The Big Audio Dynamite Albums Ranked
The Clash is one of my favorite bands ever, and shortly after being introduced to them (don’t mind my mixing of singular/plural), I was introduced to Big Audio Dynamite, founded by Clash guitarist, singer, and songwriter Mick Jones. Over the course of 12 years of releases, made up of eight studio albums, Big Audio Dynamite, Big Audio Dynamite II, or just Big Audio served as a clear and different musical outlet for Jones. Being the only consistent member across every incarnation of the group, Jones struck away from the punk music he helped define with The Clash in favor of, for the most part, dance music. There were notable deviations along the way, but Big Audio Dynamite’s discography is generally not made up of short, punchy songs a la the punk tradition. More often than not, you get a sprawling “avant-pop” experiment if you play a random BAD song. I think Big Audio Dynamite is criminally underrated, and in fact, their final three albums aren’t even really readily available. But I’ll get into that. One final note: although KOOL-AID (1990) is often listed in the “canon” of Big Audio Dynamite albums, its truncated length, status as a UK-only release, and most importantly, the fact that it was almost entirely reconstituted for the follow-up THE GLOBE, have led me to remove it from consideration for this list.
#8 — ENTERING A NEW RIDE (1997)
Favorite track: “BAD and the Night Time Ride”
The inclusion of ENTERING A NEW RIDE on this list feels a little strange, because it was never officially released. Well, in a way, it was released as officially as it could get: after being dropped by their record label, Big Audio Dynamite themselves dropped what was to be their last album online. It was a bold move, especially for 1997, making ENTERING A NEW RIDE one of the earliest internet-distributed albums, and in fact one of the few to be only available via the World Wide Web. By this time, BAD’s relative success earlier in its existence had worn down, and while commercial success doesn’t have anything to do with ENTERING A NEW RIDE’s quality, the album does feel like an unedited pass at the dance and electronic music of the late ’90s in a way that earlier albums didn’t attempt. I mean, there is an 11-minute mix on the record. There are some good sounds and rhythms, especially the catchy “BAD and the Night Time Ride” (a BAD favorite), but ENTERING A NEW RIDE just drags for me, as someone who can grow somewhat tired of the looping beats. I should mention here, though, that even at #8, ENTERING A NEW RIDE doesn’t represent, ironically, a bad album; BAD never made a bad record.
#7 — TIGHTEN UP VOL. ‘88 (1988)
Favorite track: “Esquerita”
Big Audio Dynamite’s third album walked back the electronic overlay and drum machine backing from their previous releases. The style of poppy rock from the ’50s that informed Jones’ ’70s punk work is clear on “Esquerita,” and the more melodic elements of The Clash can be heard on “Applecart.” However, TIGHTEN UP VOL. ’88 never fully cohered as a BAD favorite, not entirely because of its eclecticism (because that’s a mainstay of the band’s entire discography), but perhaps because it is, more specifically, among Big Audio Dynamite’s most scattered efforts.
#6 — THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE (1985)
Favorite track: “Medicine Show”
The first track, “Medicine Show,” on Big Audio Dynamite’s first album, THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE, expressed where Jones’ true interests laid. After being fired from The Clash, Jones doubled down on his incredible skill at writing pop hooks and melodies. “Medicine Show” does feel like an outgrowth of a Clash sound, of course given weight by Jones’ instantly recognizable voice, but the rest of THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE starts to chart a different path. It demonstrates the fixation the band would have with sampling, and communicates a freewheeling lack of care for the accepted forms of music. The whole of Big Audio Dynamite’s discography could be described as really weird, but not being weird for the sake of being weird. THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE was a great initial statement of where Jones’ brilliant mind could go, and it should be mentioned, in collaboration with BAD co-founder Don Letts, who co-wrote almost all of the songs on this debut record.
#5 — MEGATOP PHOENIX (1989)
Favorite track: “Around the Girl in 80 Ways”
MEGATOP PHOENIX was the original Big Audio Dynamite incarnation’s final album, and it’s a great representation of the band’s entire work, in a way. At 17 tracks and 59 minutes long, MEGATOP PHOENIX isn’t technically BAD’s longest album, but it does seem to sprawl. Although THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE was refreshing as a distillation of Mick Jones’ clearly numerous musical interests, it also demonstrated Big Audio Dynamite’s tendency to indulge a little too much in extended, electronic noodling or sample-based interludes. That’s still present on MEGATOP PHOENIX, but it essentially works to the record’s credit. MEGATOP PHOENIX, although clearly not my favorite BAD album, may be the most cohesive BAD album. The “concept album” identifier is thrown around way too much, and I would not consider MEGATOP PHOENIX to be one. But considering the Kinks were apparently an inspiration, I could see how their approach to a narrative-as-musical experience could influence Big Audio Dynamite on this album. MEGATOP PHOENIX feels big, a little obtuse in places, but the songwriting chops are still on display here; just listen to “Around the Girl in 80 Ways.”
#4 — NO. 10, UPPING ST. (1986)
Favorite track: “Limbo the Law”
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that one of BAD’s best albums, and the best from the group’s initial incarnation, reunited Jones with Joe Strummer of The Clash. Credited, along with Jones and Letts, as co-writer on seven of the album’s 12 tracks, Strummer may have brought a reining influence that grounded some of Jones and Letts’ most experimental ideas. I really don’t know, I’m just trying to find some insight into why NO. 10, UPPING ST., Big Audio Dynamite’s sophomore release, was more successful than the other records from this era of the band. In any event, there are some great, driving beats to be found on the album, supplemented by atmospheric, interweaving vocals, guitar, and synth. That’s most apparent on “Limbo the Law,” which has tremendous bass going on in the background during the chorus. And it’s catchy! It’s representative of the really fun, but also deep, energy that BAD brought to all of their albums.
#3 — F-PUNK (1995)
Favorite track: “I Turned Out a Punk”
It’s a shame that one of Big Audio Dynamite’s best albums is also the hardest to track down. F-PUNK, right off the bat, is a remediation of so many things, not the least of which is that the band returned to “Big Audio Dynamite” after “II” and just “Big Audio”. And then, OK, the F-PUNK title is a play on P-Funk (both as a sound and the rotating ensemble that is the musical group that coined the term, Parliament-Funkadelic). But then its album cover evokes the artwork of The Clash’s LONDON CALLING (1979), itself an imitation of ELVIS PRESLEY (1956). Then, F-PUNK opens with “I Turned Out a Punk,” the most explicitly “punk” song Big Audio Dynamite ever made; the album plays with some of the sounds BAD is known for, but songs like “Psycho Wing” still evoke The Clash years. Finally, F-PUNK may be telling its audience “fuck punk,” but it’s the closest Jones ever got to his roots with a Big Audio Dynamite record. This circulation of ideas ultimately just makes for a rad album, and as mentioned, it’s a damn shame that F-PUNK hasn’t been reissued or made easily accessible on streaming services. As the band’s penultimate release, and final official one, F-PUNK is a compelling artistic statement as a commentary on The Clash through the lens of Big Audio Dynamite.
#2 — HIGHER POWER (1994)
Favorite track: “Slender Loris”
The sole album released under the “Big Audio” moniker, HIGHER POWER is probably the band’s calmest record. Oh, there’s certainly dance energy to be found on HIGHER POWER, but it’s a bit groovier and more understated than the bulk of BAD’s albums. “Slender Loris” is the best example of this; it’s just a chill, funky little song. “Moon” is also a favorite, and opener “Got to Wake Up” is great. Indeed, as you might expect, I enjoy my second favorite Big Audio Dynamite album quite a lot. HIGHER POWER not only has some of the best tracks BAD put out, but its “filler” also bridges those favorites of my mine with incredible deftness. HIGHER POWER just kept me in a pocket of enjoyment, another reminder that two of those final BAD albums, especially, are in need of rediscovery.
#1 — THE GLOBE (1991)
Favorite track: “Rush”
And the same could be said for even Big Audio Dynamite’s biggest album. The only release from the “II” incarnation (OK, if you don’t include KOOL-AID, which I’m clearly not), THE GLOBE contained BAD’s biggest hits and, yes, some of their best songs. This album, and “Rush” specifically, was my portal to the Big Audio Dynamite world, as an add-on to my discovery of The Clash. It’s an incredible one-two punch, because THE GLOBE is so different from anything by The Clash, but also just as well-written, catchy, and urgent as anything Jones made with his punk band. “Rush,” as mentioned, is great, quirky, and maybe BAD’s best song, but it’s also a toss up with “Can’t Wait/Live,” “I Don’t Know,” and “The Globe.” HIGHER POWER feels more “elevated,” if such a term can be thrown around here, but THE GLOBE is just genre-bending goodness that never loses sight of the fun of pop music. It, along with his full body of work with Big Audio Dynamite and The Clash, should serve as a reminder that Mick Jones is one of the best songwriters in rock and pop music.