The Clash’s 1977 self-titled album is widely seen as one of the greatest debuts of all time, though Americans didn’t have a chance to buy it until 1979 – and a letter (which surfaced online last year and is just now making the rounds) explains exactly why. “I personally am an avid Clash fan,” Epic Records East Coast A&R Director Bruce Harris wrote to punk aficionado Paul Dougherty (Via Punk Before Punk). “My responsibility is not, however, to release records I like but rather records which I feel will bring profit into this company.”
The amazing letter is dated November 29th, 1977, just one month after the Sex Pistols released Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, an album that Harris argued was sonically far superior to The Clash. “The Sex Pistols album, for instance, is produced properly and as a result sounds really strong and captures the band’s power,” he wrote. “I believe the Clash can make better records than their first album and those are the records we should choose to bring to the American marketplace.”
Harris made it clear he believed in the Clash despite his refusal to even release their album in America. “I believe the Clash are better than anyone in their field except the Sex Pistols,” he wrote. “And I have been getting involved in guiding the production of their second album. I don’t want them to sound like Fleetwood Mac – I want them to sound like the Clash that they are not an amateur act.”
The second Clash album he was referring to, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, went into production four months after he sent the letter. It was produced by Sandy Pearlman, best known for his work with Blue Oyster Cult. It’s a phenomenal disc, though not all fans love the production and Pearlman’s decision to mix Joe Strummer’s voice relatively low.
Epic may have refused to initially release The Clash in America in 1977, but import copies from England poured into the country and sold over 100,000 copies. Clearly, Harris was wrong and Americans were ready to embrace an album that sounded so raw. But let’s give him credit for writing such a long letter explaining his actions to a complete stranger, though his belief in another British punk band was more than a little misplaced.
“Epic will release an album by a new group from England called Masterswitch,” he wrote at the end of his letter. “In order for the new wave to become a permanent one, it has to get rolling right.” Well, Masterswitch were quickly forgotten and the Clash became one of the most acclaimed bands of all time.