This feature originally ran in April 2017, but we’re dusting it off for Punk Week.
What really made The Clash “the only band that matters” was their ability to evolve. Over six studio albums, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon proved that punk rock wasn’t being confined to power chords and lots of spit.
It meant taking societal conflicts and themes and pouring them into a variety of sounds and stories that connected with the people at any given time, which is why they eventually went from a blitzkrieg of noise on their 1977 self-titled debut to reggae, dub, funk, ska and rockabilly over the five albums that followed.
Because they were so varied — seriously, listen to “White Riot,” then “Rock the Casbah,” then “The Magnificent Seven,” and then something like “Straight to Hell” or “Sean Flynn,” it’s unreal — The Clash have long been ideal for celluloid.
Their range of sounds can soundtrack a number of scenes, and they have over the years, though not as many as you might think. In fact, it wasn’t until the ’90s that producers (and, ahem, Strummer himself) became hip to the idea that The Clash were ideal for the cinema. Since then, they’ve graced both living rooms and theaters alike.
Ahead, we put together 10 songs by The Clash that really amped up a handful of great (and exceptional) films, including one that doubled-down on the boyos to perfection. Since we’re focusing solely on films, we unfortunately left off a number of ideal and iconic appearances on the small screen, from “Train in Vain” offering a nice aural metaphor in season five of The Wire to “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” terrifying Winona Ryder in the first season of Stranger Things.
Rest assured, these moments were in our heads the whole time, but sadly, they don’t belong on this list.
So, put down the “Remote Control,” click ahead, and try not to be too “Hateful…”
10. “Police on My Back”
Knocked Up (2007)
God bless Judd Apatow. The guy clearly appreciates the power and diversity of Sandinista!, the band’s cruelly underrated 1980 triple album that bafflingly remains polarizing among fans. Case in point: Both 2007’s Knocked Up (“Police on My Back”) and 2009’s Funny People (“Junco Partner”) pull from the album, though if we’re splitting hairs, the former wins out. Sure, it’s a cover of The Equals’ deep cut of the same name, but there’s no denying how Jones and Strummer’s double-guitar work embellishes the stress and tension of the titular scene in question.
When Katherine Heigl’s lead character, Alison, comes to the sobering realization that she might be pregnant, her sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann), rushes her to the pharmacy, tipping off a hilarious montage that follows the two of them trying out various pregnancy tests. It’s fast, it’s punchy, and it’s effective, especially when Jones shouts, “What have I done?” Good question, Joe.
09. “I Fought the Law”
Sing Street (2016)
So much of John Carney’s coming-of-age musical comedy Sing Street revolves around teenage rebellion. Which is why it makes sense that the Irish filmmaker would find room for Strummer and Co., and he does, even if it’s admittedly a very short inclusion. Early in the film, when Conor first starts attending the free state-school, Synge Street CBS, he’s reprimanded for wearing his brown shoes when the rules require every student to wear black shoes.
He pleads that he doesn’t have the money to buy a new pair and that his current shoes are, in fact, brand new, but it’s tough luck for Conor, who’s sent out in his socks. The Clash’s brilliant cover of Sonny Curtis’ “I Fought the Law” plays for a quick gasp as he walks the dirty halls, stepping in a muddy puddle no less, on his way to class. It’s a harbinger for all the great music to come and a perfect accoutrement to one of Conor’s first run-ins with the law. He later writes a song about the experience. (Ed. note: Clip no longer available.)
08. “Police and Thieves”
21 Jump Street (2012)
On paper, The Clash are totally out of place in Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s ultra meta remake of the ’80s television series 21 Jump Street. The soundtrack to the 2012 comedy went H.A.M. on the likes of EDM party poppers LMFAO, while also ironically ricocheting between past radio relics like Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” and Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)”. But “Police and Thieves” finds a warm seat among the bunch, namely because of Simonon’s bass line and how the bubbly melody captures the budding bromance between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
Similar to the previous entry for Knocked Up, this one finds the English rockers in yet another montage, specifically when the two officers lend each other a helping hand during their rigorous police training. As expected, Hill’s got the brains and Tatum’s got the brawn, but it’s watching them lean on one another that makes the genesis of their relationship more of a revelation.
07. “Know Your Rights”
American Splendor (2003)
It’s a damn shame more people don’t talk about American Splendor. Despite its accolades at Sundance, Cannes, and the Writers Guild of America, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini 2003’s biographical comedy-drama film about the late underground comic writer Harvey Pekar seems to have been relegated to the trenches over the years, which, to be quite honest, is where many might have expected it to wind up — including Pekar himself. Nevertheless, it’s a very poignant film that features one of Paul Giamatti’s greatest performances to date and some clever filmmaking.
Speaking of clever, the music ain’t too bad either, and The Clash pops up about a quarter of the way through the film, when comic writer Joyce Brabner is introduced in a Delaware comic book shop. “Know Your Rights” plays in the background, perhaps as a subtle nod to Brabner’s own work, which has traditionally leaned toward the political spectrum. Smart call, smart film.
06. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais”
T2 Trainspotting (2017)
With T2 Trainspotting, Danny Boyle had the tough task of not only following up one of the most iconic films of the ’90s, but arguably the most important soundtrack of the decade. He prevailed, though, because he realized that you can’t capture lightning in a bottle; you have to just let it happen. Now, the jury’s still out on whether or not the follow-up’s soundtrack will be as iconic as its predecessor — odds aren’t in its favor, given that soundtracks don’t mean much these days — but it does have its share of iconic moments.
One such moment involves, you guessed it, Strummer and the boys, specifically their 1977 single “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.” The rousing anthem scores the much-hyped reunion between scagboys Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) as they wax nostalgic about their glory days and gush about famous football plays of yesteryear, all of which is given a surreal, stylish finish by Boyle’s keen eye. Choose life or choose Clash?