“Big Audio Dynamite was born from the ashes of the Clash, something Mick (Jones) was never allowed to forget (hell, why should he!), and I was always aware of the shadow that the Clash cast over the band. It was against this backdrop that Big Audio Dynamite would try to make its mark. Mission impossible some would say… “
Mick Jones was famously dismissed from the Clash in 1983. The unforgettable reason given at the time was “ideological differences.” The fact is, Jones was more interested in exploring the new sounds of the nascent hip-hop scene that he’d been hearing on the streets of New York than he was in continuing with the anthemic guitar rock of the Clash. That didn’t sit well with the decidedly old school Joe Strummer.
After experimenting with a short-lived band called TRAC, which proved to be too rock and roll oriented for Jones, he formed Big Audio Dynamite. According to Letts their music was a combination of “New York beats, Jamaican bass lines, English rock and roll guitar, and me taking care of the sampled dialogue and movie stuff.”
This Is Big Audio Dynamite, the band’s first album, was released in 1985. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the album’s appearance, Columbia/Legacy has released a new two-disc set. Disc one is a newly remastered version of the original eight-song album that includes classic B.A.D. songs like “The Bottom Line, “E=MC2,” “Medicine Show,” and “Bad.” The second disc contains twelve tracks, five of which have never been released on CD. The tracks include 12-inch remixes, dub versions, edits, outtakes, and B-sides from the original album sessions.
In the early days of punk, Letts used a Super-8 camera to chronicle the scene. While he was well known for his music videos, he had no experience as a musician. But Jones saw a role for him in the new band anyway. Using primitive samplers, Letts made liberal use of dialogue sampled from spaghetti westerns like “A Fistful of Dollars,” “A Fistful of Dynamite,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The band members were also fans of director Nicholas Roeg, and dialogue was sampled from his films “Walkabout,” “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” “Eureka,” and “Bad Timing.”
The band’s use of sampled dialogue in combination with Jones’ electric guitar playing, beatbox rhythms supplied by drummer Greg Roberts, the reggae-inspired bass playing of Leo Williams, and keyboard work from Dan Donovan, was something entirely new. The rap/rock fusion that would later be popularized by the Beastie Boys and Run DMC did not exist until B.A.D. led the way with their innovative sound. What really sets the album apart though is that Jones and Letts were always careful to write songs that could stand on their own, outside of the technology. It’s those songs that give the album its classic quality.
This Is Big Audio Dynamite reached #27 on the U.K. charts, surpassed only by their next effort, the 1986 release No. 10, Upping St., which made it all the way to #11 in the U.K. Big Audio Dynamite, in various incarnations, would continue releasing albums for more than ten years. Later albums met with varying degrees of success, but never matched the performance of those first two. Recently, there’s been talk of a Big Audio Dynamite reunion in 2011.
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