You Can’t Spell Control Without C-O-N: The Story Behind “Complete Control” by The Clash

When The Clash released their self-titled debut album in England, it was a declaration of a band who represented the people. They had just come off of the Anarchy Tour supporting the Sex Pistols. With 19 dates scheduled, only three of the shows happened. Authorities canceled the majority of them as they were afraid of riots. Things were spiraling into mayhem as Clash manager Bernie Rhodes met with Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and discussed the idea of wanting “complete control” over everyone involved. Band members all felt the idea was ridiculous, so a song was born. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Complete Control” by The Clash.

Videos by American Songwriter

They said, “Release Remote Control”
But we didn’t want it on the label
They said, “Fly to Amsterdam.”
The people laughed, but the press went mad
Ooh-oh, someone’s really smart
Ooh-oh, complete control. Yeah, that’s a laugh

“All This Stuff Was Affecting Us”

In the liner notes for The Clash on Broadway, Joe Strummer recounted his reaction to Rhodes’ statement, “Bernie tried to have a meeting in the back of The Ship, in Soho, just after The Anarchy Tour. He tried to say he wanted complete control. He said those words … I came running out of the pub with [guitarist] Paul [Simonon] collapsing on the pavement in hysterics at those words ‘complete control.’… Later on, we went to Amsterdam, and the next thing you know, Mick had come up with this tune. I went up to Wilmcote House and Mick said ‘I’ve got this tune I want to play for you’ and I didn’t think there was anything to do to it, I don’t think I added anything to it, not one word.”

Added Jones, “I just wrote it in my bedroom at Wilmcote House, standing up. It was like write what affects you, and all this stuff was affecting us.”

On the last tour, my mates they couldn’t get in
I’d open up the back door, but they’d get run out again
And at every hotel, we was met by the law
Come for the party, come to make sure
Ooh-oh, have we done something wrong?
Ooh-oh, complete control, even over this song

Mickey Foote produced the first album, but the band wanted to record with other people. In 2008, Strummer wrote in The Clash: Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon, “Bernie Rhodes was quite into the reggae end of our activities, and he got hold of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and brought him in to produce a single that we’d written specially called ‘Complete Control.’ He did a great job, and it was a real thrill for us to work with him.”

Perry was an eccentric musical legend who did things his own way. Said Foote, “Lee Perry was brilliant. … He’s a wild guy, and he was s–t hot. He took this equalizer and twiddled this bass dial around to the deep bass, and the whole studio was shaking! He nearly blew the control room up, trying to get Paul a bass sound! He was standing on one leg in a karate type pose, and the walls start shaking. … Brilliant. He was well into it, dancing and kung fu kicking and all that.”

They said we’d be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant, “Let’s make a lots of money
And worry about it later”
Ooh-oh, I’ll never understand
Ooh-oh, complete control. Let me see your other hand


Bassist Paul Simonon was constantly listening to reggae in those days. The chance to work with Perry was a dream come true. He remembered, “I was really excited to meet Lee Perry. It was like meeting my all-time hero. Unfortunately, though, I had a really bad cold, so all I could do was play the song and then get out of the studio, so I missed the whole thing. But I have to say that listening to it I can’t recognize any of Lee Perry’s input. Maybe it got remixed once he’d left the building. I don’t know… He kept doing kung fu stuff all over the place, and he had writing in biro up his arms, but he was a great character.”

Said Jones, “We went back and fiddled with it a bit. What Lee did was good, but it sounded as if he’d recorded it underwater, that echo sound of his. We brought out the guitars, made it a bit tougher, but it’s still his sound.”

I don’t trust you, so why should you trust me?
All over the news spread fast
They’re dirty, they’re filthy
They ain’t a-gonna last

A Statement to the Press

When CBS Records released the song “Remote Control” as the second single from The Clash, the band was not happy about the decision. They released this statement along with their single:

“Complete Control’ tells the story of conflict between two opposing camps. One side sees change as an opportunity to channel the enthusiasm of a raw and dangerous culture in a direction where energy is made safe and predictable. The other is dealing with change as a freedom to be experienced so as to understand one’s true capabilities, allowing a creative social situation to emerge.”

This is Joe Public speaking (control)
I’m controlled in the body (C-O-N, control)
I’m controlled in the mind
This is the top rockers (control)
With your zone in the price you whore (C-O-N, control)
Come to me
Total, C-O-N, control
Total, (parent control) C-O-N, control

The U.S. Release

When Epic Records released the album in the U.S. over two years later, they changed the track listing and included “Complete Control” as well as four other songs. The Clash took a more active role in what was released from then on. They realized that when they signed a record deal, they lost control.

We’ve got the rock ‘n’ roll (C-O-N, control)
That means you
I kick it, I fight it, I gotta get up at it (C-O-N, control)
I gotta kick it

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Dolly Parton attends Dolly Parton's Rockstar VIP Album Release Party with American Greetings on November 16, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dolly Parton’s New Concert Project Will Take Her Songs Where They’ve Never Been Before: To the Symphony

Check Out New Song by U.K. Folk Duo The Bookshop Band, Produced by and Featuring The Who’s Pete Townshend

U.K. Folk Duo The Bookshop Band Drops New Song Produced by and Featuring The Who’s Pete Townshend