"White Riot" is a song by English punk rock band The Clash, released as the band's first single in March 1977 and also included on their self-titled debut album.[2]

"White Riot"
Picture sleeve for the White Riot single
L-R: Strummer, Jones, Simonon
Single by The Clash
from the album The Clash
Released18 March 1977[1]
Format7" vinyl
RecordedFebruary 1977
GenrePunk rock
LabelCBS CBS 5058
Songwriter(s)Joe Strummer/Mick Jones
Producer(s)Micky Foote
The Clash singles chronology
"White Riot"
"Remote Control"


There are two versions of the song: the single version (also appearing on the US version of the album released in 1979), was one of the first songs they recorded at CBS Studio 3 on Whitfield Street in Central London, after signing with CBS Records. However, when they were recording the debut album, they decided to use a demo version of the song that they had recorded earlier in 1976 at Beaconsfield Studios in Buckinghamshire with Julien Temple. The rest of the demo tracks would eventually be released on the Sound System compilation album.[3][2]

The album version has a running time of 1:58 and starts with Mick Jones counting off "1-2-3-4". The single version begins with the sound of a police siren and has a running time of 1:55.[2]


The only thing we're saying about the blacks is that they've got their problems and they're prepared to deal with them. But white men, they just ain't prepared to deal with them - everything's too cozy. They've got stereos, drugs, hi-fis, cars. The poor blacks and the poor whites are in the same boat.

Joe Strummer[2]

The song is short and intense, in the typical punk style of three chords played very fast.

Lyrically, the song is about class economics and race and thus proved controversial,[4] some people thought it was advocating a kind of race war.[5][6][7]

The song was written after Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon were involved in the riots at the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976.[5][8]


The single's cover photograph was taken by Caroline Coon on 5 November 1976 at the band's rehearsal studio in Camden Town. The photo was inspired by real-life events where youths were randomly stopped and searched by police in the street. The original shot featured the phrase "Hate and War" on the back of Strummer's boiler suit, which was airbrushed for the released version and replaced with "1977".[1][9]


The only person who played 'White Riot' on the radio was John Peel — and he's gone on holiday. You play our record against any of the other stuff and it just knocks spots off them left, right and centre. They must be cunts for not playing it.

Joe Strummer[10]

"White Riot" is considered a classic in The Clash canon, although as the band matured, Mick Jones would at times refuse to play it,[11] considering it crude and musically inept. Over two decades later, Joe Strummer would perform it with his band the Mescaleros.[12] The B-side of the single was "1977", a non-album track.[2] This song was along similar lines to "White Riot", suggesting that the music of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones was no longer relevant.[13] Writing for Melody Maker in November 1976, Caroline Coon described the song as "played with the force of an acetylene torch".[14] Billboard described it as "the most controversial song The Clash ever did".[4]

In March 2005, Q magazine placed "White Riot" at number 34 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.[15]

In popular cultureEdit

The song is featured in the soundtrack for the game Tony Hawk's Underground.[16]

Cover versionsEdit

The song was covered by Clash contemporaries Sham 69.[17] The punk rock/Oi! band Cock Sparrer also did a live cover version of the song, which even appeared on their The Best of Cock Sparrer and England Belongs to Me albums.[18] The Mekons' first single, "Never Been in a Riot" was a response to "White Riot".[19]

The song has been covered by, among others, hip-hop/punk rock band The Transplants,[20] rock/folk/carnival band Camper Van Beethoven,[21] punk rock band Anti-Flag,[22] Rise Against,[23] Cracker,[24] The Bad Shepherds[25] alternative rock band Audioslave, and the Angelic Upstarts.[26] The American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys have covered the song live, one recording of which is on their The Singles Collection: Volume One album.[27] It was also performed by Rage Against the Machine at their free concert in Finsbury Park[28] and at Download Festival in June 2010.[29]

Punk rock band Rise Against covered the song during their shows at the Reading and Leeds Festivals in 2011 after vocalist Tim McIlrath made a speech about the London riots of 2011.[30]



Charts (1977) Peak
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[31] 38


  1. ^ a b Coon, Caroline (18 March 2007). "18 March 1977 : Music Flashback". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Buskin, Richard (October 2013). "CLASSIC TRACKS: The Clash 'White Riot'". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  3. ^ Barnes, Anthony (21 May 2013). "Rare early recordings by The Clash to be released". The Independent. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b Partridge, Kenneth (8 April 2017). "The Clash's Debut Album Turns 40: However You Define Punk, This Album Was a Rough Draft for What Came Next". Billboard. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  5. ^ a b Letts, Don (2001). The Clash: Westway to the World (Film). Sony Music Entertainment. Event occurs at 25:45. ASIN B000063UQN. ISBN 0-7389-0082-6. OCLC 49798077.
  6. ^ James, Martin (4 May 2016). "Weekend Punks: Tagging Along with The Clash". Medium. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  7. ^ Kaufman, Spencer (9 May 2011). "The Clash, 'White Riot' - Lyrics Uncovered". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  8. ^ Wawzenek, Bryan (7 April 2017). "40 Years Ago: The Clash Unleash a Punk Classic With Their Self-Titled Debut". Diffuser.fm. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  9. ^ Jonze, Tim (2 May 2018). "Caroline Coon: 'Even at 13, I knew I couldn't be respectable'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  10. ^ Coon 1977.
  11. ^ Kitson, Rod (22 December 2012). ""Instinct Not Intellect": Johnny Green Remembers Joe Strummer". The Quietus. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  12. ^ McCarthy, Jackie (9 October 2006). "White riot - Years after their dissolution, the Clash rage anew on film, on record, and in books". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  13. ^ Blair, Robert (12 April 2019). "How Modern Hip-Hop's Disrespect Reflects The Spirit Of Punk Music". hotnewhiphop.com. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  14. ^ Coon, Caroline (21 December 2012). "Joe Strummer: 'I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't gone to boarding school'". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  15. ^ "Q Magazine - 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever!". Q. March 2005. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  16. ^ "Tony Hawk's Underground". IMDb. 2003. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  17. ^ Welford, Gary (26 January 2016). "Album Review: Sham 69 - Sham's Last Stand". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  18. ^ Welford, Gary (8 July 2018). "Cock Sparrer - The Albums 1977-1987 4 boxset reviewed". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  19. ^ Himes, Geoffrey (1 May 2019). "The Curmudgeon: Musical Tourists and Musical Travelers". Paste. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  20. ^ Shultz, Brian (5 August 2005). "Warped Tour 2005 - live in Pittsburgh (2005)". Punk News. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  21. ^ Schultz, Barbara (17 November 2017). "Classic Tracks: Camper Van Beethoven "Pictures of Matchstick Men"". Mix. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  22. ^ Anti-Flag – Complete Control Recording Sessions at Discogs
  23. ^ Chew, Cohan (15 December 2015). "Happy Birthday Paul Simonon: 14 artists inspired by The Clash". Gigwise. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  24. ^ Kruth, John (6 April 2017). "40 Years Later, The Clash Is Still the Only Band That Matters". The Observer. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  25. ^ The Bad Shepherds – By Hook Or By Crook at Discogs
  26. ^ Welford, Gary (8 February 2019). "There's a Reason Why the Angelic Upstarts' 1980s albums are worth checking out". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  27. ^ "Dropkick Murphys - the Singles Collection - Volume 1". Epitaph Records. 15 December 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  28. ^ Childers, Chad (17 August 2015). "Classic Rage Against the Machine Performance Becomes 'Live at Finsbury Park' DVD". Loudwire. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  29. ^ Wilkinson, Matt (13 June 2010). "Rage Against The Machine attack 'pop bullshit' during Download headline set". NME. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  30. ^ Rise Against - White Riot (YouTube). Reading and Leeds Festivals: Max Qayyum. 26 August 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  31. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.


External linksEdit