Rock the Casbah: The Clash's Hit Song That Shook the World

In 1982, the English punk rock band The Clash released a song that would become one of their most famous and influential hits: Rock the Casbah. The song, which was the second single from their fifth album Combat Rock, reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US.

But what is the meaning behind the catchy and rebellious lyrics? And how did the song resonate with different audiences around the world?

The song was composed by the band's drummer Topper Headon, who recorded most of the musical instruments himself in the studio, based on a piano riff that he had been playing with. The lyrics were written by the band's lead singer Joe Strummer, who came up with the phrases "rock the casbah" and "you'll have to let that raga drop" before hearing Headon's music.

The song tells a story of a fictional Middle Eastern country where the king (the shareef) bans rock music and orders his jet fighters to bomb any place that plays it. However, the people defy his orders and continue to rock the casbah (a word that means "castle" or "fortress" in Arabic). The song also features references to other aspects of Middle Eastern culture, such as the muezzin (the person who calls for prayer), the sheik (a leader or ruler), and the electric camel drum (a type of percussion instrument).

The song was inspired by various events and influences that the band encountered during their travels and tours. One of them was the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which overthrew the Western-backed Shah and established an Islamic republic that banned Western music and culture. Another was the popularity of Algerian raï music, which blended traditional Arabic music with rock, funk, and disco elements. The band also learned about the Casbah of Algiers, a historic citadel that was a site of resistance against French colonialism.

The song was also influenced by the band's own experiences with censorship and controversy. In 1980, they were banned from performing in Iran after releasing a song called London Calling, which criticized the British government and society. In 1981, they were accused of inciting riots in Brixton, a district of London with a large Afro-Caribbean population, after releasing a song called The Guns of Brixton, which expressed solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized people.

The song became a hit not only in the US and Europe, but also in other parts of the world where people identified with its message of defiance and rebellion against authority and oppression. In Israel, the song was adopted by peace activists who opposed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. In South Africa, the song was embraced by anti-apartheid protesters who fought against racial segregation and discrimination. In Poland, the song was played by underground radio stations that supported the Solidarity movement that challenged the communist regime.

The song also had an impact on popular culture and media. In 1983, it was featured in a comedy film called The King of Comedy, starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis. In 1991, it was re-released as a single after being used in a TV commercial for jeans. In 2015, it was used as the title for a comedy film starring Bill Murray as a talent manager who discovers a singer in Afghanistan. 

Rock the Casbah is a song that transcended its origins and became a global anthem for freedom and resistance. 

Lyrics Now the king told the boogie men You have to let that raga drop The oil down the desert way Has been shakin' to the top The sheik he drove his Cadillac He went a' cruisnin' down the ville The muezzin was a' standing On the radiator grille The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah By order of the prophet We ban that boogie sound Degenerate the faithful With that crazy Casbah sound But the Bedouin they brought out The electric camel drum The local guitar picker Got his guitar picking thumb As soon as the shareef Had cleared the square They began to wail The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah Now over at the temple Oh! They really pack 'em in The in crowd say it's cool To dig this chanting thing But as the wind changed direction The temple band took five The crowd caught a wiff Of that crazy Casbah jive The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah The king called up his jet fighters He said you better earn your pay Drop your bombs between the minarets Down the Casbah way As soon as the shareef was Chauffeured outta there The jet pilots tuned to The cockpit radio blare As soon as the shareef was Outta their hair The jet pilots wailed The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah The shareef don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah He thinks it's not kosher Fundamentally he can't take it. You know he really hates it.
Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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