Combat Rock is the fifth studio album by the English punk rock band The Clash. It was released on 14 May 1982 through CBS Records. In the United Kingdom, the album charted at number 2, spending 23 weeks in the UK charts and peaked at number 7 in the United States, spending 61 weeks on the chart. Combat Rock is the group's best-selling album, being certified double platinum in the United States. It contains two of The Clash's most popular songs, the singles "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go".
Combat Rock is the last Clash album featuring the classic lineup; Topper Headon left the band after completing the album and Mick Jones left in 1983. Following the triple-album Sandinista! (1980), singer/guitarist Joe Strummer felt the group was "drifting" creatively. Bassist Paul Simonon agreed with Strummer's dissatisfaction towards the "boring" professionalism of The Clash's then-managers Blackhill Enterprises. Strummer and Simonon convinced their bandmates to reinstate the band's original manager Bernie Rhodes in February 1981, in an attempt to restore the "chaos" and "anarchic energy" of The Clash's early days. This decision was not welcomed by guitarist Mick Jones, who was becoming progressively estranged from his bandmates. During this period, drummer Topper Headon escalated his intake of heroin and cocaine. His occasional drug usage had now become a habit that was costing him £100 per day and undermining his health. This drug addiction would be the factor that would later inspire his bandmates to fire him from The Clash, following the release of Combat Rock.
A recurring motif of Combat Rock is the impact and aftermath of the Vietnam War. "Straight to Hell" describes the children fathered by American soldiers to Vietnamese mothers and then abandoned, "Sean Flynn" describes the photojournalist son of actor Errol Flynn who disappeared in 1970 while covering the war. Biographer Pat Gilbert describes many songs from Combat Rock as having a "trippy, foreboding feel", saturated in a "colonial melancholia and sadness" reflecting the Vietnam War. The band was hugely inspired by Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now, and had previously released the song "Charlie Don't Surf" on Sandinista!, which referenced the film. Other Combat Rock songs, if not directly about the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy, depict American society in moral decline. "Red Angel Dragnet" was inspired by the January 1982 shooting death of Frank Melvin, a New York member of the Guardian Angels. The song quotes Martin Scorsese's 1976 movie Taxi Driver, with Clash associate Kosmo Vinyl recording several lines of dialogue imitating the voice of main character Travis Bickle. Bickle sports a mohawk in the later part Taxi Driver, this was a hairstyle adopted by Joe Strummer during the Combat Rock concert tour. The song, "Ghetto Defendant", features beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who performed the song on stage with the band during the New York shows on their tour in support of the album. Ginsberg had researched the punk music, and included phrases like "do the worm" and "slam dance" in his lyrics. At the end of the song he can be heard reciting the Heart Sutra, a popular Buddhist mantra. Music for "Rock the Casbah" was written by the band's drummer Topper Headon, based on a piano part that he had been toying with. Finding himself the studio without his three bandmates, Headon progressively taped the drum, piano and bass parts; recording the bulk of the song's musical instrumentation himself. The other Clash members were impressed with Headon's recording, stating that they felt the musical track was essentially complete. However, Strummer was not impressed by the page of suggested lyrics that Headon gave him. Before hearing Headon's music, Strummer had already come up with the phrases "rock the casbah" and "you'll have to let that raga drop" as lyrical ideas that he was considering for future songs. After hearing Headon's music, Strummer went into the studio's toilets and wrote lyrics to match the song's melody.