The Clash's Topper Headon Demonstrates How He Wrote 'Rock the Casbah'

Listen to Headon play his initial sketch of the song

July 22, 2009 12:39 PM ET
Topper Headon, 1977.
Topper Headon, 1977.
Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty

Last week Rolling Stone rang up former Clash drummer Topper Headon to talk about the making of the band's classic 1982 album Combat Rock (read the full story in our new issue, on stands now). When we asked him how he wrote "Rock The Casbah," he delighted us by sitting down at his piano and playing the initial sketch of the song he presented to the band in 1981.

Click to listen to Topper Headon play "Rock the Casbah" on the piano

Headon has no memory of his original lyrics, though former Clash co-manager Kosmo Vinyl told us it was a filthy ode to Headon's girlfriend. "He had really pornographic lyrics for it if I remember correctly," Vinyl says. "Very, very pornographic lyrics."

Strummer decided to take the song in a different direction. His inspiration came from the Clash's other manager, Bernie Rhodes, who asked the band, "Does everything have to be as long as a raga?" after a particularly long take of the track "Sean Flynn."

The Clash in 1980: There'll Be Dancing in the Streets

"I got back to the hotel that night and wrote on a typewriter, 'The King told the boogie men You gotta get that raga drop,' " Strummer said shortly before he died in 2002. "I looked at it and for some reason I started to think about what someone had told me earlier, that you get lashed for owning a disco album in Iran."

By the time the song became a worldwide smash Headon had been kicked out of the band due to his severe heroin addiction. He didn't even appear in the video. "It was tough," Headon says. "In 1983 Pete Townshend paid for me to come to Los Angeles to have the electric box treatment for heroin addiction. And while I was there the Clash were playing the U.S. festival and 'Rock The Casbah' was all over the radio waves of course it hurt. The good thing about it was that we all ended up friends afterwards anyway."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories


The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »