A Record Exec Explains Why the Clash’s First Album Took Two Years to Be Released in the U.S.
Former Epic Records A&R director Bruce Harris is widely credited as the man who told the world the Clash were "the only band that matters" — but that didn't mean he was blind to their music's commercial shortcomings.
Documentarian Paul J. Dougherty learned this firsthand in the fall of 1977, when he wrote an angry letter to Harris wondering why Epic was sitting on the Clash's debut LP — then available in the States only as an import — and accusing the label of shortsightedness and bad taste. As Dougherty shared last year on his site Punk Before Punk (via Vanyaland), Harris greeted Dougherty's vitriol with a mixture of good humor and forthright honesty.
You can take a look at scans from Harris' complete response at either of the above links, but what it boiled down to, in his words, was that he had a duty to the label first and his own taste preferences second. As Harris put it, "My responsibility ... is not to release records I like but rather records which I feel will bring profit into this company." In Harris' view, the Clash's self-titled debut had great songs and powerful performances — but they "were not at all matched by the level of production which is an enormous drawback."
As frankly as he shared his point of view regarding a record he was convinced "would fail miserably" if Epic tried using it to break the Clash in the States, Harris was equally forceful regarding his belief in the band. As he repeatedly pointed out in his letter to Dougherty, he was committed to guiding the group toward recording music that adequately conveyed the power of their stage show — and patient enough to keep from pulling the trigger on The Clash until that happened.
True to his word, Harris held off on the band's U.S. debut until the fall of 1978, when their second LP, Give 'Em Enough Rope, received a worldwide release. The following summer, The Clash finally arrived in America — after selling an impressive 100,000-plus units as an import-only title — and the rest is history.
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