One of the more popular songs by The Clash, this one uses a very unusual technique: Spanish lyrics echoing the English words.
Singing the Spanish parts with Joe Strummer was Joe Ely, a Texas singer whose 1978 album Honky Tonk Masquerade got the attention of The Clash when they heard it in England. When Ely and his band performed in London, The Clash went to a show and took them around town after the performance. They became good friends, and when The Clash came to Texas in 1979, they played some shows together. They stayed in touch, and when The Clash returned to America in 1982, they played more shows together and Ely joined them in the studio when they were recording Combat Rock at Electric Ladyland Studio in New York.
In our 2012 interview with Joe Ely, he explained: "I'm singing all the Spanish verses on that, and I even helped translate them. I translated them into Tex-Mex and Strummer kind of knew Castilian Spanish, because he grew up in Spain in his early life. And a Puerto Rican engineer (Eddie Garcia) kind of added a little flavor to it. So it's taking the verse and then repeating it in Spanish."
When we asked Ely whose idea the Spanish part was, he said, "I came in to the studio while they were working out the parts. They'd been working on the song for a few hours already, they had it sketched out pretty good. But I think it was Strummer's idea, because he just immediately, when it came to that part, he immediately went, 'You know Spanish, help me translate these things.' (Laughs) My Spanish was pretty much Tex-Mex, so it was not an accurate translation. But I guess it was meant to be sort of whimsical, because we didn't really translate verbatim."
According to Strummer, Eddie Garcia, the sound engineer, called his mother in Brooklyn Heights and got her to translate some of the lyrics over the phone. Eddie's mother is Ecuadorian, so Joe Strummer and Joe Ely ended up singing in Ecuadorian Spanish.
About two minutes in, you can hear Mick Jones say, "Split!" While it sounds like it could be some kind of statement related to the song, Joe Ely tells us that it had a much more quotidian meaning. Said Ely: "Me and Joe were yelling this translation back while Mick Jones sang the lead on it, and we were doing the echo part. And there was one time when the song kind of breaks down into just the drums right before a guitar part. And you hear Mick Jones saying, 'Split!' Just really loud, kind of angry. Me and Joe had snuck around in the studio, came up in the back of his booth where he was all partitioned off, and we snuck in and jumped and scared the hell out of him right in the middle of recording the song, and he just looked at us and says, 'Split!' So we ran back to our vocal booth and they never stopped the recording."
The line, "If you want me off your back" was originally the sexually charged line "On your front or on your back." In April 1982, the famed '60s producer Glyn Johns was brought in to slash the album down and make it into a mainstream-friendly single-LP. In addition to cutting parts of songs out, he insisted that Mick Jones re-record this line, fearing that US radio stations would not touch a record with such a sexually suggestive line.
These sessions as a whole were in bad blood, with Jones furious that his original mixes of his songs were being massacred against his will, and it was this combined with other factors (such as the return of controversial manager Bernie Rhodes) which resulted in the breakdown of the band and Jones' sacking in 1983.
Mick Jones in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh said, "Should I Stay Or Should I Go? wasn't about anything specific and it wasn't pre-empting my leaving The Clash. It was just a good rocking song, our attempt at writing a classic."
In a 2009 Rolling Stone article on The Clash, they state that Jones wrote this song about his girlfriend Ellen Foley, who acted on the TV series Night Court and sang with Meat Loaf on "Paradise By the Dashboard Light."
It was speculated that the song was also a comment on Jones' position in the band, pre-empting his sacking in 1983 by over a year and a half. Strummer pondered this in interviews, as did Jones. "Maybe it was pre-empting my leaving" he noted in 1991, although he did conclude that it was more likely about a "personal situation" - presumably his relationship with Foley.
Psychobilly is the punk version of rockabilly; it's a fusion genre which also gets a nice sound out of elements of everything from doo-wop to blues, but with that punk edge to it. "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" resembles early punk, almost retro style, and so could be called rockabilly. More than anything, it compares very nicely with The Cramps.
"Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" is possibly one of the most covered Clash songs by dint of being one of the most popular. Just some of the groups to cover this song include Living Colour, Skin, MxPx, Weezer, ZZ Top, and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Anti-Flag covered the song at various festival dates in 2012, and more memorable versions exist by Die Toten Hosen and Australian pop star Kyle Minogue. It even shows up in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Polkas On 45" medley - a takeoff on the "Stars On 45 Medley."
As a UK #1 single, what song did it replace as #1 on the UK charts? "Do the Bartman" by The Simpsons. Speaking of charts, while this song was their only #1 in the UK, The Clash got even less respect in the US; their highest chart on the Billboard was #8 for "Rock the Casbah". That's amazing when you consider how much airplay they get on the radio.
Introduced into The Clash's live set in Paris in September 1981, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" sat awkwardly in the set after Jones was fired - it was a hugely popular song so fans expected it to be played, but its author and singer was no longer in the band.
For a while in 1984 it was performed with new guitarist Nick Sheppard singing lead vocals, with the song developing into an aggressive Metal thrash with bellowed Punk-style vocals. In the end The Clash Mark II dropped the song altogether, although not before they also added some nasty lyrics about Jones (as was common in the post-Jones Clash, sadly). Two much more representative versions are the version of the song filmed at Shea Stadium in 1982 (supporting The Who) for the music video, and the version from Boston in 1982 that features on the From Here To Eternity live compilation.
Ice Cube and Mack 10 did a rap remake of this song for the 1998 Clash tribute album Burning London.
This was re-released as a single in February 1991 after it was used in a Levi's jeans television ad. It went to #1 in the UK, but didn't chart in the US.
Cheekily, Mick Jones used a vocal sample from this track on one of his post-Clash projects, Big Audio Dynamite. You can hear it on their song "The Globe."
This is a key song in the '80s-themed Netflix series Stranger Things. It was first used in the second episode (2016), where the character Jonathan Byers introduces it to his younger brother, Will to distract him when their parents fight, telling him it will change his life. When Will gets abducted into an alternate universe, the song becomes a way for him to communicate, and a source of comfort. The song is used several times throughout the series.
To secure the rights, music supervisor Nora Felder had to explain to the band how it would be used. Through scene descriptions, she convinced them they would honor the song.
Melinda from AustraliaShaft from Glenville. In the era The Clash grew up in , working class London men often would refer to females with Darlin. Without doubt still do. But not Darling, how the lyrics here spells it. I know I know, every man in the universe calls females darlin at some stage. But workin class London males have a unique way of sayin it. It almost like Dorlin. And u can hear it in this song. They don’t even know they are sayin it that sexy way. Chas and Dave, who are probably the zenith of English working class songs/singers. They say Dorlin in exactly the same accent in their song, Ain’t No Pleasing You. I love Should I stay Or Should I Go. Never was a song that was so of the moment. When this come out a new kind of music for a decade was comin in. You could feel it. And it was undeniable. The Clash in that moment were the epitome of cool. With a very ‘f..ck you we’re English. And we’re proud of being working class delinquents. It intrigued me to discover years later. That Joe Strummer was the son of an upper class toss pot who who worked in the English Foreign Service in India. And Strummer as a kid was dumped continuously in English Upper Class Boarding schools. With, as he has called ‘rich thick people’. Well, he appears to be the only one in The Clash who had a privileged upbringing. I don’t believe he was a phoney. Because he was always politically active. In Left wing issues. So alls forgiven.
Demat from Dublin, OhIt wasn't about anybody specific and it wasn't pre-empting my leaving The Clash. It was just a good rockin' song, our attempt at writing a classic ... When we were just playing, that was the kind of thing we used to like to play. – Mick Jones, 1991
Demat from Dublin, Ohhe Spanish backing vocals were sung by Joe Strummer and Joe Ely:
On the spur of the moment I said 'I'm going to do the backing vocals in Spanish' ... We needed a translator so Eddie Garcia, the tape operator, called his mother in Brooklyn Heights and read her the lyrics over the phone and she translated them. But Eddie and his mum are Ecuadorian, so it's Ecuadorian Spanish that me and Joe Ely are singing on the backing vocals. – Joe Strummer, 1991
John Dough from New York, NyAny idea whence they came up with the first bars of the song? I ask because there is a reggae song whose name I don't know from around '72/'73 that opens exactly that way. First time I heard it, I thought it was the reggae being played Second or third bar dispelled that idea. Anyone?
Lisa from Lawrence, NyWow, this song just popped into my head tonight, thinking about my relationship with my Mom. I've sadly needed her help financially (VERY hard times), and she gives it, but always with such a huge guilt sandwich that is near impossible to swallow. One day she wants to help (I'll do anything for you), next day she doesn't (can't you find someone else). I just wish she'd make one decision and stick to it. And this just came right it my head and I went "YES!" This song (which could be both a love song and the thing with Jones leaving) is just THE perfect example of the rollercoaster this woman is putting me on and how I just wish I would stop (PLEASE, I'm begging you woman, tell me, "should I cool it or should I blow". Stop the "I love you/go away" thing). LOVE the "Clash Spanish"! Should have definitely charted higher. What rock fan doesn't love this song? Also check out BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE (Clash offshoot) song "The Globe"---borrows REAL heavily from "Should I?", in a most awesome way!
Sydney from Dallas, TxThis song was also used in the Iron Man 2 movie, unfortunately, it is only played for a minute. The scene is when Tony Stark first returns to his lab/ garage.
Jesus Herrera from Mexico, MexicoJoe Strummer did know some Spanish since he lived in Mexico City for a while in his childhood. I like the early MTV version showing a performance of the band in the Shea Stadium. And I like the kind of rooster noise Strummer yells somewhere in the middle of the song.
Jon from Hackney, United KingdomWhat Luke said about Spanish Bombs. Spot on mate. Didn't he even say about it in the RS thing? Oh, speaking of RS, there's a certain other band not mentioned above who employ a certain band member ..... this has probably been pointed out 10 mill times, but I ain't reading it all, no way
Rahul from Chennai, Indiaawesome song.. but i don't think it beats london calling...... but ppl...clash roxxxxxxxxxx
Brad from Long Island, NyThis was never my fav clash song, but if you get a chance, listen to the live version when they opened for The Who (its on UTube,) Mick sings it slightly differently, that version works better for me
Jim from Denver, CoI belive there are political overtones in the lyrics, but this song brings back memories of a man and a woman confused over a new relationship when someone else is in the middle.
Jaimye-leah from Birmingham, EnglandIt was used in the rugrats movie "... go wild"
Izzy from Buffalo, Nygood song, but waaaay over-hyped in the us.
Mike from Germantown, MdThe Spansish in the Second verse translates to "This indecision I bother me If not my you want, free me DÃ»me quÃ»? I have to be Know that clothes remains me? That you have me that to say I should go or to remain me?."
Luke from Worthing, EnglandTo justify the ungrammatical Spanish, Joe Stummer said that the Spanish in this song is "Clash Spannish [sic]", which can also be heard in "Spanish Bombs"
Jo-c from Lima, PeruMy first language is Spanish, but I didn't have any idea the backing vocals were in Spanish!
Shaft from Glenville, WvQuote from "Pedantic Wit, Madison, WI": "To dispel the rumor about the Mick Jones/Joe Strummer break-up theories, I believe that the first line uttered contains a vital clue... Does it seem likely that bandmates would refer to each other as "darling?"
I've heard, Mr.Wit, and bear in mind this is just something I HEARD, that sometimes, when songwriters write songs, they do not always exactley what they mean. Now, one fine example of this, is that when singers mention "Pot" they are not infact talking about Pots, but rather the drug Marijuana.
Firstly, it's entirely possible that "Darling" could be used between two band-mates especially ones who had been close friends for many years.
Secondly, the clash often had songs that were about more than one thing.
Clare from Liverpool, Englandthis song is so awesome!!!
Sus from Copenhagen, DenmarkMy mistake - this was not the song Joe Strummer didn't like. It was Train In Vain
Sus from Copenhagen, DenmarkThis song could potentially have a lot of meanings, but the explanation from Mick Jones was always that it was about his relationship with singer Ellen Foley. It is said that Joe Strummer was not very fond of this song either and not very pleased to be playing it on-stage. I dunno.
Andy from Tualatin, OrGreat Clash Song. I think its about deciding whether to stay in the band or not. its number 228 on the rolling stones list of the greatest songs ever.
Ferris from Ohio, OhThey used this song for one of the Rugrat's movie. I can't remember if it was "Rugrats in Paris" or "The Rugrats go Wild", I can't remember, it was a long time ago. I think I remember Angelica was singing this song one night with a bunch of sumo wreslers..
Collin from Boston, MaThe song was released in 1982. The lyrics have double meaning...1. It's about US involvement in El Salvador...and can be viewed as a love song.
Kelly from Nanaimo, CanadaI heard that the song was about sex. Just listen to the song and think dirty. Only what I heard, maybe my friends are pervs.
Are Fridtjof from LillestrÃ?m, NorwayAlternate interpretation:
This song can also possibly be about UKs partisipation in the EU. It was released the same year the UK became a member of the EU.
Rainyhouse from Spanish Fork , Ut"Should I Stay Or Should I Go" was written by Mick Jones about American singer Ellen Foley, who sang the backing vocals on Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell LP. (Source: NME Magazine 3/16/91)
Pedantic Wit from Madison, WiOne needs only to examine the lyrics of this pop song to discover the intent of the author. I believe that it is a candid commentary on human nature - specifically that which is concerned with meaningful relationships pertaining to the opposite sex. To dispel the rumor about the Mick Jones/Joe Strummer break-up theories, I believe that the first line uttered contains a vital clue... Does it seem likely that bandmates would refer to each other as "darling?" In my opinion, the realization that this is about a relationship-gone-wrong is the key to understanding the song. For example, take the lyric "If I go there will be trouble, But if I stay it will be double" - this hints at the all too common tendency of those in a relationship riddled with turbulence to feel that, on one hand, if they "go" then they must face the possiblity that the other person may find someone else. On the other hand, however, the same person realizes that if they "stay" things will continue to get worse. Therefore, it is my belief that this song is a commentary on the not-uncommon sentiment that goes as follows: "I don't really want to stay in this relationship, but I don't really want to see her/him with anyone else."
Kai from Pleasent View, Utthis was one of the best clash songs they ever made not the best but one of the best and it is a shame that it took a levi commercial for people to see that it is a great song and that people are now noticing it know from a rugrats movie come on people know your music know what is good
Eduardo from Baltimore, MdCan you find the hiccup in this song?
Jackie from Fairfield, CtThis was the Clash's only number one hit, and was not a hit untill it was re-released after the levi's comercial. When Mick Jones came under scrutiny about using the song in a comercial, he reasoned by saying that levi's were on of the great rock and roll accesories.
Erick from The Woodlands, Txmy dad, whos from Guatemala(REPRESENT!)isn't really into da whole "punk" thing but when he used to live in Cali when he first came to da states he liked sum of The Clash's songs, oblivious of knowing they were a punk band, just thought i'd share dat cause i thought it was funy...
Patrick from Conyers, GaThis song was a big hit again when it was used in the movie "Rugrats Go Wild!" in a scene where Angelica Pickles and Debbie Thornberry sing the song while driving in the Thornberrys' RV.
Jason Lee from New York, NyThis song is so good. My theory is it's about someone who's been cheated on. He's asking if he should stay or break up/divorce. The line should I cool it or should I go means should I just let it go or should I get really angry and leave.
Matt from London, EnglandRomoured that the song was a question to Joe, who did indeed later let Jonesey go.