Here’s another example of the many ironies of the music business: The Clash’s biggest hit, 1982’s “Rock the Casbah,” the song that put the British punk band on a worldwide stage, also marked the beginning of their demise.
Part of the pioneering first wave of British punk in the mid-1970s, The Clash had spent the past six years building a solid reputation as stalwarts of the emerging punk scene wth hits like “White Riot,” “London Calling” and “I Fought the Law”, and coming to be known among fans and journalists as “The Only Band That Matters.” But like most punk bands at the time, they found little crossover success, remaining popular mainly within the counterculture in which they began.
But with their fifth studio album, Combat Rock, that began to change. After the album’s second single “Should I Stay or Should I Go” began paving the way, “Rock the Casbah” blew the lid off, charting in multiple countries and becoming the first (and only) single from the band to break the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.
Not long after the single was released, however, things began falling apart for The Clash. The firing of drummer Topper Headon over a heroin addiction led to internal “clashes” within the band, which eventually led to a breakup in 1986.
In another bit of irony—“Rock the Casbah” is probably the least “punk” song this punk band ever released, blending elements of rock, pop and dance. In fact, an instrumental remix of the tune called “Mustapha Dance” was combined with the original track and released into the club scene, taking the single into the Top 10 on U.S. dance charts as well. Even so, while “Rock the Casbah” is remembered by many today as a feel-good, pop-culture, danceable tune, the rebellious punk sensibilities are still there. Originally inspired by Iran’s 1979 ban on rock music, the song tells a fictional story of a people’s rebellion against such a ban—hence, “rock the casbah.”