Mick Jones and Joe Strummer wrote this about their record company's heavy-handed management. It chronicles how The Clash signed a contract and immediately lost control of their music.
The Clash were upset that their label, CBS, made them release a song called "Remote Control" as a single, and came up with "Complete Control" as retaliation. So in the UK in 1977, The Clash released a single they didn't like followed by another one (this) that ridiculed the decision to release the previous one. From that point on, The Clash went to great measures to get control of how their music was distributed.
When the song was released as a single, The Clash issued this statement to the press:
"'Complete Control' tells the story of conflict between two opposing camps. One side sees change as an opportunity to channel the enthusiasm of a raw and dangerous culture in a direction where energy is made safe and predictable. The other is dealing with change as a freedom to be experienced so as to understand one's true capabilities, allowing a creative social situation to emerge."
This was the band's first album, but their record company would not release it in the US. This was yet another decision The Clash disagreed with.
The anti-establishment statements The Clash made on this song gave them a lot of credibility with their fans. As punk was ending, many bands were either fading away or changing their style, which was seen as selling out. The Clash managed to stay true to their values and gained a great deal of respect by doing so.
In the US, this album sold about 100,000 copies as an import, making it the biggest-selling import album of the '70s.
Mick Jones wrote most of the song, despite the fact it's credited as a Strummer/Jones joint composition. Joe Strummer ad libbed the "You're my guitar hero" and "This is Joe Public Speaking!" bits, and was so proud of Jones' efforts that except for a reference to a disastrous promotional trip to Amsterdam, he declared them finished.
This was not included in the original UK release of The Clash in 1977. When the album was released in the US in 1979, this was one of five songs added.
The Clash recorded the song at Sarn East Studios in Whitechapel in August of 1977, and it was drummer Topper Headon's first recording with the band since he replaced Terry Chimes earlier that year. It was produced by Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, and it's up for dispute just how much he contributed to the sound - engineer Micky Foote claimed that "he was s--t hot - he nearly blew the control room up," whereas Jones claims that "we went back and fiddled about with it. It was good what Lee did, but his echo sounded underwater to us. We brought out the guitars and made it sound tougher."
The title came from a conversation the Clash's manager Bernie Rhodes had with Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. Joe Strummer noted in a 1991 interview that "Bernie and Malcolm got together and decided they wanted to control their groups... Bernie had a meeting in the Ship in Soho, after the Anarchy Tour. He said he wanted complete control. I came out of the pub with Paul (Simonon) collapsing on the pavement in hysterics at those words." (From Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz)
This was first played live, along with "Clash City Rockers," at Mont de Marsan in August 1977 on their European tour, and remained a firm fan favorite until the end of their career - first as a set opener, then as the first song of the encore. A live version of the song played in New York in June 1981 is the opening track on the live compilation album From Here to Eternity.
A bizarre cover version of the song by Kowalskis appears on the 1999 tribute album Backlash.
Deethewriter from Saint Petersburg, Russia FederationAs song dedicated to the Clash = Die Toten Hosen--"Goodbye Garageland": Co-written by Strummer's old mucker Matt Dangerfield of the Boys; and with a nice thematic debt to 'Hitsville UK': "To the sound of the Guns of Brixton / We were fighting Complete Control / We felt like we were Prisoners / In our Safe European Home…"
Martin from Rostock, Germany"They said: Fly to Amsterdam! / The people laughed / The press went mad" Does anyone know what he's referring to? What happened in Amsterdam?
Randy from Elkhart, InGrowing up in Mid America I discovered The Clash in about 1980 when I was 14. My parents thought they were at least a bit tamer than The Sex Pistols. due to the fact they coudln't understand the lyrics. These boys became a huge part of my life growing up and today at 43 they still are. The Clash are timeless and totally relevant. I have just turned my 16 year old niece and her boyfriend on to them. My sister just shakes her head. Long live THE CLASH
Ross from Leicester, United KingdomThe title came about when manager Bernie Rhode(an associate of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren)told the band that he wanted "complete control". Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon responded by "falling about laughing". Bernie did much later get control of the band - the result being the unsuccessful and critically slated "Cut The Crap" album.
Matt from Boston, MaStrummer would probably hate this, but I consider him one of the most important paople in the history of rock music. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of rock musicians he would surely be on it if it were up to me.
Rahul from Chennai, Indiai guess they shouldn't put their personal problems to surface... anyway, gr8 band, gr8 song...... and definitely an under-rated band.....
Mudassir from Bolton, EnglandLove this song - the lyrics are a bit self indulgent (like anyone cares about their problems with the record company!) but what a guitar riff build up - I think this is what the rock critics call a "wall of sound"! I was driving along to this once and realised my speed had built up along with the song to like 90mph lol
Matthew from Milford, MaAmen! If only more people were like The Clash...
Aych from Kranj, Europe'Complete Control' was one of Bernie Rhodes' (the manager's) favourite quotes
This is the best song ever!!!!
Mudassir from Bolton, EnglandWicked riff and vocal, hard to believe lee perry (of all ppl) mixed it!
Nick from San Francisco, CaFunny... "Complete Control" and a bunch of other sequels were released on the US version of their first self-titled album, purely on the decision of the record company... exactly the kind of fatcat BS that inspired this incredible tune.
Andy from Halifax, EnglandAmen. The Clash colud give a lot of todays 'punk' bands a lesson in being 'punks'. Joe strummer was a truly great musician, and stayed true to his morals and principles throughout his career, his early death is a loss to the world.
Johnny from Oakland, CaGreat song from an incredibly under-appreciated band. The Clash give lessons in "keeping it real" better than most.
Ruth from San Diego, CaWhat a fantastic song this is. The Clash were never as outrageous as the Sex Pistols, but they were so much more creative and not afraid to make the kind of music they wanted to make. All throughout this song, you can feel their anger toward the record company building up. It reminds you that the Clash actually cared about the integrity of their music instead of selling out.