Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 353
Fri, Jan 04, 2013

“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
The Clash


“♫ Si me
voy/ va a
haber peligro/
Si me quedo/
es doble

The Clash’s only and number one UK single, “Should I Stay of Should I Go” came ironically ten years after Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon broke up. Still, “Should I Stay” remains one of the last of The Clash’s memorable singles from Combat Rock. Unbeknownst to most Clash fans but there’s a counter melody on the verses is a call and response between Mick Jones and Joe Strummer. Joe Ely discussed the rest in a 2012 interview with Songfacts when he said, “I came in to the studio while they were working out the parts. They’d been working on the song for a few hours already; they had it sketched out pretty good. But I think it was Strummer’s idea, because he just immediately, when it came to that part, he immediately went, ‘You know Spanish, help me translate these things.’ (Laughs) My Spanish was pretty much Tex-Mex, so it was not an accurate translation. But I guess it was meant to be sort of whimsical, because we didn’t really translate verbatim.”

Like reading Kerouac’s character speak in Spanish in On The Road, hearing Joe Strummer croon in my familiar foreign tongue, on “Should I Stay” was equally life changing. M-TV was just starting to play Michael Jackson on M-TV; there was little of no Spanish influence in music, television, movies or in the media. Hearing Strummer sing in my rhythmic accent made my voice and my culture cool and equally relevant to my life and my times. Should I Stay” may have been their most commercial single and even though it would the song that would lead to the end of The Clash, thanks to Strummer, it was an influential spark to my eventual creative life.

Did you know, Jones was the one who sung the verses in English while Strummer responded to Mick in Spanish? Joe Ely was recruited along with Puerto Rican engineer Eddie Garcia to translate Mick’s lyrics to Spanish as Ely explained when he said, “I’m singing all the Spanish verses on that, and I even helped translate them. I translated them into Tex-Mex and Strummer kind of knew Castilian Spanish, because he grew up in Spain in his early life. And a Puerto Rican engineer (Eddie Garcia) kind of added a little flavor to it. So it’s taking the verse and then repeating it in Spanish.”

In the middle of “Should I Stay,” you can hear Jones yell out “Split,” with the eventual spit of The Clash on the horizon, it makes you wonder if this barbaric howl from Mick was actually prophetic. Ely described the scene in the studio when he said, “Me and Joe were yelling this translation back while Mick Jones sang the lead on it, and we were doing the echo part. And there was one time when the song kind of breaks down into just the drums right before a guitar part. And you hear Mick Jones saying, ‘Split!’ Just really loud, kind of angry. Me and Joe had snuck around in the studio, came up in the back of his booth where he was all partitioned off, and we snuck in and jumped and scared the hell out of him right in the middle of recording the song, and he just looked at us and says, ‘Split!’ So we ran back to our vocal booth and they never stopped the recording.”

Mick Jones claims that “Should I Stay” wasn’t prophetic at all, “It wasn’t about anybody specific and it wasn’t pre-empting my leaving The Clash. It was just a good rockin’ song, our attempt at writing a classic… When we were just playing, that was the kind of thing we used to like to play.” Unfortunately The original Clash lineup did split when Joe Strummer fired Mick Jones in September of 1983. Joe said this after sacking Jones, “Mick was my best friend at one time. We were partner and I don’t dispense of partners easily. I have been trying for four years to patch things up. I had gone to the brink 199 times and come back. But things finally came to end. The thing with Mick, and I’ve said this to his face on numerous occasions, was that he was really with us at the beginning. He really did a lot, a really good tunesmith, really good guitar player. But he became in different. He didn’t want to into the studio or go on tour. He just wanted to go on holiday. He just wasn’t with us anymore.”

Even though The Clash survived a few years after Jones was sacked, The Clash ended officially when Jones was fired from The Clash. “Should I Stay” became the unfortunate mantra that haunted Joe Strummer years after The Clash disbanded as Johnny Green described when he wrote, “He blamed himself for the breakup of the Clash until the day he died,” he says. “I’d go round to his house and he’d be beating himself on the chest like Tarzan, calling himself an idiot and saying it was all his fault. “Joe said afterwards that they might have just taken a bit of time out, cooled down a bit, because they worked frantically. They never went on holiday – they didn’t even have Sundays off. It was non-stop.”

Joe was right, it was nonstop towards the end of the band; it was at the height of The Clash’s success, after the release of Combat Rock, that spawned the tension which would eventually create the song that would prophetically break up The Clash. Mark Perry once said that “Punk died when The Clash signed to CBS.” But the truth is that The Clash perished when Mick Jones left the band. “Should I Stay” is more than just a posthumous number one single, this was the song that would prophetically lead to disbanding of the only band that matter— The Clash.