The Clash: Behind the Scenes of the "Rock the Casbah" Music Video

Rock the Casbah
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(Epic/YouTube)

Released on June 11, The Clash released "Rock the Casbah" as the third single from the band's fifth studio effort, Combat Rock. The song methodically worked its way up the charts, peaking at #8 on the Hot 100 for the week of January 22, 1983. It was the Clash's only top 10 hit in the U.S. The #1 song in America that week: Men at Work's "Down Under."

RELATED: May 1982: The Clash Release "Combat Rock"

Helping propel the song up the charts and into American consciousness was the striking music video, which was filmed throughout Austin, Texas. Shown in heavy rotation across MTV, the clip's stark imagery went a long way in defining The Clash in the United States.

"We shot it in 1981 in and around Austin, Texas. This was a few months before MTV was even launched," Titos Menchaca, who played the role of "The Sheik" in the video. told Songfacts. "At the time, I was a young film acting student (I had stage experience/training, but working in front of the camera is a different beast). My teacher was a guy named Loren Bivens. One day after class he mentioned that some guys were in from out of town to do some sort of film shoot. He didn't know much about it but thought it'd be a good opportunity to work in front of a camera."

The opportunity turned out to be featuring in a video by the Clash, who Menchaca got to spend some quality time with throughout the day. "I chatted with them at their hotel room later. There was Don Letts, a rastah from London who would direct, John Hazard, ace camera man from New York, and some guy named Barry, who I later learned was their DP (director of photography). They struck me as quiet, serious. Sober, too. Joe Ely was there, also," Manchaca shared. "That night, I hung out at a local reggae joint in Austin called Liberty Lunch (now torn down also) with Bivens, Barry, and these two brothers from New York who were former students of Bivens' - in town to scout locations for their first feature, which Barry was going to DP for them. Oh, by the way... Barry's last name? Sonnenfeld. And the two brothers scouting locations? Joel and Ethan Coen. The movie? Blood Simple."

"I had to wear three layers of dark heavy wool and also fake 'locks' that were glued to my sideburns," offered Dennis Razze, who played the role of "The Rabbi" in the video. "The day of the shoot was ungodly hot as Austin can be in the summer. Close to 100 degrees. They drove us around in a van from location to location and by mid day we had also met the band who didn't have much to do with us (and I didn't have a clue who they were). They had rented an expensive film camera to do the shoot (most people don't realize that music videos were shot on film). The director loved the little bits I added like the 'Fiddler on the Roof' dance and spitting beer in the pool. He encouraged me to have fun and I had no trouble being silly. As the day went by, I began to really like the song that they played over and over again at each location. The coolest thing was doing the scene with the armadillo - what a cool creature, bigger than I thought one might be.

"I never thought I would hear another thing about the video, but six months later, friends of mine form the East Coast would call and say they saw me on HBO and later MTV," Razze shared. "I never saw the video myself till almost two years after it was shot. We were paid a few hundred dollars for our work, and because there were no residuals in the early days of music videos, we never made another cent off of our success. Given the number of times over so many years the video has been aired, Titos and I would have made a sizable sum I think if the video had been shot a year later when it was determined that music videos would work the same way as commercials."

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