Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

The guitar on this is so simple yet so powerful. Some Clash songs take me a couple of listens to really like…this one was instant. The song peaked at #45 in the Billboard 100, #17 in the UK and #40 in Canada in 1982 and #1 in the UK in 1992.

The song was off of Combat Rock (Dave at “A Sound Day” has a writeup about the album) released in 1982. This was when I was watching MTV and every few minutes that year you knew The Who was supposedly on their last tour (They are in Nashville Thursday Night) and The Clash was opening up for them.

Mick Jones wrote this about his girlfriend Ellen Foley, who acted on the TV series Night Court and sang with Meat Loaf on “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”

From Songfacts

One of the more popular songs by The Clash, this one uses a very unusual technique: Spanish lyrics echoing the English words.

Singing the Spanish parts with Joe Strummer was Joe Ely, a Texas singer whose 1978 album Honky Tonk Masquerade got the attention of The Clash when they heard it in England. When Ely and his band performed in London, The Clash went to a show and took them around town after the performance. They became good friends, and when The Clash came to Texas in 1979, they played some shows together. They stayed in touch, and when The Clash returned to America in 1982, they played more shows together and Ely joined them in the studio when they were recording Combat Rock at Electric Ladyland Studio in New York.

In our 2012 interview with Joe Ely, he explained: “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.”

When we asked Ely whose idea the Spanish part was, 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.”

According to Strummer, Eddie Garcia, the sound engineer, called his mother in Brooklyn Heights and got her to translate some of the lyrics over the phone. Eddie’s mother is Ecuadorian, so Joe Strummer and Joe Ely ended up singing in Ecuadorian Spanish.

About two minutes in, you can hear Mick Jones say, “Split!” While it sounds like it could be some kind of statement related to the song, Joe Ely tells us that it had a much more quotidian meaning. Said Ely: “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.”

The line, “If you want me off your back” was originally the sexually charged line “On your front or on your back.” In April 1982, the famed ’60s producer Glyn Johns was brought in to slash the album down and make it into a mainstream-friendly single-LP. In addition to cutting parts of songs out, he insisted that Mick Jones re-record this line, fearing that US radio stations would not touch a record with such a sexually suggestive line. 

These sessions as a whole were in bad blood, with Jones furious that his original mixes of his songs were being massacred against his will, and it was this combined with other factors (such as the return of controversial manager Bernie Rhodes) which resulted in the breakdown of the band and Jones’ sacking in 1983.

Mick Jones in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh said, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go? wasn’t about anything specific and it wasn’t pre-empting my leaving The Clash. It was just a good rocking song, our attempt at writing a classic.”

It was speculated that the song was also a comment on Jones’ position in the band, pre-empting his sacking in 1983 by over a year and a half. Strummer pondered this in interviews, as did Jones. “Maybe it was pre-empting my leaving” he noted in 1991, although he did conclude that it was more likely about a “personal situation” – presumably his relationship with Foley.

Psychobilly is the punk version of rockabilly; it’s a fusion genre which also gets a nice sound out of elements of everything from doo-wop to blues, but with that punk edge to it. “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” resembles early punk, almost retro style, and so could be called rockabilly. More than anything, it compares very nicely with The Cramps.

“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” is possibly one of the most covered Clash songs by dint of being one of the most popular. Just some of the groups to cover this song include Living Colour, Skin, MxPx, Weezer, ZZ Top, and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Anti-Flag covered the song at various festival dates in 2012, and more memorable versions exist by Die Toten Hosen and Australian pop star Kyle Minogue. It even shows up in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Polkas On 45” medley – a takeoff on the “Stars On 45 Medley.”

As a UK #1 single, what song did it replace as #1 on the UK charts? “Do the Bartman” by The Simpsons. Speaking of charts, while this song was their only #1 in the UK, The Clash got even less respect in the US; their highest chart on the Billboard was #8 for “Rock the Casbah”. That’s amazing when you consider how much airplay they get on the radio.

Introduced into The Clash’s live set in Paris in September 1984, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” sat awkwardly in the set after Jones was fired – it was a hugely popular song so fans expected it to be played, but its author and singer was no longer in the band.

For a while in 1984 it was performed with new guitarist Nick Sheppard singing lead vocals, with the song developing into an aggressive Metal thrash with bellowed Punk-style vocals. In the end The Clash Mark II dropped the song altogether, although not before they also added some nasty lyrics about Jones (as was common in the post-Jones Clash, sadly). Two much more representative versions are the version of the song filmed at Shea Stadium in 1982 (supporting The Who) for the music video, and the version from Boston in 1982 that features on the From Here To Eternity live compilation.

Ice Cube and Mack 10 did a rap remake of this song for the 1998 Clash tribute album Burning London.

This was re-released as a single in February 1991 after it was used in a Levi’s jeans television ad. It went to #1 in the UK, but didn’t chart in the US.

Cheekily, Mick Jones used a vocal sample from this track on one of his post-Clash projects, Big Audio Dynamite. You can hear it on their song “The Globe.”

This is a key song in the ’80s-themed Netflix series Stranger Things. It was first used in the second episode (2016), where the character Jonathan Byers introduces it to his younger brother, Will to distract him when their parents fight, telling him it will change his life. When Will gets abducted into an alternate universe, the song becomes a way for him to communicate, and a source of comfort. The song is used several times throughout the series. 

To secure the rights, music supervisor Nora Felder had to explain to the band how it would be used. Through scene descriptions, she convinced them they would honor the song.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here till the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine, and next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I Stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

This indecision’s bugging me
Esta indecision me molesta
If you don’t want me, set me free
Si no me quieres, librame
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be
Digame quien tengo ser

Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
Sabes que ropas me queda?
Come on and let me know
Me tienes que decir
Should I cool it or should I blow?
Me debo ir o quedarme?

Split

Should I stay or should I go now?
Me entra frio por los ojos
Should I stay or should I go now?
Me entra frio por los ojos
If I go there will be trouble
Si me voy va a haber peligro
And if I stay it will be double
Si me quedo va a ser doble
So you gotta let me know
Me tienes que decir
Should I cool it or should I blow?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Me entra frio por los ojos
If I go there will be trouble
Si me voy va a haber peligro
And if I stay it will be double
Si me quedo va a ser doble
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

  1. Great song! The Clash were great until the end. Not counting the Cut The Crap album which was a stinker but I don’t count that as a Clash album.

    Like

  2. Fascinating. The Clash is one of my favorite bands. I love them. And I’m one of those–I don’t care who knows it, in fact, I’m proud of it–who LOVES Combat Rock. Yeah, I think Combat Rock is the best Clash album. I do. And yeah, they sold out. They did. Good.
    Great post. Great song. I love Joe Ely. You Never Spoke Spanish to Me is a gorgeous song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like the album…my favorite would have to be London Calling but I liked this one. At some point most bands must do some selling out to progress or they stay popular with a cult following….and the small cult gets really upset when they do…but I get it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I agree with you on them. If it was just Eliminator it would have been passable but they continued to make the Eliminator over and over again.
        Aerosmith is another one that did it… Permanent Vacation…that was their big comeback and they continue to remake it to this day.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right. I liked Aerosmith’s “newer” stuff better than ZZ Top’s, though. But, definately, Toys in the Attic, Rocks and–yes, I’m gonna go here–The Greatest Hits album are awesome. Far better than anything on Permanent Vacation. That said, Permanent Vacation is a good album. Pump was a good album. Commercial albums, yes. Good commercial rock albums. To me, that’s not an oxymoron..To me.
        ZZ Top just went down hill. Sleeping Bag? Velcro Fly? Are you kidding me? They totally went all Pour Some Sugar On It. Bad.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I’ve liked Aerosmith but never really LIKED them…Toys in the Attic was the one I had. I did get Permanent Vacation when it came out…and Pump I remember some songs off of that.

        Oh yes ZZ Top just went ridiculous… you left off the timeless TV Dinners.

        Oh I like commercial albums also. It’s not all bad…it can be good and bad like the lesser known albums.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It boggles my mind on how this was not a bigger hit n the UK when it was released…it’s very accessible.
      It popped into my mind a day after reading your post so you get an assist lol.

      Like

  3. If you have Spotify there is a podcast cast all about the Clash that follows the band from pre clash to Joe Strummer’s death which is pretty good – lots of interviews with band members and others involved in band. Hosted by Chuck D which is an interesting choice and works for most part

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My son does so I will have to listen to that… thanks Paul.
      It’s a shame they didn’t regroup before Joe passed. From what I read Mick said they were planning it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes and according to the podcast Joe came to Mick begging to reform but Mick and BAD were just about to release their album so timing wasn’t good.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. YES…that is what I thought… look up Rock the Casbah…I didn’t know it said this…

        The Shareef don’t like it
        Rockin’ the Casbah
        Rock the Casbah
        The Shareef don’t like it
        Rockin’ the Casbah
        Rock the Casbah

        Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s