“Safe European Home” is without a doubt the best song off The Clash’s second LP “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”. Even if the rest the album were good (which it’s not) it would be hard to follow “Safe European Home”. It’s a bit more polished than the songs off The Clash, but it’s harder hitting. Topper Headon’s opening drums commands you to listen – and if you’re not Mick Jones’ power chords will pull you in. By the time you’re hooked, Joe Strummer is back from the place he never wants to go again, but ready to relay the story back to you.
The story goes that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones took a trip to Jamaica, and felt out so out of place that they came home and wrote “Safe European Home” is response. “I went to the place where every white face is an invitation to robbery,” Strummer laments in the chorus. “And sitting here in my safe European home, I don’t want to go back there, again.” The Clash have sometimes been described as naive in some instances, and this is one instance where I can say that critics might have actually have a point. Bob Marley was shot a year or two before Strummer and Jones arrived in Jamaica (depending on the time-frame) for trying to ease political tensions at a free concert. Did Strummer and Jones expect to be welcome with open arms because they talked about world issues and played reggae music?
But Strummer and Jones’ misfortune made for great music. Like John Lennon who turned his marital issues into the great (and perhaps under-rated) “Ballad of John and Yoko”, Strummer’s first person account in song was at times self-deprecating. Strummer spits out each line with venom and Mick Jones calls back, “Where’d you go?” after each line. It’s as if he can’t believe that Strummer actually went. His calls demand Strummer to finish the story. Strummer ends his tale stating, “I’d stay and be a tourist, but I can’t take the gun-play.”
The break-down in the second half of the song sounds like an escape. Jones strums his guitar in a repeating crunch. Strummer starts mumbling and scatting about “rudie can’t fail” (a theme that would be explored later on “Rudie Can’t Fail”) as the band tries to regain itself. Topper Headon brings tension, by creating some of the best drum rolls ever put to record. But ultimately, Strummer (as one most Clash songs) steals the show through his combination of Springsteen-sincerity, Dylan-esque sneer, and Lennon self-deprication showcased in this song.
Safe European Home: