Classic Rock Wiki

"Rock the Casbah" is a song by the English punk rock band The Clash, released in 1982. The song was released as the third single from their fifth album, Combat Rock. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US (their second and last top 40 and only top 10 single in the United States) and, along with the track "Mustapha Dance", it also reached number eight on the dance chart.[4] It is the band's highest charting single worldwide.



  • 1 Origin
  • 2 Music video
  • 3 Single
    • 3.1 Single issues
  • 4 Legacy
  • 5 Cover versions
  • 6 Chart performance
    • 6.1 Weekly charts
    • 6.2 Year-end charts
  • 7 Personnel
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


The song gives a fabulist account of a ban on rock music by the king being defied by the population, who proceed to "rock the casbah." The King orders jet fighters to bomb any people in violation of the ban. The pilots ignored the orders, and instead played rock music on their cockpit radios. It was inspired by ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The song's lyrics feature various Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Sanskrit loan-words, such as sharif, bedouin, sheikh, kosher, rāga, muezzin, minaret, and casbah.[5]

According to the album notes in the box set The Clash on Broadway, "Rock the Casbah" originated when the band's manager Bernie Rhodes, after hearing them record an inordinately long track for the album, asked them facetiously "does everything have to be as long as this rāga?" (referring to the Indian musical style known for its length and complexity). Joe Strummer later wrote the opening lines to the song: "The King told the boogie-men 'you have to let that rāga drop.'" The rest of the lyrics soon followed.[6]

The instrumental opening, which is the music to the song's chorus, was a tune that drummer Topper Headon had written on the piano some time earlier and had toyed with during rehearsals before being incorporated into the song. In the 2000 documentary Westway to the World, Headon said he played drums, bass and piano on the record for the song. All that was left to record were the guitar parts and the vocals. However, in The Future Is Unwritten (a documentary on Strummer), he states that he was in the studio waiting for the rest of the band to come to record, got sick of waiting, so recorded the parts himself.[7]

Music video[edit][]

The Clash made low-budget music videos for several of their songs, and the one for "Rock the Casbah" may be their most memorable. Filmed in Austin, Texas, it depicts an Arab hitchhiker and a Hasidic Jewish limo driver befriending each other on the road and skanking together through the streets to a Clash concert at Austin's City Coliseum, often followed by an armadillo, interspersed with the band performing in front of an oil well. The video features product placement by Dr Pepper, Burger King and Winchell's Donuts to name a few.

The U.S. Air Force became an unwitting participant in the video. Two RF-4C aircraft landing at Bergstrom Air Force Base (near Austin) from the east are featured in the portion of the video with the lyrics "the King called out his jetfighters..."


The single version has more pronounced bass. Also when Joe Strummer screams "The crowd caught a whiff / Of that crazy casbah jive" at the end of the third verse the word "jive" is sustained for several seconds with digital delay. Additionally, the sound effects of the jet fighters in the last verse are lower in the mix, particularly just after "drop your bombs between the minarets." The single version of the song is what is played in the music video.

"Mustapha Dance", which features in many releases of the single, is an instrumental remix of the song.

Single issues[edit][]

The single has several issues, all with different cover, format and B-side (see the table below).[8]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
1982 "Rock the Casbah" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 34-03245 CAN/USA Promo
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 12" vinyl CBS/Sony Records Inc. 07.5P-191 JP
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 49-03144 USA
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 12" vinyl Epic 49-03144 CAN
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 7" vinyl CBS A112479 UK Picture disc
1982 "Red Angel Dragnet" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 34-03245 CAN
1982 "Long Time Jerk" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 34-03245 USA In blue Epic generic die cut sleeve
1982 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 12" vinyl CBS A 13-2479 UK
1982 "Long Time Jerk" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 15-05540 USA
1991 "Mustapha Dance" 45 rpm 7" vinyl Columbia 656814-7 UK Reissue
  1. "Mustapha Dance"
  2. "The Magnificent Dance"
45 rpm 12" vinyl Columbia 656814-6 UK
  1. "Mustapha Dance"
  2. "The Magnificent Dance"
CD Columbia 656814-2 UK


The song was chosen by Armed Forces Radio to be the first song broadcast on the service covering the area during Operation Desert Storm. In one of the campfire scenes late in the 2007 documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, a Granada friend states that Strummer wept when he heard that the phrase "Rock the Casbah" was written on an American bomb that was to be detonated on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.[9]

Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the song was placed on the list of post-9/11 inappropriate titles distributed by Clear Channel.[10] In 2006, the conservative National Review released their list of the top 50 "Conservative Rock Songs", with "Rock the Casbah" at No. 20, noting the Clear Channel list as well as frequent requests to the British Forces Broadcasting Service during the Iraq War.[11] Cultural reviewer and political analyst Charlie Pierce commented that "the notion of the Clash as spokesfolk for adventurism in the Middle East might have been enough to bring Joe Strummer back from the dead."[12]

Cover versions[edit][]

Other versions of "Rock the Casbah" have been recorded by the Austin, Texas band One Bad Pig, on the 1992 album Blow the House Down; the Australian band Something for Kate; Solar Twins on the movie soundtrack for the 1999 film Brokedown Palace; the American band Trust Company; the Japanese duo Tica recording a version in 2000 sampled by the English drum and bass/trip hop group from Bristol, Smith & Mighty;[13] and the Asturian studio project Soncai System, who did an Asturian language version of the song on the album Clashturies (2007).

The Algerian rock singer Rachid Taha covered the song (in Arabic) on his 2004 album Tékitoi. On 27 November 2005 at the Astoria, London, during the Stop the War Coalition Benefit Concert, "...for the night's grandstanding conclusion, the Clash legend Mick Jones strides on in a skinny black suit and plays probably the most exciting guitar he has delivered in years. He and the band are brilliant on Taha's definitive take on "Rock the Casbah", for which the audience goes berserk."[14] They played again the Taha's version of the song, "Rock el Casbah", on February 2006, at the France 4 TV show Taratatà.[15] In 2007 at the Barbican, ".... The band were later joined by special guest Mick Jones from The Clash who performed on "Rock El Casbah" and then stayed on stage for the remainder of the show."[16]

Will Smith's song "Will 2K" of the Willennium album samples "Rock the Casbah" both instrumentally and in some of the lyrics.[17] "It's Gonna Be Alright" by house act Pussy 2000 also samples the song.[18] Richard Cheese recorded a lounge cover of the song on his 2004 album I'd Like a Virgin. U2 have also played a snippet of the song on their 2005–2006 Vertigo Tour. After hearing the crowd singing the song as it was played over the loudspeaker before the start of the concert, Bono, the lead singer of U2 started singing "Rock the Casbah" in the middle of one of their songs during a concert in Melbourne. It has also made appearances on their 360° Tour. It has been played in "Sunday Bloody Sunday", which shows clips from Iranian protests. Green Day covered the song near the end of their AOL Sessions, and also performed it during a 2004 concert at The Warfield San Francisco.

Howlin' Pelle Almqvist of The Hives covered the song with some members of another Swedish band, Randy for a Joe Strummer Tribute concert at The Debaser in Stockholm.

A cover version was also recorded by Ranking Roger and Pato Banton in 1999 for the Clash tribute album Burning London: The Clash Tribute.

On some album versions (Combat Rock as well as the double CD set The Essential Clash) you can hear the monophonic sound of a watch playing the song "Dixie" in the background. Supposedly it is Jones' watch and intentional.

Chart performance[edit][]

Weekly charts[edit][]

Chart (1982–1983) Peak


Australia (Kent Music Report)[19] 3
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[20] 17
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[21] 21
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[22] 21
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[23] 4
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[24] 16
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[25] 30
US Billboard Hot 100[26] 8
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[26] 8
US Billboard Top Tracks[26] 6
US Cash Box[27] 13
Chart (1991) Peak


Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[28] 22
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[29] 21
Ireland (IRMA)[30] 10
Poland (LP3)[31] 16
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[32] 15

Year-end charts[edit][]

Chart (1982) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[33] 41
Chart (1983) Position US Billboard Hot 100[34] 52
US Cash Box[35] 83


  • Joe Strummer – lead vocals, guitar
  • Mick Jones – guitar, backing vocals
  • Paul Simonon – backing vocals, bass (live performances)
  • Topper Headon – drums, piano, bass, backing vocals