"Covered wagon, medicine show. Take you to the place where the healing flows…"
I must have listened to those opening bars of "Medicine Show" from This Is Big Audio Dynamite (1985) hundreds of times over the years. It is an album that I never get tired of. With the Columbia/Legacy Edition of This Is Big Audio Dynamite being released this week, it seemed like a good time to reflect back on it.
At some point in life, nearly everyone finds a band that they identify with. The Beatles have been it for a number of people, Deadheads still believe in The Grateful Dead, and then there are Jimmy Buffett's Parrotheads, just to name a few examples. Hell, a (relatively) normal friend of mine has been losing it over The Boss for the past 30 years even.
For me, it will always be The Clash. Give 'Em Enough Rope came out when I was just hitting my teens. This underrated rock album was followed by London Calling, Sandinista!, Black Market Clash, then Combat Rock. I had just graduated high school by the time it was all over. My lord, they really were "The only band that mattered" to me.
As you may have noticed, I make no mention of Cut The Crap, having always considered it a bad Joe Strummer solo album. This Is Big Audio Dynamite seemed a lot closer to the sixth Clash record to me than that one ever did.
But how does it measure up 25 years later? I must confess that it has been a while since I've listened to the album. There was the fear that it might seem too dated by now, but I am happy to report that This Is has held up remarkably well over the years. Surprisingly well, actually. Unlike so many albums released in the mid-eighties, B.A.D.'s debut had a sound all its own, a style that was pretty tough to copy without sounding like a complete rip-off.
The classic spaghetti-Western film dialogue of Clint Eastwood and other Sergio Leone favorites had never been used the way Mick Jones and company did. And it remains a superbly unique element of the record. A few years later, the Beastie Boys would take a similarly creative approach to using samples on Paul's Boutique, and De La Soul would refine the concept even further with Three Feet High And Rising. Much like the first B.A.D. album, these efforts stand as one-of-a-kind visions.
Another reason I liked This Is Big Audio Dynamite so much was the fact that its best songs also happened to be the hits. "Medicine Show," "E=MC(2)," and "The Bottom Line" all received substantial airplay, and appeared in multiple formats. They also stand with anything Jones ever wrote with The Clash. Album tracks such as "A Party" and "BAD" were pretty strong as well.
I mentioned the multiple formats of the singles, and in 1985 that mostly meant 12-inch single remixes up the wazoo. At one time or another, I probably had all of them, but it has been years since I have listened to them. You wanna talk about dated? Jeez, those cheap drum machines that were added to the original LP tracks to turn them into "remixes" sound positively cheesy these days. "Medicine Show" and "E=MC(2)" were issued as 12" B-sides back in the day. "Sudden Impact" and "Stone Thames" were remixed in this manner too, but remained unreleased until now.
Jones had shown his interest in dub way back in the Sandinista! days, so it comes as no surprise the genre is explored here. "Sony Dub" and "A Party Dub" are classic examples in a Lee "Scratch" Perry vein.
The "BAD (Vocoder version)" cut is another unreleased oddity, utilizing the ubiquitous mid-eighties voice modulator to intriguing effect. A tune I had never previously heard of (which didn't make the final cut), "Electric Vandal," is a rocker, as is the non-LP B-side "This Is Big Audio Dynamite." I guess the limits of the vinyl format back then prevented them from being used, because both songs work well in the context of the original eight.
The highlight of the rarities disc comes from a young man by the name of Rick Rubin. His remixes of "The Bottom Line" and "BAD" are everything the format was meant to be. He transforms the songs in a most compelling manner, especially "The Bottom Line," which is mixed to come in three minutes longer than the LP version.
The ultimate-weirdness prize has to go to "Albert Einstein Meets The Human Beatbox," a UK promo only 12" B-side that takes "E=MC(2)" into the stratosphere. Great stuff!
Columbia/Legacy has done an excellent job with this ultimate version of This Is Big Audio Dynamite. If you liked The Clash, but missed out on B.A.D. back in the day, do yourself a favor and check this one out.