We are huge fans of the Clash, and have always known that the group has had a profound influence on rock bands, just like our good friends at Remezcla said a few months ago. We have so many favorite Clash songs, and one of them is “Should I Stay or Should I Go” from Combat Rock.
Although it is one of their more “poppier” songs, we love the song for this very simple reason: the background lyrics, which were written in Clash-like Spanish that at times is a bit incomprehensible, but it is still in some form of Spanish. As the lyrics say:
This indecision’s bugging me/Esta indecisión me molesta
If you don’t want me, set me free/Si no me quieres, líbrame
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be/Dime que tengo que ser
Don’t know which clothes even fit me?/¿sabes qué ropan me quedan?
Come on and let me know/Me lo tienes que decir
Should I cool it or should I blow?/¿me debo ir o quedarme?
Yo me enfrío o lo sufro
and so on and on….
The story behind the “Clash Spanish” lyrics is a rather interesting one.
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.”
On the spur of the moment I said ‘I’m going to do the backing vocals in Spanish,’…We needed a translator so Eddie Garcia, the tape operator, called his mother in Brooklyn Heights and read her the lyrics over the phone and she translated them. But Eddie and his mum are Ecuadorian, so it’s Ecuadorian Spanish that me and Joe Ely are singing on the backing vocals.
“I ran into them accidentally in New York when they were cutting ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ and Strummer said, ‘Hey, help me with my Spanish.’ So me and Strummer and the Puerto Rican engineer sat down and translated the lyrics into the weirdest Spanish ever. Then we sang it all.
“When you listen to ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go,’ there’s a place in the song where Mick says, ‘Split.’ Me and Strummer had been yelling out the Spanish background lyrics and we had snuck up behind him as he was recording. We were behind a curtain, jumped out at him in the middle of singing, and scared the shit out of him. He looks over and gives us the dirtiest look and says, ‘Split!’ They kept that in the final version.
So there you have it. Was Eddie García Ecuadorian or Puerto Rican? Who knows and who cares. ¡Que viva The Clash!