Revolution Rock is a nice though incomplete introduction to the band that at one time many fans considered was the only band that mattered. They got their start in the UK punk rock scene but were so much bigger than the genre and stood out from their peers by experimenting with different genres like R&B, rockabilly, rap, and reggae, and having political attitudes that rose above anarchy and nihilism. Kurt Loder described them as “unabashed idealists, proponents of a radical left-wing social critique of a sort that reached back at least to… Woody Guthrie in the 1940s.”
The DVD collects Clash performances of the band playing concert halls in the late ‘70s, two television appearances from the early ‘80s, and in front of large audiences like opening up for The Who in 1982 at Shea Stadium and the US Festival in 1983, which was Jones’ last appearance with the band. It has already appeared on PBS and runs a little over an hour. Four of the songs appeared previously in the film Rude Boy: “I Fought the Law,” “London’s Burning,” “Safe European Home,” and “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” although the latter song is cut short for no apparent reason.
Revolution Rock contains some very good performances of their classic songs, displaying their musical skills and intelligent songwriting. It works great as a video jukebox; however, the sticker claims the product is a documentary, and it falls very short in that regard. There is some brief narration and limited audio of band members, but it only provides a brief synopsis of what was going on with the band at the time.
Understandably, this project was a celebration of The Clash by their associate Don Letts, but a history of the band should offer up warts and all. There’s no mention of how or why the band ended. The narrator in almost a throwaway line says they lost drummer Topper Headon, and surely the break-up of a band that had as great an impact on the musical landscape as The Clash did deserves more than simply stating, “Joe Strummer and Mick Jones ended their partnership.” Why no mention that Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon continued as The Clash for three more years? To learn more about the band and its history, director Don Letts’ other Clash documentary The Clash: Westway to the World is more informative and includes interviews with the band members.
The bonus features are two interviews from 1981. The group sat down between their two performances of “This Is Radio Clash” and “The Magnificent Seven” on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, and Strummer and Simonon appeared on NBC Live at Five.
Revolution Rock is perfect for the person who buys a greatest-hits album to check out a band. Those who want too dig deeper to learn about the band’s legacy will want to go elsewhere.