VERSION GALORE: Guns of Brixton
Here’s another installment (in a so far very short list) of Version Galore columns! There are some songs which transcend the original style of the song and are covered by a large diverse group of bands and musicians. There is a long history in recorded music of covering other artist’s work, not just in a Jamaican version style. That’s what this column attempts to do. I try to highlight some of those songs and the bands that have chosen to cover other artists songs and make them their own.
The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” is one of those songs. It was recorded for their third album London Calling and was the first song recorded by the band to be composed by Paul Simonon and to feature him as lead vocalist.
It wasn’t actually released as a single until 1990 with the remastered version of the full album on CD/ 7″ and 12″ with bonus versions.
It was also the first tune released when Tim Armstrong got together with Jimmy Cliff on his recent new album. So it’s come full round.
This has always been one of my favorite Clash tunes for many reasons. The heavy Reggae style of the tune of course but also the lyrics. They reference the hugely influential film Harder They Come with chants about making choices and standing up for yourself in the face of huge opposition.
When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?
With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun
When the law break in
How you gonna go?
Shot down on the pavement
Or waiting in death row
You can crush us
You can bruise us
But you’ll have to answer to
Oh, Guns of Brixton
The money feels good
And your life you like it well
But surely your time will come
As in heaven, as in hell
You see, he feels like Ivan
BORN under the Brixton sun
His game is called survivin’
At the end of the harder they come
You know it means no mercy
They caught him with a gun
No need for the Black Maria
Goodbye to the Brixton sun
Everyone from Dropkick Murphies to Red Hot Chili Peppers have done versions. Here are a few of my favorite takes on the tune. Which is your favorite?
Gentleman & Die Toten Hosen
The Mods – The Japanese Clash with a name that makes me thing of something else
Calexico – A haunting Latin Tom Waits-esque cover
B?g?masina – funky skaish cover version
Dub Spencer And Trance Hill – dubtastic drum, bass, space ace!
Santogold & Diplo – stripped down dub take
Radici nel Cemento Feat. Laurel Aitken – The Godfather simply asking a question “How you gonna come?”
Fabulosos Cadillacs – wicked urgent cover by a band in their prime