If you know me, you know I love the Clash-like I love coffee, breathing, big books and IPA. But although I love the loud angry punk sounds of their first album and the well done rock and roll that is London Calling, my favorite Clash song of all time is "Stay Free" off of Give Em Enough Rope (a much underrated album.)
This is a surprising choice for me for several reasons. For starters, it's got Mick Jones singing lead and not a Joe Strummer. For another, it's not lyrically perfect. In general I think lyrics are as important , if not more so, than melody. As a result my favorite songs tend to be songs with clever lyrics. It's also entirely solo-no nice tenor on tenor harmonies. And I still love it.
But it's partially because of the imperfection of the lyrics that I love the song. Give Em Enough Rope is proof that more mellow songs can still be punk.
"Stay Free" is a ballad (and I always have a soft spot in my heart for ballads.) It is hopeful and has good guitar and base in the background. But what really caught my heart was that the lyrics of the song sound like an essay written by some public school kid in NYC a good 15 years after the song was written. I could see some kid with whom I'd gone to high school, who came from Bed Stuy writing this song (or something like it) up for a poetry assignment.
No that's not quite right. I can see some kid writing up something like this song at one of the schools where my mom worked with the New York City writing project (they went to some of the nastiest schools in NYC.)
But the point is, it sounds like a kid trying to make sense of the world around him. It is differently beautiful than "I Fought the Law" or "White Riot" or "Janie Jones" in that it's not angry. There's a soft, chewiness to the song, but for all that it's still punk (see subject matter, also aforementioned lyrical quality) even though there's no screaming involved.
If it wasn't for all these things the song would be my favorite for another reason. My sister is 29 years old, married and about to have her third child. Although I'd obviously heard of the Clash she's the one who waved them in front of my face and insisted that I buy their albums. The last time I hung out with her before she became a mommy, we went out drinking and walked all over Manhattan and stayed up far too late. Just as we were on the porch to our parents house getting our keys out, she asked if I'd heard Give Em enough Rope and Stay Free in particular. She said I had to hear the song because it was awesome. In spite of the fact that I was practically asleep on my feet I was thrilled that she had picked out the same song that had caught my attention. We had a brief conversation about it and then we went to bed. The next time I saw her she was a different person.