Joe Strummer: Walker

Zeth Lundy

Strummer's soundtrack for Alex Cox's 1987 Western -- his first solo endeavor after the Clash disbanded -- is reissued for the first time since it went out of print.

Joe Strummer


Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2005-07-26
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

Shortly after a defeated, Mick Jones-less Clash sputtered out with 1986's Cut the Crap, Joe Strummer looked to begin again. He had struck up a relationship with filmmaker Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy), appearing in Cox's supposedly comic spaghetti Western Straight to Hell as well as contributing some songs to the film's soundtrack. Cox's next film would tell the true story of William Walker, a solider of fortune in the 1800s who, after aiding rebels in overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, would appoint himself the country's dictator, only to be defeated by his own thirst for power. Even in 1987 the story was relevant; its plot would draw not-so-subtle parallels to the Reagan administration's support of anti-Sandinista Contras. Strummer was a simpatico artist and activist, having attended pro-Sandinista rallies and named the Clash's sprawling triple-album Sandinista!

Besides their political bond, Cox and Strummer were undeterred, renegade artists who seemed determined to avoid the best laid plans. And so it was that Strummer made the soundtrack to Walker his first post-Clash assignment. Neither the film nor the soundtrack did very well, and, like many other curious artifacts that fail to find a discerning niche, Strummer's Walker went quietly out of print. The opportunity for Strummer to tackle not only an entire soundtrack, but a new musical geography, was undoubtedly a boost to his own creative spirits. There's a lot of joy in the music he composed for Walker, in the bright, resilient horns, the pirouetting guitars, the slap-happy congas and bongos and timbales. Due to contract restrictions, Strummer's vocals appear on only three tracks, so his primary responsibility was as the soundtrack's composer and arranger. The anonymity of the largely instrumental project granted him the freedom to really lose himself in something that was far removed from the Clash's method and legend. He fully exploited the Westernisms that the film required, using a large group of acoustic musicians to evoke gunslingers, wanderers, and the dust-choked frontiers that harbored both lawlessness and opportunity. In "Tennessee Rain", for example, the Strummer known to the record-buying public was hidden behind banjo and harmonica, another ordinary face around the prairie campfire song-in-the-round.

As much as Strummer reached back into the previous century for inspiration, Walker remains very much a product of its time. The '80s weren't exactly cruel to the record, but they did manage to leave an imprint on its sound. There are several blights on the otherwise "natural" production style: a sitcom theme saxophone wanders aimlessly into the scenario in "Latin Romance"; and some tracks, like the sidling "Nica Libre", sound like cocktail lounge approximations of authentic Spanish music. Other times, like the mirage-inducing "Viperland", the songs idle in their own expository feel -- they set the scene (or, more accurately, the mood for the film's corresponding scene) and turn revolutions around it. None of these weaknesses are exceedingly detrimental to the soundtrack's overall success, for ultimately it is one of Strummer's lesser works and probably of interest only to hardcore fans. Astralwerks has finally brought this, Strummer's journey into a new frontier, back into print, along with his pre-Clash recordings with the 101ers. The latter documents where he came from, and the former charts some of the territory he'd explore once he was out on his own, trying to make sense of where to go next.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.