Why “The Clash City Rockers” is a Well-formed Song


It seems that I converted Mick Jones to librarianship after this video.    (Yeah, that’s the ticket.)   Actually, he really just opened up his own collection to the public library.   Bottom line is, Mick understands the importance of making knowledge of all kinds and formats available to the public.   Thanks Mick!

(July 3, 2009)

A long time ago, I used to be a Tutorial Assistant for a Listening to Music course put on by Adrian Hoffman.   Usually at the time when we discussed the “Classical Era” (ie. Mozart, Haydn, early Beethoven) there was a lecture on form.   Often, form was expressed as a tool for absolute music (ie. how to give a song a structured feel to it).    I always itched at doing a lecture on how form can impact program music (music that tells a story or paints a picture) – and especially I wanted to do this lecture using a piece of popular music.

So I did an explanation of form using “The Clash City Rockers” by The Clash.   I should note that I believe that the brief samples I use here qualify under fair use policies, in particular because I am using them in a tutorial about music, adding considerable amount of my own knowledge and material in the process.    Got any other good examples of how the form of a rock song really suits the lyrics/content well?


You can go through all the verses of the song and perform the same exercise, actually.     Third verse has “everybody gone dry” on the “down” section” and “plug into the aerials that poke in the sky” in the “up” section (sky/up works really well, don’t it?).    Then, the suburbs are down, and the “you won’t succeed unless you try” get the up.   Very simple “up-down” technique that does alot to help the song makes sense.   I’m always impressed when I see this amount of craft put into a song.

UPDATE July 5, 2009

Just watched this with my wife and must admit that the front needs considerable editing.   (yeah, I’m babbling alot about whatever and whatnot – I think I couldn’t decide whether this was a video blog post or a tutorial on music).

Skip to about 1:30 to get to the fun part (where I use the “W” to show how the song is well-formed).   I’m going to spend some time editing this down shortly and I’ll repost it.

5 thoughts on “Why “The Clash City Rockers” is a Well-formed Song

  1. Were you a music major?? Cool presentation on Form in music. I always thought of music being more fluid…harder to distinguish a ‘form’ when it isn’t a 4/4 measure with each note being one beat, following a scale, as in that Clash song. Of course…you can even find ‘patterns in the chaos’ (a line from ‘Contact’…I watched it last night) if you listen hard/long enough.


  2. Nope. Never a music major.

    Actually form is very important in music. If you listen to Beethoven’s Fifth (yeah – that DAH DAH DAH DAAAAAAAH song), you would notice another more complicated example of someone paying strict attention to form in order to craft a song. (Beethoven uses that Dah Dah Dah Daaaaaaaah throughout the song – even turning it upside down at times.)

    If all else fails though – that little tip about starting and ending on the same note is pretty standard. The vast majority of song melodies use that technique.

    On the other hand, there are all kinds of other songs that break from this tradition – a good example is atonal music, which gets used alot in horror or science fiction films. Hmmm. . . example? How about The Miraculous Mandarin (warning: violent death scene [in ballet]). The form of the music still suits the content though!


  3. I’m not sure that the late & great Joe Strummer or Mick Jones had that in mind when they wrote CCR: but hey! I’ve been listening to The Clash since they formed and that never struck me. Nice work. _ _
    _ _
    _ –
    _ – Ana wanna move the town….!!!!


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