The Clash's Rock The Casbah Has More Meaning Behind It Than You Probably Thought

The Clash's biggest U.S. hit, "Rock the Casbah," from 1982s "Combat Rock" album, was impossible to avoid that summer as it blasted from radios, home stereos, and cassette players across the country. it also received heavy rotation on the new cable television channel MTV. Catchy while still maintaining a punk edge, the song eventually rose to number six on the Billboard Hot Tracks chart, according to American Songwriter.

Like most of the Clash's catalog, "Rock the Casbah" stayed true to the band's political and social ideology best exemplified by the Clash's primary lyricist and lead singer, Joe Strummer. But the song's success obscured its important message and may have led to the band's demise in 1985. The lyrics relate to a revolution half a world away from the United Kingdom, to a country in the Middle East where Strummer had lived as a child, per Far Out Magazine. And strangely, the song was originally meant to be a dirty ditty about one of the band member's girlfriends.

The song was originally quite dirty 

Topper Headon, The Clash's drummer, not only wrote "Rock the Casbah," but also recorded the drums, piano, and bass parts. "I went to Electric Lady (a New York City recording studio) and there was no one there and I just recorded it onto an old ghetto blaster," Headon told Chris Salewicz for his book "Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer." The rest of the band loved it, but Headon hadn't written many lyrics for the tune. The ones he had written were about his girlfriend and were quite filthy, the band's co-manager, Kosmo Vinyl, told Rolling Stone.

Joe Strummer took a stab at the lyrics, which started off with a single line he wrote that night in his hotel room: "The King told the boogie men You gotta get that raga drop." He wrote this line in response to another of the band's managers, Bernie Rhodes, complaining that all the band's songs were as long as ragas, per Rolling Stone. A raga is a classical Indian musical framework and raga performances typically last for at least a half-hour, per Britannica.

What does the Iranian Revolution have to do with the song? 

While Joe Strummer's first line had to do with a complaint about the length of their songs, he soon found himself thinking about Iran, where he had lived as a child. His father was a diplomat and Strummer, who was born in Ankara, Turkey, lived in several foreign countries during his childhood, per the Independent. in July 1979, following the Islamic Revolution in Iran that toppled the monarchy, the country's new supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, banned music from the country's airwaves. He compared music to opium and said it had "stupefying effects," per the Associated Press.

After Strummer wrote that first lyric, he "started to think about what someone had told me earlier, that you get lashed for owning a disco album in Iran," he told Rolling Stone. The song went from being about Headon's girlfriend to an anti-censorship anthem about a lack of "tenderness or humanity in fanaticism," according to Strummer (Far Out Magazine). "Rock the Casbah" became so popular that Strummer had misgivings about continuing with the Clash, according to "Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash." The band broke up in 1985 and Strummer died from a congenital heart defect in 2002, per the Independent. Headon didn't even get to enjoy the success of the song he was instrumental in creating. He was kicked out of the band over his substance use issues and wasn't even in the music video, per Rolling Stone.