Nineteen seventy-nine saw the release of The Ethel Merman Disco Album. That same year saw western music banned in Iran. If you heard that album you’d hail that decision. Six-and-a-half minutes of “Everything’s Coming up Roses” set to a dance beat was deemed too decadent and an insult to decent citizens. By order of the Prophet, they banned that boogie sound, as it degenerated the faithful.
While waiting for his bandmates to come to the studio to work on the album with the working title Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg, The Clash’s Topper Headon recorded a song he wrote. He played drums, piano and bass on the track. Per the group’s former associate and sometime manager Kosmo Vinyl, Headon accompanied his music with “very, very pornographic lyrics” about his girlfriend. The Prophet would not be happy.
Raga is a style of Indian classical music. Its performed pieces typically last for a half hour or longer. After a few days of hearing each song being worked on for the The Clash’s album lasting a minimum of six minutes, band manager Bernard Rhodes asked “Does everything have to be as long as a raga?” The question inspired the band’s Joe Strummer to write the lyric “The king told the boogie men ‘You have to let that raga drop.’” (NOTE: Joe Strummer did not compose the KC & the Sunshine Band hit “I’m Your Boogie Man.” Or did he???)
With that line as his starting point, Strummer replaced the original “pornographic” lyrics Headon wrote for his tune with ones inspired by Iran’s ban of disco music. In the song, once the Shareef is out of sight, the populace ignore the ban. Even the fighter pilots the Shareef brings in to drop bombs on the partying civilians turn up the music on their radios once he’s been chauffeured away. Western dance music? The Shareef don’t like it!
By the late 1990s the laws against western music had been relaxed in Iran, only to be reinstituted in 2005 by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Though Ahmadinejad thinks it’s not kosher to boogie, we at Tunes du Jour think it’s treif to let Friday pass by without dancing. Our weekly dance playlist kicks off with The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” with lyrics by Joe Strummer, who was born on this day in 1952. By the way, the album from which the song is taken, released under the name Combat Rock, contains only one song longer than five minutes, the five-and-a-half minute long “Straight to Hell.” The king won.
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