Recorded in November 1979 and originally released as a B-side to the single version of London Calling, the Clash song Armagideon Time was a loose cover of Willi Williams’ 1978 Jamaican hit of the same name—which in turn made use of Sound Dimension’s well-worn 1967 instrumental Real Rock.
The liberties Joe Strummer took with Williams’ lyrics in many ways encapsulate The Clash’s simultaneous influence by and punk ambivalence about aspects of reggae culture. Take, for example, this verse’s alterations:
Remember to praise Jehovah And He will guide you In Armagideon
Remember to kick it over No one will guide you Armagideon time
Williams’ version offers the consolation of faith to temper the absence of fairness in the world and its inhabitants’ impending judgement at the moment of Armageddon. Strummer retains Williams’ focus on social justice, but strips out the religious optimism: praise Jehovah (“Jah-hovah”) becomes kick it over, while He will guide you is supplanted by the nihilistic no one will guide you.
It was hardly the first time The Clash had tweaked their Jamaican idols. In 1978’s White Man in Hammersmith Palais, the band—touted by Lester Bangs as arguably the greatest live act ever—raised hackles when they savaged the performances of several reggae greats and impressarios during a much-anticipated U.K. tour:
But it was Four Tops all night with encores from stage right [...] Onstage they ain’t got no roots-rock-rebel
Being equal-opportunity offenders, The Clash in Palais also cast a gimlet eye on many of their own fans, promoters and peers who were “turning rebellion into money.” Much like John Lennon in his pointed lyrics for the Beatles’ Revolution, which took fellow hippies to task for faddism and ideological superficiality (check out the sardonic shoo-be-doo-wops accompanied by unusually hard George Harrison licks in this live TV version), Strummer and to a lesser extent Jones were stiff critics not just of society at large, but of their own close circles.
But the balance and incisiveness of the message in many of the Clash’s best-known songs often went overlooked, infamously so with White Riot—typically misheard by both punks and its critics as a skinhead incitement, when it was intended to castigate the apolitical posturing and mindless “punk” violence which the band clearheadedly saw as spoiling the late ’70s movement they’d helped popularize: the shift from ideology to posture to fashion.
Anyway, here’s another track from the same era as Real Rock, Soul Vendours’ Swing Easy: