The initial idea for "This Is Radio Clash" apparently came from a conversation between singer Joe Strummer, aide Kosmo Vinyl and manager Bernie Rhodes about the band setting up their own radio station. Having read Dispatches by Michael Herr, Strummer wrote the line "ghettology is an urban Vietnam" and later fleshed out the lyrics at Marcus Music in Kensington in April 1981 in the inaugural sessions before the song was completed at the Electric Lady studios in New York in November of that year.
Joe Strummer admitted in an interview with Melody Maker
in 1988 that he had nicked the bassline from the Queen hit "Another One Bites The Dust
" (which in itself shares many similarities with another disco classic, Chic's "Good Times
The song as a whole is the band's tribute to New York rap acts such as the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - indeed, Strummer's sinister high-pitched laugh at the start of the song was directly inspired by Grandmaster Flash's "The Message
Two sets of lyrics exist for "This Is Radio Clash" - the original, featuring references to the Bill of Rights, Napalm and the American Armed Forces Network, and a separate set that was recorded onto another take, later named just "Radio Clash." Confusingly they are both identical tracks bar the lyrics, and even feature as A and B sides on the single, which led to some mistakes in later re-releases - on the Story of the Clash Volume 1 compilation, the tracklisting lists "This Is Radio Clash," but it is in fact the "Radio Clash" version on the CD.
After the musical mish-mash of the Sandinista! album, many critics were hoping the band would get back to more traditional sound, which probably explains some of the more scathing reviews of this song when it came out, as critics tired of the band's dalliance with Hip-Hop influences. Gavin Martin, usually a supporter of the band, ripped it apart upon release in NME: "Another rag-bag of musical clichés and political simplifications sprawling, splintered fantasy which presents the zombified vision of would-be guerillas with rampant hysteria."
It's worth noting that many UK critics really took against The Clash from 1980 onwards when the band started spending more and more time in America, which in turn meant the band resented coming home more and more. Ironically, by the time of the 30th Anniversary of London Calling's release, NME were desperately trying to backtrack on their more negative comments from 1979-83, claiming that their original review of the album was highly rated. It wasn't!
Don Letts' music video for "This Is Radio Clash" drew on footage shot for the unreleased Clash on Broadway film, which was a documentary shot by Letts during 1981 as he accompanied The Clash on their New York residency in Bonds Casino, including two full gigs from their 16-gig stay at the venue across two weeks and footage of the band backstage and living life in New York. It was mooted for a November 1982 release, but perhaps due to turmoil within the band, the project was quietly forgotten about, and by 1994 Joe Strummer told Mojo magazine that "as far as I know the reels were stored in a rental place in New York. Bernie (Rhodes, their manager) forgot to pay the rent and the footage was destroyed."
A cutting copy of 30 minutes' worth of footage was found by Letts in a cupboard in the mid-1990s, and what is left of the film was put together for release on the Westway to the World DVD. One of the few surviving live performances from the Bonds shows is, ironically, of "This Is Radio Clash" in one of it's first live outings.
This was used on season 2 of Stranger Things in the episode "Will The Wise." It plays while Nancy and Jonathan are on their way to a dangerous meeting in the park.