right about the subject of this song. Both my girlfriend and I agree that this song is a satire of the Ayatollah Khomeini's ban on American and European music in the late 1970s or early 1980s, however, the Iranian air force never used war to try and introduce Euro-American music to Persia.Darrell - Eugene
adding to the 1979 ban posted by Tom from Newark - Ths song start with a reference to the Shah of Iran being deposed in 1979 - he's the King who
became very westernised , living the high life
on oil riches and then Ayatollah "order of the prophet" orders ban on western music and other
western influences "thatdegenerate the faithfull"

Still relevant now with the Ayatollah having the last say on key goverment issues.

Dan , London
Pradeep - London, England
Early U2 songs like Out of Control and I Will Follow are good examples of how punk should sound.Aaron - Manistee, Mi
"The parts of the arab and jew were played by longtime Clash manager Bernie Rhodes (The Arab) and longtime Clash friend Mark "Frothler" Helfont (the Jew).
- Jackie, Fairfield, CT"

SORRY, JACKIE, THIS IS NOT TRUE!! I know because it was I who played the part of the Arab sheik. The Jew was played by a friend of mine named Dennis Razze. They said they liked the contrast of me being 6'2" and Dennis being musch shorter. The video was shot over two days here in Austin, Texas (where I live) a few months before MTV existed. I was a young film acting student at the time and Dennis was a local theater director. We were told it was the latest in marketing strategies... to film a video of a song. It was quite a concept at the time. I don't know how the rumor got started that it was these other guys in the video, but I have several copies of it in my possession and, though it was shot over 25 years ago, it is still clearly me in the video. Google my name to see my headshot.(btw, the cinematographer was a guy whose name you may know -- Barry Sonnenfeld.)

-titos menchaca
Titos - Austin, Tx
This is a great song, but would have been better by another band. It is sad that this is the song that alot of people know the Clash by because it isn't anything like there best stuff.:(Sam - South Kingston, Ri
this song rocks. thats all there is to it.Izzy - Buffalo, Ny
One of the most catchy songs :) love it, always puts me in a good moodOlivia - Perth, Australia
the is real punk, all the new 'punk' stuff just dosn't cut it!I'm Awesome - Boulder, Co
I love this song and think The Clash was a great and probably the best punk rock band ever and this song is so unique and one of their highlights.Mike - Mexico City, Mexico
Hey Johannes, I really don't think the Clash stole this song from anyone. Whoever told that story is probably lying. Joe Strummer wrote this partially based on his manager's comments and improvised the rest, and I think Topper Headon composed the music.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
actually josh from twin cities, i heard this on the radio yesterday and it was then same as on the albumMat - Fwb, Fl
Rock the Casbah features in American Dad (Episode "Stan of Arabia Part 1")Mrtipsy - Boston, Lincolnshire, England
Part II - this song, of course, was inspired in part by the 1979 ban on Western Music in Iran. Here we go again, I ran has again banned Western Music http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/meast/12/19/iran.music.ap/index.htmlTom - Newark, De
The album version of the song differs slightly from the radio version. At the end of the third verse ("The crowd caught a whiff/Of that crazy Casbah jive!") Strummer screams the word "jive", and in the album version it's mixed so that the word continues to reverberate over the following chorus. In the radio version, the reverberation of "jive" is cut off as the chorus begins again.Joshua - Twin Cities, Mn
Ya the guy who said Green Day had a chance was so right, but now they are a joke, with American Idiot and that Time of Your Life song is retarded, it makes them look like pussies. Also the guy from England that is 15 and likes it, its popular here in Canada too! Lots of my friends (guys and ONE girl lol) really like them, The best song they have is deff between White Riot and Train in Vain (Stand By Me)Ace - Kingston , Canada
on American Dad,Steve listens to this while lobbing grenades around and watching Michael MooreBilly - Otway, Oh
The Clash stole most of this song from a demotape by a young algerien Clash fan called Rachid Taha who gave his tape to the clash after a concert in france. Years later he re-recorded his Song and called it "Rock el Casbah", a great version of this songJohannes - Munich
The line, "The king told the boogie men/You have to let that raga drop", was inspired by the band's manager Bernie Rhodes, who complained that some of their songs sounded like Indian ragas.Christian - Copenhagen, Denmark
No one 'invented' punk. It evolved gradually from the whole rock genre. There are too many people who started it to say anyone "created" it. Ian Drury, Ramones, etc..Geoff - Los Angeles, Ca
Tory Crimes is a joke name for Terry Chimes - it is meant in a mocking way. The Tories is the conservative party of England and they were certainly not liked amongst the members of The Clash.
Topper Headon did not leave - he was kicked out by the others because of heroin addiction.
The Clash was the only band to matter! They kept the spirit of punk alive and always did it themselves - unlike The Sex Pistols who sold out in my opinion.
Sus - Copenhagen, Denmark
I`m 15 and this song as well as the band are still popular amongst people of my age even though they split up 2 decades ago! Great song!!!James - Taunton, England
The Clash is up there with the Ramones for the best punk band of all time. Green Day had a chance to be up there before they released American Idiot. Great song.Matt - Millbrae, Ca
This song is honestly -so- unique. Not based specifically on the music, but also on the content and the circumstances. The Clash was first introduced to the punk scene with White Riot, a far more "hard-core" punk-sounding song. The reason the Clash was so brilliant was because they were able to branch out into different areas of punk (including the sound of Rock the Casbah) and bring new aspects into their music without being tooooooo terribly left-wing-ish.Caitlin - Portsmouth, England
This song blows. Minor Threat and the first Suicidal Tendencies album were a reaction to crap like this. I don't care HOW much I just offended you...you CANNOT firebomb your local police station listening to this garbage. Quit trying to convince me you can; go back to Hot Topic and buy your Clash coozies & mouse pads.Don - San Antonio, Tx
this song was featured on an episode of the simpsons where marge and homer are sexulay experimenting adn bart makes the coment '' so dad didcha rock the casbah'' and at the ending credits it plays the song.Dustin - My Home, In
Long Time Jerk can be found on the CD Super Black Market Clash which contains most but not all of the songs of the EP Black Market Clash as well as a few others.Matthew - Tampa, Fl
This song is eerie similiar to The Stranglers' "Shah Shah A-go-go," released three years earlier. The music is different, but the sentiment is similar.Nessie - Sapporo, Japan
"Topper was not replaced by Torry Crimes, he was replaced by Terry Chimes" Tory Crimes was a pseudonym.Nessie - Sapporo, Japan
What about the hidden messages in the video, such as Muslim and Jew eating at a Burger King,
(pork products), etc.....???
George - Houston, Tx
I think this is one of The Clash's best songs, its so catchy, innovative, and rebellious! Anyone who thinks The Clash sold out is an idiot, by doing dance music they didn't sell out, they innovated! Regardless of what kinda of music they played, they always sounded like pure punk. I even liked their much-derided last album, 'Cut The Crap'. The Clash rule because they showed everyone that punk rock can be as diverse and original as any other genre, and still remain punk.Naveed - Dhaka, Other
The Casbah is the Arab quarters (ghetto) of Algiers.Adam - Charlottesville, Va
This is a very politically charged song. I think it reflects the bands realizing what repressive societies the Arab people live in despite there material wealthMikey - New York, Ny
One of the great true punk bands.........I hate new punk like Good Charlotte and the likeLiam - Campbell River, Canada
I think this song is in a Simpsons Episode...lol rock on ClashShana - Pembroke, Canada
Just try to stand still when this tune is playing!Geri - Nova Scotia, Canada
Tory Crimes and Terry Chimes were one and the same.Tom - Beverly, Ma
the clash were great for a long time but they became to much of popularized punk and turned into crap cause they sold out on there last few album but this song is awsome they didnt mess this one upKai - Pleasent View, Ut
Funny thing Is the Ramones didnt start punk rock. There were bands before them like MC5, Velvet Underground, and The Stooges.Nate Goeman - Lake City, Mn
Topper was not replaced by Torry Crimes, he was replaced by Terry Chimes.

also, the music video for Rock The Casbah features an arab and an orthodox Jewish person skanking, to go with the middle eastern theme. The parts of the arab and jew were played by longtime Clash manager Bernie Rhodes (The Arab) and longtime Clash friend Mark "Frothler" Helfont (the Jew).
Jackie - Fairfield, Ct
is is an example of the clash heading towards dance music.Janelle - New York City, Ny
The Ramones started PUNK, The Sex Pistols perfected PUNK, and The Clash popularized PUNK. I love my punk.Jade - Sterling Heights, Mi
A brilliant example of the incredible diversity of this punk band.Andy - Halifax, England
This song was apparently written as a denunciation of the Iranian Khomeni regime's suppression of rock music.Kei - Salem, Or
I love this song! The Clash rulesMelissa - Lansing, Mi
I LIKE THIS SONG AND I THINK IS WONDERFULGuadalupe - Monterrey, Mexico
...I forgot to mention: this song was also a favorite on the radio service for the soldiers in 'Gulf wars episode II (clone of the attacks)'. this disgraced the remaining members of the band.Andy - Halifax, England
The clash must be an inspriation to any band who want to act under the glorious heading of PUNK. Maybe i chose the wrong words there, and this is exactly me piont: the clash split up when they felt that their music had become insincere. Also they never SOLD OUT or REFORMED. The clash WERE punk!Andy - Halifax, England
Long Time Jerk is in fact available on 'Super Black Market Clash', a round up of some fantastic B sides, remixes and demos.Matt - London, England