Album: Black Market Clash (1980)
Charted: 12


  • This song describes a boy whose father robs banks, but refuses to harm anybody in the process; he simply loves to live life as a criminal. Unfortunately many people took these lyrics literally, prompting sniffy critics to point out that Joe Strummer's dad was a foreign office diplomat and not actually a bankrobber. The lyrics aren't meant literally - instead they are a continuation of the themes of dead-end jobs and escaping oppression by 'the man' that run through so many Clash songs, starting on the first album with "Career Opportunities." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Matthew - Milford, MA
  • What started out sometime in 1979 as a jaunty ska tune demoed as "The Bank Robber's Song" became what was supposed to be: the first in a long line of singles released through 1980. Except record label CBs hated it, calling it "all of David Bowie's records played backwards." Harsh criticism for one of the band's best charting singles, and another move away from the traditional sound of the band after the already fairly radical-sounding "London Calling."
  • A reggae version by Audioweb went to #19 on the UK charts in 1997. The song has also been covered by The Pistoleers (in a rockabilly style) and by The Soul Merchants.
  • The song was recorded in Pluto Studios in Manchester in early February 1980. It was the first time the band would work with Mikey Dread, a man they would collaborate with a lot over the next year (he would produce their 1980 triple-album Sandinista!). Another longtime Clash collaborator, Mickey Gallagher, says that "Mikey got a great vibe going in the studio - he made rhythms by shaking a matchbox, or using a squeaky toy."
  • The video, featuring two masked robbers (roadies Johnny Green and Barry Glare) holding up a bank in Lewisham, South London, was rejected by the popular UK TV show Top of the Pops. So instead the resident dance troupe of the time, Legs and Co, had to dance to it when the song appeared on the show in August 1980.
  • "'Bankrobber is an interesting one," Clash guitarist Mick Jones told Daniel Rachel, author of The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters. "I think my dad was a bankrobber's assistant. There was talk of him driving getaway cars. He was a cab driver but he drove for other people. Joe wrote the words. The songs are like folk songs. They've become like traditional songs. A lot of it was based on truth. We made it so everybody could relate to it. It wasn't exactly the truth, for instance in 'Lost in the Supermarket' I didn't have a hedge in the suburb. I lived in a council flat. A lot of the time it got mythologized."

Comments: 4

  • Rufus from San Clemente, CaHadn't heard this song til it was featured in Rock N Rolla. Can't stop listening to it!
  • Jon from Hackney, United KingdomTotally useless comment but can't stop. I totally love this, one of my favourites from anyone. Point of minor interest: my indykid daughter got into Clash after she heard the Audioweb cover, so props to them too
  • Ross from Leicester, United KingdomMikey Dread has died since then - hope he'd seen some royalties by then.
    Of course in real life Strummer's father was a civil servant in the diplomatic service and thi ssong has been mocked on more than one occasion because of that.
  • Nicolas from Montreal, QcI saw Mikey dread at a reggae fest three years ago here in Montreal and during his set he kept bitching about the clash stealing this song from him (though he did knowingly write it FOR and WITH them). He was complaining about never getting his royalties. Seeing how this song is so popular and still used on soundtracks and such (i.e. Rock n rolla) he might never get over that...
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