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The true sound of the suburbs: Lost in the Supermarket

April 20, 2010

THE STORY goes that during the Rehearsals Rehearsals years of the early Clash, their first manager Bernie Rhodes urged them to write about their lives, not about America or love songs or the kind of ephemeral stuff that many pop songs were about, but to reflect the often manufactured gritty realism that punk was supposed to have heralded.
So, in the mythology created by the Last Gang in Town,  Strummer, Jones and Simonon adjourned to Jones’ nan’s 18th floor flat in Wilmcote House high above the Westway motorway flyover in Notting Hill in West London, looked over the tiny balcony (above) and resolved to write about life as it affected them.
It took another two and half years before they found the highest point of their writing about their own lives.
To my mind, the highest point of The Clash as songwriters is ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ from the London Calling album, a song which almost poignantly pinpoints the alienation many of us in suburbs can feel at various points of our life.
It’s easy to forget that in the 1970s the big supermarkets that have become a fabric of our lives were a relatively new concept and that life in high rises and housing estates had been heralded as a new utopian example of communal living paradise by modernist architects only in the two decades before. The terrible reality of the latter lie would only become apparent in the 1980s and 90s.
Mick Jones, Strummer too, often get stick for not being great singers, unfairly in my opinion, but I really love Jones’ vocal on ‘Supermarket.’ It’s febrile and light and worthy of the insecurity of the narrator created by  Strummer in his lyric.
And one line is the best: ‘I got my giant hits discotheque album/ I empty a bottle, I feel a bit free.’ It says it all about getting your kicks where you can when you are feeling lost in whatever isolated reality you are living.
Over to you Mick and Joe…

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