Friday, June 18, 2010

The Police v. The Clash – Songwriters Match Up #8

Two eighties supergroups vie for this week's songwriters match up. Both groups revitalized rock with a fresh infusion of diverse musical influences - among the first major white bands to have a sound that incorporated ska and reggae. With the exception of the U.K., ska and reggae were little known in the United States. The Police were more of a new-wave band and The Clash was defintely more punk, although The Police was also punk influenced.

Lyrics - Ten Points

Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were The Clash's principle lyricists. The lyrics they wrote were classic punk - angry, political and powerful. Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner (Sting) wrote most of the lyrics for the Police. Sting had a two-year stint teaching English literature at St. Paul's Middle School, and his lyrics are noted for their literary quality. This is so close - in keeping with my new system of awarding points, I'm going to have to call this a draw. The Police are more lyrical, The Clash more anthemic. Five points each.

Composition - Ten Points

Both bands wrote more adventurous compositions over time. The Police's later albums, A Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity featured layered synthesizer tracks. The Clash combined elements from folk, blues, disco and even choral arrangements in some of their recordings - violins, marimbas, saxophone, harmonica, xylophone, among the instruments heard on these albums, and lots of sampled effects can be heard on Combat Rock and on Sandinista. I am giving this category to The Clash because I believe they were more daring and unpredictable. Six points for The Clash, four points for The Police.

Originality - Five Points

As noted in the introduction, both bands were innovators - both were among the first white bands to be heavily reggae and ska influenced. I think you could argue that The Police developed a more original sound due to the superb guitar work of Andy Summers and Sting's vocal styling. I'm awarding The Police three points here and The Clash two. Another close call.

Influence - Five Points

Though both bands certainly did have influence, The Clash had more in my opinion, especially on white ska-punk bands that followed such as Rancid, Sublime and No Doubt. I think this is so because The Clash's greater dose of punk. The Clash are the winners here three points to two points.

Durability - Five Points

I believe that The Police have the edge here. Their songs are less about events that were transpiring around a specific period history - the cold war, revolution in South America, etc. Also being not so heavily identified with punk makes it easier to transcend the late seventies and eighties. So this category goes to The Police by three points to two points.

Conclusion - We have a draw, 17 points for each band. I was leaning towards The Police as better songwriters at the beginning of this match up, but based upon my criteria, The Clash managed to close the gap.

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