‘Stay Free’ breaks up the predictable formula by taking its time telling the story of The Clash, narrated by Chuck D. Several other punk-related podcasts are worth checking out, including ones hosted by Jenny Eliscu and Henry Rollins, others devoted to the Ramones and Hüsker Dü.
So many documentary films have covered punk in the last couple decades that some fans may feel caught in a loop, seeing the same footage, images and talking heads from film to film.
Stay Free: The Story of the Clash disrupts the punk-doc formula, thanks to a format shift and fresh perspective. Presented by Spotify and produced with BBC Studios, the eight-episode podcast takes its time with the band’s story and invests in smart writing, high-quality sound and music instead of filler. (The series, which just posted its finale, is available for free to all Spotify users.)
Public Enemy’s Chuck D narrates Stay Free, occasionally breaking from the script to share his thoughts about the band and parallels between The Clash’s experiences and his own. It’s a fun, informative ride for longtime enthusiasts and younger listeners, millions of whom already discover music through the massive streaming service.
New and archival interviews chronicle The Clash’s birth to its breakup: We hear about the band’s tumultuous relationship with on-and-off-and-on manager Bernard Rhodes. A couple episodes delve into their struggle to break out in America and their career-changing residency at New York City’s Bonds International Casino in 1981. We hear Joe Strummer defend drummer Topper Headon at an infamous press conference and, minutes later, Topper describes what it was like to be booted from the band and to see another drummer in the “Rock the Casbah” video.
Stay Free takes advantage of the band’s vast catalog, playing live tracks, studio recordings and rarities alongside the hits. (A companion Spotify playlist includes essential Clash songs and bands they’ve influenced.) While casual listeners may want to dip in with, say, the London Calling episode (Ep. 5), the whole saga gives a fuller picture of the group than most 90-minute docs could.
While Stay Free may have more star power and a bigger budget than most podcasts, it’s certainly not the first aimed at punk fans. Below are a few other punk-flavored shows worth checking out. Most are available on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast apps:
Turned Out a Punk — Hosted by Damian Abraham of Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up, this weekly show features interviews with musicians and notable folks with one thing in common: a passion for punk. To date, Abraham has released more than 200 episodes and has chatted with John Doe, Jello Biafra, Thurston Moore, the late Anthony Bourdain and dozens of others about their punk roots.
Ramones of the Day — Each episode of this podcast dissects a different Ramones track, and it’s been running for so long that they’re almost out of songs. (A live finale is scheduled for May 19, on what would’ve been Joey Ramone’s 68th birthday.) Special guests give the show depth and humor; a recent episode features John Ross Bowie, an actor and writer who penned the Ramones-themed play Four Chords and a Gun.
Punknews — Each week contributors to Punknews.org share the latest punk-related headlines, concert reviews, commentary and tunes. It’s a good way to catch up on what big and up-and-coming bands are up to, and the hosts’ enthusiasm makes up for the less-than-perfect sound quality.
LSQ by Jenny Eliscu — Longtime music journalist Jenny Eliscu dusts off her archive of interviews for this show. Subjects span all genres, with recent episodes featuring PJ Harvey and Bob Mould.
Henry Rollins on KCRW — Rollins’ weekly playlists for the L.A. public radio station encompass two hours of rock that moves him, from Bowie to the Bad Brains to whatever’s blowing his hair back at the moment.
Do You Remember? The Life and Legacy of Hüsker Dü — Similar to Stay Free, Minnesota Public Radio put together this five-episode chronicle of the influential ‘80s band.
Old Punk — There are no frills here, just roughly 90 minutes of well-curated punk tracks.
And below are a few podcasts that have featured punk-themed episodes:
Sound Opinions — Hosted by Chicago-based music journalists Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, this long-running radio show/podcast occasionally spotlights punk and its influence. Start with episodes about The Stooges Fun House and 1977: The Year Punk Broke, and then browse the extensive archive.
Talkhouse — This interview podcast features in-depth conversations between artists and their peers. Previous episodes have featured Chris Frantz talking with Richard Lloyd, The Raincoats with Protomartyr and Steve Albini with Jerry Casale.
WTF with Marc Maron — From David Byrne to Iggy Pop to Keith Richards, Maron’s show regularly features A-list musicians. (And of course, don’t miss his 2016 chat with Please Kill Me’s Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. It’s a good one.)
And let’s not forget Real Punk Radio!