Lennon and McCartney. Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. Frank Black (or Black Francis) and Kim Deal. Over and over in the world of rock n’ roll, bands fall apart, and great teams go their separate ways. Each member of these teams may go on to do good, even amazing things, but their fans tend to feel that something’s missing from the new stuff…especially when the band that fell apart is an A-level, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act, like, say, the Clash.
After being kicked out of the band, reportedly for chronic tardiness, Clash guitarist and vocalist Mick Jones did not remain idle. (Nor, thankfully, did he join Foreigner.) He was involved in the earliest phase of General Public and today is part of Gorillaz’s touring band. But his most significant post-punk role is as the founder and core member of Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.). The group’s name and lineup fluctuated wildly over the course of thirteen years and “nine” albums (two of them are 75% identical, so call it 8 ½) and took Jones to a place that some of his fans would probably rather he hadn’t gone—dance music. Granted, this dance music incorporated audio samples from the films of Nicolas Roeg and Powell and Pressburger, as well as borrowing keyboard and organ parts from the Who and Deep Purple, but folks who had actually taken the “punk vs. disco” wars of the 1970s seriously must have felt somewhat disillusioned.
In 1990, having made four albums with his new band, Jones found himself starting all over again as its sole remaining member, and decided that another new beginning required a new name; thus, that year’s U.K. album release, Kool-Aid, was credited to Big Audio Dynamite II. A somewhat expanded and mildly retooled version of the record was released the following summer in the U.S., renamed The Globe, and would become the highest charting record by any version of B.A.D. on this side of the pond. Its first two singles, “Rush” and the title track, reached #1 and #3 on what was then called the Modern Rock chart. The Brits seemed to prefer the earlier albums (notably the one on which Joe Strummer participated, before he and Mick got sick of each other again), but 1991 was B.A.D.’s American moment. It was brief, but it was a good one.
Several factors came into play to give B.A.D. its U.S. bounce: first, rave culture reached its peak, and second, The Clash lent a hand. Sampling had been an integral part of the band’s sound and ethos from its first tracks, and Jones used it on “The Globe” (the single) to bring his career and his fans full circle, sampling his own “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” the 1982 Clash song he wrote and sang lead on. The playful tension between the intense punk-rock Jones and the trippy dance-funk Jones is irresistible (especially when Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” randomly comes into the mix), yet more politically minded listeners can rest assured that the spirit of the Clash has not been entirely lost when they hear the lyrics, “Waking up the global warming way…Napalm cornflakes for my Special K.” But Jones always was the lighter, more impish type (I personally consider “Lost in the Supermarket” his signature song, with “Train in Vain” a close second), so on The Globe, the social commentary is blended in with pop melodies, trance-y grooves, and more general existential and romantic musings.
B.A.D. II was even shorter-lived than B.A.D. I: for the next album, Jones added more personnel and once again re-christened the group, shortening its name to Big Audio…but it hardly mattered, because no one was listening. The band continued to slip into obscurity as the ’90’s wore on; by 1997, they were self-releasing, via the Web, what turned out to be their final album. However, the original lineup is playing this weekend at the Glastonbury Festival in England (along with seemingly every other musical act that has ever made a record), having wowed audiences and the press earlier this year on a mini-British tour and at Coachella. They are scheduled for more appearances throughout the summer, including Lollapalooza. These shows are likely to be light on tracks from The Globe, but no doubt a few of the youngsters who show up to see My Morning Jacket or Crystal Castles (does anyone under 30 like Coldplay?) will be intrigued by what they hear, especially when they realize, hey, that’s the other guy from the Clash!…and maybe “Rush” will find its way onto some iPods. Is Mick Jones going to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice? Doubtful. Does he get major props for doing his own highly original, utterly enjoyable thing after being fired from one of the greatest bands in history? I’ll consider it while I sing “Innocent Child” over and over.